Last September, as the Patriots were beginning their new season, coach Bill Belichick took time at one of his daily meetings with reporters to wish a former Pats coach well.
Chuck Fairbanks, the Patriot coach from 1973-78, was undergoing treatment for brain cancer.
“On behalf to the team, the players and myself, I want to pass along our best wishes to Chuck Fairbanks,” Belichick said. “Chuck’s heading in to some surgery today, and I just wanted to pass along our best wishes to Chuck and his family.”
The illness claimed Fairbanks on Tuesday. He was 79.
Fairbanks had tremendous success at the University of Oklahoma — he came to New England straight from winning a Sugar Bowl championship with the Sooners. Like Belichick, he took an organization that was down and turned it into a contender.
“Chuck’s been a good friend for a long time. And he’s meant a lot to this organization,” Belichick said that day last September. “At the time he came here, he did a great job in turning the Patriots around, making them one of the top teams in the AFC.
“Some of the things he brought to the Patriots and the league in the ’70s were things that stood the test of time and have been a big principle of this league for many, many years, such as the 3-4 defense, the way he organized the draft, personnel meetings, things like that.”
Robert Kraft, the Patriots chairman and CEO, remembers Fairbanks’ arrival.
“As a Patriots season-ticket holder, I remember the excitement that was generated by the hiring of Chuck Fairbanks from the University of Oklahoma in 1973,” Kraft said. “Coach Fairbanks gave the Patriots instant credibility. For Patriots fans of that era, Fairbanks was the Bill Parcells before Bill Parcells. Meaning, he did for the Patriots in the ’70s what Bill Parcells did for the team in the ’90s.
“He delivered the franchise’s first 11-win season in 1976 and earned a home playoff game after winning the division in 1978. It was the first time in franchise history that we hosted a playoff game. He introduced the 3-4 defense to the NFL during his Patriots tenure, which remains a part of his NFL legacy. It is a sad day for a generation of Patriots fans who enjoyed his era of coaching. My thoughts and prayers are with the Fairbanks family and all who mourn his loss,” Kraft said.
Fairbanks directed the Patriots to three straight winning seasons, including 11-3 in 1976.
His time with New England was somewhat controversial, in part because of disputes he had with the Sullivan family, which then owned the team. His departure in 1979 for the University of Colorado led to suits between the team and Fairbanks.
On the field, Fairbanks took a team that had six straight losing seasons before he arrived and turned it into a contender. One of his key moves was the 1975 drafting of quarterback Steve Grogan, who went on to become one of the key players in team history.