Looking back at the coaching career of Darryl Rogers, who won at Michigan State but struggled with the Detroit Lions. Video by Ryan Ford, Detroit Free Press. Wochit
Darryl Rogers, the former Michigan State and Detroit Lions head coach who made a name for himself with his pass-happy offenses and acerbic wit, will forever be remembered as a football innovator and friend, ex-MSU wide receiver Kirk Gibson told Lansing-area radio station WTQX-FM on Wednesday.
"His passing is disappointing," said Gibson, who blossomed into a College Football Hall of Famer under Rogers before a successful career in Major League Baseball. "But I can tell you I feel so good about Darryl. The great talks, the great closure. His spirit is so powerful that he’ll continue to work magic with us all."
Rogers died early Wednesday morning at age 83. A cause of death was not immediately available. His family is expected to release a statement on Thursday, his granddaughter, Samantha Dawson, told the Free Press. Funeral arrangements are pending.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to Darryl Rogers and his family at this most difficult time,” MSU football coach Mark Dantonio said in a statement. “Coach Rogers ... was, in many ways, an offensive pioneer in college football. I was honored to have had the opportunity to talk to him a number of times throughout my time here and he was always very supportive. He loved Michigan State and will forever be a Spartan.”
Rogers coached at Michigan State from 1976-1979, left for Arizona State before the 1980 season, then coached the Lions from 1985-88, his only stint in the NFL.
He also had college stints at Fresno State (1969-1972) and San Jose State (1973-75), and finished 24-18-2 at MSU after replacing Dennis Stolz, who left the program on probation for recruiting violations.
Rogers' pass-heavy offense was an instant hit. He was named Big Ten Coach of the Year in 1977, and the Spartans shared the Big Ten title in 1978 with Michigan, which he famously called "arrogant asses" at a football banquet that same year.
"He was balls-out to push the ball down the field in the air," said Gibson, who left MSU holding school records for receptions (112), receiving yards (2,347) and touchdown receptions (24). "We knew that. And we’d practice it and practice it and practice it. He’s special, and his spirit will be in us all.”
Rogers had a 129-84-7 career record as a college coach, but his success didn't translate to the NFL. He was 7-9 in his first season in 1985 — his best with the Lions — and finished 18-40 over three-plus seasons.
His .310 winning percentage was the third-worst for a full-time Lions coach in the Super Bowl era, behind only Marty Mornhinweg (.156) and Rod Marinelli (.208).
It got so bad under Rogers that he once asked the media, "What does a coach have to do to get fired around here?"
He was fired 11 games into the 1988 season. Wayne Fontes took over, and the next April, the Lions drafted Barry Sanders with the No. 3 overall pick.
“We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Darryl," Lions owner Martha Ford said in a statement on Wednesday. "On behalf of me, my family and the entire Detroit Lions organization, I would like to extend our sincere sympathy to his wife, Marsha, and the Rogers family.”
Here's a look at how some reacted to Rogers' passing on social media: