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Architect of “No-Name” Defense bids farewell

Former Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator, Bill Arnsparger, passed away at the age of 88 on June 17. Arnsparger’s death marked the second time this month that an NFL organization paid its respects to a famous icon.

Arnsparger was born in Paris, KY on Dec. 16, 1926. He attended Paris High School and graduated in 1945. While at Paris, Arnsparger became good friends with Blanton Collier, who was the head coach of the school’s football and basketball teams.

Following his days at Paris, Arnsparger entered the United States Marine Corps during World War II. Like many former soldiers, Arnsparger attended college, enrolling at Miami University of Ohio.

After graduating in 1950, Arnsparger received his first coaching job as an assistant for his alma mater. He spent one season at Miami before moving on to three other schools: Ohio State, Kentucky and Tulane.

Ironically, while Arnsparger was at Kentucky, he was re-united with Blanton Collier. Collier served as Kentucky’s head football coach from 1954 until 1961. Arnsparger served as his defensive line coach during that time frame.

In 1964, Arnsparger got his first NFL coaching job. He worked on Don Shula’s staff as the defensive line coach for the Baltimore Colts. Arnsparger contributed in leading the Colts to the 1964 NFL Championship game and Super Bowl III in 1969.

Bill Arnsparger (left) sitting next to Don Shula (right)

            When Shula was hired as the head coach of the Miami Dolphins in 1970, he brought Arnsparger with him. Before Shula and Arnsparger arrived, the Dolphins were one of the league’s weakest teams, winning just three games the year before.

However, both men achieved most of their coaching success in Miami. The Dolphins advanced to three Super Bowls, won two and recorded the only undefeated season in NFL history, going 17-0 in 1972.

As a member of the Dolphins coaching staff, Arnsparger molded one of the worst defenses into one of the best. This unit was anchored by hall of fame linebacker Nick Buoniconti, Pro Bowl safety Dick Anderson and All-Pro defensive tackle Manny Fernandez.

This aggressive group of 11 men earned their own nickname, the “No Name Defense”. Although this defense did not consist of many household names, they became the best unit in the NFL. Arnsparger’s coaching tendencies eventually helped him become a candidate for a head coaching job.

Miami defended its title following the 1973 season. The Dolphins defeated the Minnesota Vikings, 24-7, in Super Bowl VIII. After winning their second straight title, Arnsparger became the head coach of the New York Giants.

While in the Big Apple, Arnsparger did not enjoy the same success that he did in the tropics. He coached the Giants for 35 games, winning only seven times. After starting the 1976 season with a record of 0-7, Arnsparger was fired.

Shula re-hired Arnsparger during the 1976 season. The same defensive philosophy that brought two Lonbardi trophies to Miami was restored. The Dolphins reached the playoffs five times and earned a berth in Super Bowl XVII following the 1982 season.

Arnsparger became LSU’s head football coach in 1984. During his three seasons in the Bayou, he led the Tigers to a pair of Sugar Bowls. In 1986, Arnsparger led LSU to its first Southeastern Conference title since 1970.

From 1986 to 1992, Arnsparger took a temporary break from coaching and became the Athletic Director at the University of Florida. In Gainesville, he was responsible for hiring Steve Spurrier as head football coach.

Spurrier helped put Florida’s football program on the map. Spurrier led the Gators to six conference championships and a victory in the 1996 National Championship Game. He retired as the universities’ all-time leader in wins.

Arnsparger left Florida to become the defensive coordinator in San Diego. He held that for three seasons. In 1994, he helped the Chargers to their first ever Super Bowl appearance against the San Francisco 49ers. Following the team’s 49-26 loss, Arnsparger retired for good.

In this world, nobody is perfect. Making mistakes is a part of life. Bill Arnsparger’s coaching career was marked by positive and negative moments. However, the good has outweighed the bad because of the legacy that he left on college and professional football.