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Thursday, July 31, 2003
Stram developed talent, then won with it

Associated Press

The Kansas City Chiefs dominated the AFL and won a Super Bowl with Hall of Fame talent on offense, defense and special teams.

Now it's time to add their coach to that list.

"We had great people, and you just can't win if you don't have great people," said Hank Stram, who will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, on Sunday along with Marcus Allen, Elvin Bethea, Joe DeLamielleure and James Lofton.

"You can't win if you don't have a great attitude, great discipline. I always thought that attitude was more important than intellect. That's the way our team was."

I don't think people know what a great quarterback coach he was. He knew more about the quarterback position than any coach I ever had.
Hall of Famer Len Dawson, on Stram

The franchise's first coach, Stram took over the expansion Dallas Texans of the upstart AFL in 1960 and guided them through 1974 -- 11 years after the team moved to Kansas City and was renamed the Chiefs.

The gregarious, stocky and blazer-wearing Stram -- carrying a rolled up game plan in his hand -- led the Chiefs to AFL titles in '62, '66 and '69 and appearances in Super Bowls I and IV.

Stram later coached two seasons in New Orleans and enjoyed a successful second career in CBS' television and Monday Night Football radio booths as a color commentator.

But it was Stram's success in Kansas City -- and his ability to find and develop talent -- that led him to Canton.

"I don't think people know what a great quarterback coach he was," said Hall of Famer Len Dawson, once a Stram waiver pickup. "He knew more about the quarterback position than any coach I ever had."

Five players on Stram's Chiefs teams -- Dawson, Bobby Bell, Buck Buchanan, Willie Lanier and Jan Stenerud -- became Hall of Famers, and countless others were stars.

Stram designed a moving pocket to utilize Dawson's ability to throw on the move and deceive defenses with play-action passes; he devised the two tight end offense that provided an extra blocker; and his stack defense packed so many bodies near the line of scrimmage that other teams couldn't run the ball.

Dawson doesn't know why Stram, who coached his final NFL game 26 years ago, wasn't a Hall of Famer years ago. The 80-year-old Stram is this year's seniors enshrinee.

"I think it was long overdue, but I'm prejudiced," said Dawson, one of Stram's closest friends and his Hall of Fame presenter.

Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt, also a Hall of Famer, is happy that Stram is finally getting his due.

"I would like to think the best record in the AFL, the most championships, would have been rewarded earlier," Hunt said this week at a Chiefs practice.

Stram had a 124-76-10 regular-season record -- plus 5-3 in the playoffs -- in 15 seasons at Dallas/Kansas City, but he refuses to feel slighted about his long Hall of Fame wait.

"I don't look at it that way," he said. "I think I was very, very fortunate to be able to coach in so many great places with so many great people. It's a great opportunity and I look forward to it with great anticipation."

Stram was a University of Miami assistant in 1959 when Hunt offered him a head coaching job that had been rejected by Bud Wilkinson and Tom Landry.

"It was a very lucky selection on my part," Hunt said. "He didn't come and apply. I went and sought him out. … He invited me to come to practice. I sat in the stands and after practice we went in and he showed me film. He was selling. Hank was always selling.

"He always had that personality."

Stram, who has retired to suburban New Orleans, expects dozens of his former players, as well as friends from his hometown of Gary, Ind., to be in Canton for his induction.

Aside from Phyllis, his wife of 50 years, and their six children, no one has formed a tighter bond with Stram than Dawson, the MVP of the Chiefs' 23-7 win over Minnesota in Super Bowl IV.

Dawson had wallowed on the bench in Pittsburgh and Cleveland for five seasons before asking Browns coach Paul Brown for his release. The Texans won the AFL title in the quarterback's first season in 1962.

"I look at my career, if it hadn't been for Hank I wouldn't have had one," Dawson said. "I had gotten very rusty in five years. I think even Lamar Hunt indicated it was a mistake to bring this guy in here, but Hank stayed with me. He thought he knew something about me."

As an assistant coach at Purdue, his alma mater, Stram had recruited Dawson out of high school in Alliance -- just 15 miles from Canton. He saw the quarterback's talent firsthand with the Boilermakers.

"When I got into pro football, I was hoping I could somehow, some way get him away from the Cleveland Browns, from Paul Brown," Stram said. "We were very fortunate to be able to pull that one off."