Woody Widenhofer

Robert "Woody" Widenhofer (January 20, 1943 – March 22, 2020)[1] was a college football head coach and longtime assistant coach in the National Football League (NFL). Widenhofer is best known for helping the Pittsburgh Steelers "Steel Curtain" defense that won four Super Bowls in the 1970s. He later served unsuccessful tenures as head coach at the University of Missouri and Vanderbilt University.

Woody Widenhofer
Biographical details
Born(1943-01-20)January 20, 1943
Butler, Pennsylvania
DiedMarch 22, 2020(2020-03-22) (aged 77)
Playing career
Coaching career (HC unless noted)
1969–1970Michigan State (DL)
1971Eastern Michigan (LB)
1972Minnesota (LB)
1973–1978Pittsburgh Steelers (LB)
1979–1983Pittsburgh Steelers (DC)
1984Oklahoma Outlaws
1989–1992Detroit Lions (DC)
1993–1994Cleveland Browns (LB)
1995–1996Vanderbilt (DC)
2003–2004Southeastern Louisiana (DC)
2005–2007New Mexico State (DC)
Head coaching record
Overall27–71–1 (college)
Accomplishments and honors

Widenhofer attended Riverview High School in Riverview, Michigan, and played linebacker at Missouri from 1961 to 1964 under coach Dan Devine. He went on to receive a master's degree at Michigan State University.

Coaching careerEdit

Widenhofer began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Michigan State where he coached the defensive line. Widenhofer then moved to Eastern Michigan and Minnesota where he served as linebackers coach. After several years as a college assistant, Widenhofer was hired to coach linebackers for the Steelers in 1973. He was promoted to defensive coordinator in 1979. By the time he left after the 1983 season, Widenhofer had won four Super Bowls and made the postseason nine times.

He spent one year as head coach of the short-lived United States Football League team, the Oklahoma Outlaws, before landing an opportunity at his alma mater, bolstered by a much-remembered ad campaign that urged Tigers fans to "climb on Woody's Wagon". While Widenhofer's team showed slow improvements, he only managed a 12–33–1 record in four seasons at Missouri from 1985 to 1988.

Widenhofer returned to the NFL for six years as an assistant coach, serving as defensive coordinator for the Detroit Lions under head coach Wayne Fontes, followed by two years as linebackers coach with the Cleveland Browns under head coach Bill Belichick. He then joined friend Rod Dowhower's staff at Vanderbilt to serve as defensive coordinator. When Dowhower was fired after the 1996 season, Widenhofer was promoted to head coach. In 1997, his Vanderbilt team led the SEC in total defense. However, his second tenure as head coach was no easier than the first, as Widenhofer compiled only a 15–37 record in five seasons at the helm for VU. Widenhofer resigned in 2001. While unsuccessful on the field, the NCAA announced that Vanderbilt led the nation in football graduation percentage with a perfect 100% the year he left.

Widenhofer considered retiring, but ultimately joined friend Hal Mumme as an assistant at Southeastern Louisiana University and later New Mexico State University. Widenhofer announced he was retiring from coaching following the season finale game against Fresno State on November 30, 2007.[2]

In January 2009 he was announced as the head coach of the Alabama Blackbirds of the United National Gridiron League, a new minor league that was scheduled to begin play in February 2009. The league's debut was repeatedly postponed due to financing issues, and in 2010 it suspended operations.

Personal lifeEdit

Widenhofer had five children: Kim, Stacy, Ryan, Ross, Katlyn and grandchildren Addison, Mia, Jackson, and Sophie. After his recent retirement from football, Widenhofer resided in Florida with his wife Sabrina.[3]

After leaving the Vanderbilt campus in 2001, Woody worked in a toll booth in Destin, Florida for three years. Woody stated that he didn't have anything else to do and enjoyed meeting people. However, his wife Sabrina, who works for Spirit Airlines, got transferred to Dallas, TX. Woody did not return to the Vanderbilt campus since his departure.[4] He died on March 22, 2020, aged 77.[1]

Head coaching recordEdit


Team Year Regular Season Postseason
Won Lost Ties Win % Finish Won Lost Win %
OKL 1984 6 12 0 .333 4th in Central Div. 0 0 .000
Total 6 12 0 .333


Year Team Overall Conference Standing Bowl/playoffs
Missouri Tigers (Big 8 Conference) (1985–1988)
1985 Missouri 1–10 1–6 T–7th
1986 Missouri 3–8 2–5 6th
1987 Missouri 5–6 3–4 5th
1988 Missouri 3–7–1 2–5 6th
Missouri: 12–31–1 8–20
Vanderbilt Commodores (Southeastern Conference) (1997–2001)
1997 Vanderbilt 3–8 0–8 6th (Eastern)
1998 Vanderbilt 2–9 1–7 5th (Eastern)
1999 Vanderbilt 5–6 2–6 5th (Eastern)
2000 Vanderbilt 3–8 1–7 5th (Eastern)
2001 Vanderbilt 2–9 0–8 6th (Eastern)
Vanderbilt: 15–40 4–36
Total: 27–71–1


  1. ^ a b Organ, Mike (March 23, 2020). "Former Vanderbilt football coach Woody Widenhofer has died at 77". The Tennessean. Retrieved March 28, 2020.
  2. ^ "Widenhofer Announces Retirement from Football". Nmotsc.com. Retrieved August 31, 2010.
  3. ^ "Pat Forde kicks off the season by introducing us to the most interesting men in Gridworld - ESPN". Sports.espn.go.com. January 1, 2008. Retrieved August 31, 2010.
  4. ^ "For Woody Widenhofer, life after Vanderbilt took toll". June 30, 2013. Retrieved June 30, 2013.