Lou Saban, who coached O.J. Simpson in the NFL and ran the New York Yankees for George Steinbrenner during a well-traveled career that spanned five decades, died Sunday. He was 87.
Saban died around 4 a.m. at his home in North Myrtle Beach, S.C., his wife, Joyce, said. He had heart problems for years and recently suffered a fall that required hospitalization, she said.
Saban played football at Indiana University and for the Cleveland Browns of the NFL before embarking on an unmatched head coaching career that included stops with the Boston Patriots and Buffalo Bills of the old American Football League and the Denver Broncos and Bills after the AFL merged with the NFL in 1970, along with college jobs at Miami, Army, Northwestern and Maryland.
Saban, who was 95-99-7 in 16 seasons of pro football, also was president of the New York Yankees from 1981-82 and coached high school football from 1987-89.
"He has been my friend and mentor for over 50 years, and one of the people who helped shape my life," Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said in a statement. "Lou was tough and disciplined, and he earned all the respect and recognition that came his way. He spent a lifetime leading, teaching and inspiring, and took great satisfaction in making the lives around him better. This is a tremendous loss to me personally."
Saban shared the last name of another prominent football coach, Alabama's Nick Saban. Joyce Saban said the two men might have been second cousins, but said the families weren't exactly sure whether they were related.
Louis Henry Saban was born in Brookfield, Ill. in 1921 and was a 1940 graduate of Lyons Township High School. After starring at Indiana, Saban played for the Browns from 1946-49 and the next year accepted his first head coaching position - at Case Institute of Technology in Cleveland.
In 1955, he took over at Northwestern for a year, then moved to Western Illinois until entering the pro ranks in 1960 to coach the Boston Patriots of the newly formed AFL.
From there, Saban went to the Bills in 1962 and guided them to AFL championships in 1964 and 1965, the only championships the Bills have ever won. After a stint with the Broncos, Saban returned to Buffalo. During his second stint with the Bills from 1972-76, he oversaw O.J. Simpson's record-breaking, 2,003-yard rushing season in 1973.
"He was like a father to me," former Bills defensive back Booker Edgerson said. "He steered me in the right direction. He gave me advice. Some of it, I didn't like, but isn't that what a father does?"
Edgerson, who also played for Saban at Western Illinois and with the Broncos, said he last saw Saban in October at a Western Illinois banquet honoring the coach.
"Lou Saban was a great teacher," Edgerson said. "He knew how to build football programs. He could have built any program - football, baseball, basketball, whatever. Even though his patience was short-tempered, he allowed players to let out their anxieties and frustrations."
After quitting the Bills in midseason of 1976, Saban spent two years as athletic director at Miami, where he recruited future Buffalo quarterback Jim Kelly.
Saban later became known for how quickly he changed jobs. He coached Army in 1979, was AD at Miami and spent 19 days as athletic director at Cincinnati. He went on to coach high schools, colleges and in the Arena Football League.
Saban spent the 1990s starting or rebuilding programs at places like Peru State, Canton Tech and Alfred State, where he left before the team played its first game. He coached Central Florida in 1983-84.
"I've coached at all levels, covered the gamut, and I've never really seen any difference," Saban said after being hired to coach Alfred in upstate New York in 1994. "My coaching techniques are pretty much the same, with some adjustments for what younger players can and can't do."
Saban spent five years at Canton Tech in northern New York - the longest stint of his career - before leaving after the 2000 season. In one of his last jobs, he coached Division III Chowan State in North Carolina, leaving in 2002 after the team went 0-10.
"He was an original," Joyce Saban said. "He was one of a kind."
Funeral arrangements were incomplete. Joyce Saban said the family would have a mass at Our Lady of the Sea Catholic Church in North Myrtle Beach on Saturday.
Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press