OLDSMAR — All John Rauch did was win. The most prolific college quarterback of his era, he became one of the best coaches in the pros. Mr. Rauch died at his Oldsmar home on Tuesday of unknown causes. He was 80.
His was a success that almost wasn't. As age 14, Mr. Rauch was told to stop playing football because of a heart murmur. He ignored the doctors.
He became a three-sport star at Yeadon High School in Philadelphia, where he won the heart of at cheerleader named Jane. A walk-on at the University of Georgia, he won a spot in the starting lineup. Jane cheered from the bleachers every game.
He led the Bulldogs to a 20-10 victory in the 1946 Sugar Bowl, capping an undefeated season. After throwing for 4,044 yards, a collegiate record, Mr. Rauch won a $10,000 signing bonus to play for the Detroit Lions. The Lions then traded him to the New York Bulldogs for running back Doak Walker, who led the Lions to two straight championships.
"He calls that the world's worst trade of all time," said John Rauch, 56, Mr. Rauch's son.
Mr. Rauch was head coach for the Oakland Raiders, whom he led to Super Bowl II, and the Buffalo Bills before coming to the fledgeling Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He clashed with head coach John McKay, who insisted on running the I formation used in college. Mr. Rauch coached the offense for five winless games before quitting in frustration.
"He was my mentor," said Steve Spurrier, the Buccaneers' first quarterback, who hired Mr. Rauch for his own coaching debut with the Tampa Bay Bandits of the United States Football League. A coach so disciplined he used O.J. Simpson as a decoy, Mr. Rauch used to shake his head at Spurrier's plays.
"He used to say, 'Where'd you get this stuff?' " Spurrier said. "I'd say, 'I made up most of it.' "
Coaching in the NFL had a drawback: Mr. Rauch's son, John, a receiver at East Tennessee State, also played his games on weekends. "That was one of the sad points in my life," said Rauch, who became a career Navy pilot.
He didn't know that his father was watching the game films every week, sent by the coach.
"He seldom said anything about my play," Rauch said. "I guess he didn't want to put pressure on me."
Had Mr. Rauch stayed on with the Oakland Raiders instead of resigning in 1969, he might have tasted coaching immortality. Subsequent teams were not as talent-laden. He scouted for the NFL, read sports autobiographies and turned his study into a shrine to the Georgia Bulldogs.
His career coaching record is 40 wins, 28 losses and two ties. That was his style, going out a winner.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 661-2431.