It’s long been said in business that leadership influences an organization’s culture. The same is true in sports.
Over time, a team will think, feel, and behave according to the characteristics of their head coach.
Therefore, it’s safe to say that the teams coached by Jerry Glanville definitely reflected their head coach.
Glanville was a brash, fun-loving, and eccentric coach for the Houston Oilers and Atlanta Falcons in the 1980s and 1990s.
Jerry Glanville still maintains his career highlight was beating Arn Anderson for the NWA TV title – hang on, being told that is just one goddamn impressive belt buckle. pic.twitter.com/hN5tsnKC0q
— Super 70s Sports (@Super70sSports) November 24, 2020
During his tenure with the Oilers and Falcons, both teams played the game with wide-open offenses and tough defenses.
They entertained audiences and upset the status quo.
Of course, Houston and Atlanta under Glanville were also undisciplined and often fell short of expectations.
Still going strong at the age of 80, Glanville continues to bring his brand of outlaw behavior to the franchises he coaches.
This is the story of Jerry Glanville.
Early Life and Coaching Career
Jerry Michael Glanville was born on October 14, 1941 in Perrysburg, Ohio. He was immersed in athletics at a young age and played football at Perrysburg High School.
Glanville’s future in the sport was prophesied for all to see in his high school yearbook.
Below his picture read the caption, “Life without football is not life.”
“That was in 1959,” said Glanville in 2018. “I guess it’s kind of turned out that way.”
After graduating from high school, Glanville matriculated to Northern Michigan University where he played linebacker.
He graduated from NMU in 1964 and began his coaching career as the defensive coordinator at Lima Central Catholic High School in Ohio.
Glanville later found out why he got the job at Lima.
“It’s such a good job. Why did you hire me?” Glanville asked Lima’s head coach. “And he goes, “’Well, I hate to tell you. You’re the only one that applied.’”
In 1967, Glanville was hired as the defensive coordinator at Western Kentucky University where he was a roommate of Joe Bugel, a future NFL head coach.
As the story goes, Glanville and Bugel were so devoted to football that they would diagram plays on empty pizza boxes in their spare time.
Glanville then made his way to Atlanta in 1968 where he was the defensive ends and outside linebackers coach at Georgia Tech until 1973.
Glanville Becomes an NFL Coach
In 1974, Glanville was hired by the Detroit Lions to serve as a defensive assistant and special teams coordinator under head coach Rick Forzano.
While with Detroit, Glanville learned how to make the most out of a difficult situation.
At the time, the Lions played at Tigers Stadium, sharing the facility with the Tigers’ baseball team.
The Lions were not allowed to practice on the Tigers’ field, so they were left with a 40-yard grass strip to work on their game plan.
The limited space also meant that the team couldn’t practice field goals or long pass plays.
“…come game day, they roll the tarp off and the grass would look good and people didn’t realize that the first time they saw the grass (at Tigers Stadium) was the first time we saw it,” Glanville joked years later.
In 1977, Glanville returned to Georgia to work for the Atlanta Falcons as their defensive backs coach.
Under new head coach Leeman Bennett, the Falcons struggled offensively and finished the year at 7-7.
However, Glanville and his fellow defensive coaches were having a ball.
Nicknamed the “Grits Blitz,” the Falcons defense allowed only 129 total points for the season. That set an NFL record for fewest points allowed during a 14 game season.
Jerry Glanville, architect of the Falcons' "Grits Blitz" of the late 1970s
— Clayton Trutor (@ClaytonTrutor) April 24, 2019
Furthermore, their 9.2 average points surrendered per game remains an NFL record. The unit also gave up only 3,242 total yards, which was the second fewest in the league.
The following season, the team improved to 9-7 and advanced to the Divisional round before losing to the Cowboys 27-20.
In 1979, Glanville became Atlanta’s defensive coordinator.
As the team fell to 6-10 that season, Glanville’s defense gave up 388 total points, ranking 26th in the league.
Things improved in 1980 when both the offense and defense improved to fifth in the league and Atlanta rose to 12-4.
Unfortunately, their season would end to the Cowboys yet again in the Divisional round 30-27.
After two inconsistent seasons in 1981 and 1982, Glanville was part of the house cleaning when Bennett was fired after the ‘82 season.
Glanville would next appear in Buffalo in 1983 as the defensive backs coach for the 8-8 Bills.
After only a year in Buffalo, Glanville was hired by the Houston Oilers as the defensive coordinator under head coach Hugh Campbell.
The team did not perform well in 1984 and 1985, winning only eight combined games.
With two games remaining in the ‘85 season, Campbell was fired and Glanville took his place. The Oilers would lose both games under their interim coach.
Glanville is Promoted by Houston
Despite the organization’s poor record the previous two years, Houston hired Glanville as their new head coach before the 1986 season.
OTD in 1986, the Oilers remove the interim tag from Jerry Glanville, naming him as the team's head coach.
The Oilers' DC, he had been promoted to head coach at the end of '85 on an interim basis after Campbell was dismissed. Glanville signed a 5-year deal worth approximately $1M pic.twitter.com/qFSK3Pi0cx
— 𝕃𝕦𝕧 𝕐𝕒 𝔹𝕝𝕦𝕖 (@BudsOilers) January 20, 2022
He would guide them to a 5-11 record in his first year, the same record as in 1985, However, there were some signs of life.
Both the offense and defense improved statistically and there was reason for optimism in 1987.
Under the direction of quarterback Warren Moon and a fleet of receivers that included Curtis Duncan, Haywood Jeffires, Drew Hill, and Ernest Givins, the team won nine games in ‘87.
In the Wild Card round, the Oilers tripped up Seattle in overtime before losing to Denver in the Divisional round.
By this time, Glanville’s personality was drawing as much press as the Oilers offense.
Each game day, he was dressed in black and he was known to leave tickets at will-call for the late Elvis Presley.
However, Glanville refuted that particular story in 2011.
In his retelling, while in New England to play in a preseason game early in his Houston tenure, Glanville and fellow coach June Jones struck up a conversation about the halftime show that day.
“June says, ‘“Isn’t the halftime show dedicated to Elvis at our game?” I said, “Yeah.” He goes, “‘Well hell, we ought to leave him a ticket.’” So we left him a ticket.”
Glanville then elaborated that the New England game was the only time he left a ticket for The King.
Meanwhile, Glanville was also notorious for rubbing game officials and opposing coaches the wrong way.
“What is he from College? I hate College guys”
“This is the NFL, which stands for Not For Long when you make calls like that, I’ll be packing groceries”
— Old Time Football 🏈 (@Ol_TimeFootball) February 13, 2019
During the 1987 season, then Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Chuck Noll gave Glanville a heated lecture after losing to the Oilers in Houston.
Bengals coach Sam Wyche and Browns coach Marty Schottenheimer were also frequent sparring partners with the man in black.
The Oilers Sputter in the Playoffs
In 1988, the Houston Astrodome had become the de facto “House of Pain” due to the Oilers exuberant fan base and Glanville’s hard hitting (some would say ‘dirty’) defense.
"The House of Pain" Oilers, coached by Jerry Glanville in the late 80s. pic.twitter.com/VatSNFwbAD
— FB_Helmet_Guy (@FB_Helmet_Guy) February 25, 2020
The team ended the season 10-6 and defeated Schottenheimer and the Browns in the Wild Card round.
Buffalo would then end Houston’s season the following week in the Divisional round.
In 1989, Houston was a Wild Card entrant after a 9-7 record.
Noll and the Steelers would gleefully beat the Oilers in overtime of the playoff game to advance.
After four years, Glanville’s inability to take the talented Oilers deep into the postseason was exasperating to Houston owner Bud Adams.
Adams also bristled at Glanville’s outlandish behavior and undisciplined locker room.
In January 1990, the owner fired his coach after a meeting where it was “mutually decided” that Glanville would not return.
“As you can tell, we have had an emotional day,” Glanville said at the time. “We decided that we wanted to be friends the rest of our lives.”
Glanville Returns to the Falcons
After Glanville left Atlanta as an assistant in early 1983, the Falcons continued to falter.
For the next seven years, the franchise never won more than seven games under coaches Dan Henning and Marion Campbell.
Team owner Rankin Smith wanted to turn the fortunes of his team around and hired Glanville a week after he was fired by Houston.
It marked the third time Glanville would work in Atlanta as a college and professional coach.
Inheriting a three-win team, Glanville helped the Falcons improve to 5-11 in 1990.
Jerry Glanville on your teaching progression:
"One walkthrough equals three meetings." pic.twitter.com/Wlyduw4Fb6
— Alex Kirby (@AlexJKirby) October 21, 2020
Coincidentally, that was the same record Glanville had in his first full year as Houston’s coach.
During the 1991 NFL Draft, Glanville wanted to reload with a skilled receiver.
Already on board was Andre Rison and Michael Haynes, but the coach wanted to add a third speedster for his collection.
His goal was to turn the Atlanta offense into a similar run-and shoot style he ran with Houston.
In the first round, the Falcons selected receiver Mike Pritchard from Colorado.
Then, in the second round, the team grabbed Southern Miss quarterback Brett Favre, a pick that Glanville was against.
On this day in 1991, Brett Favre was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in the 2nd round.
He also wore JORTS!! pic.twitter.com/4m295GTzV5
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) April 22, 2014
Favre was talented, but a little wild. The idea was that he would sit behind veteran Chris Miller for a few years and learn the ropes.
Instead, Favre responded to clipboard duties with the enthusiasm of a college fraternity pledge.
It was obvious that the kid from Mississippi had an NFL arm.
However, Favre frequently partied and would show up to practices and team meetings hung-over.
In his mind, if Glanville wasn’t going to start him, Favre was going to do his own thing.
“I just said, ‘The hell with it,’” said Favre in 2017. “I went out every night, gained weight and was out of shape. I didn’t study, I didn’t care. I’d show up just in time for the meetings, and I’d be out of there the second the meetings were over.”
As Favre was self-sabotaging his career, the Falcons were becoming media darlings in 1991.
After beginning 0-2, Atlanta won 10 of their next 14 games, including a rare season sweep of tough division rival San Francisco.
The formula for success was Miller, Rison, and Haynes torching secondaries while all-world corner Deion Sanders helped shut down opposing receivers.
Another reason for the carnival atmosphere was Glanville’s lack of discipline with the Falcons.
Celebrities such as boxer Evander Holyfield and rapper MC Hammer could be found on the sidelines during games.
Hammer’s song, “Too Legit to Quit,” became the team’s anthem and a number of Falcons players (as well as Glanville) appeared in the music video.
Too Legit To Quit – The 1991 Atlanta Falcons NFL Yearbook – YouTube…Funnest year of ball ever!!! https://t.co/W63LiFwbcv
— June Jones (@CoachJuneJones) January 8, 2021
The party continued after Atlanta’s victory over New Orleans in the Wild Card round. It was the Falcons’ first postseason victory since 1978.
However, befitting Glanville’s playoff failures, Atlanta was bounced in the Divisional round by the Redskins 24-7.
Not long after the season concluded, Glanville got rid of a nuisance and sent Favre as far away as he could.
“I had to get him out of Atlanta. . . . I could not sober him up,” Glanville said in 2010. “I sent him to a city where at 9:00 at night the only thing that’s open is Chili Joes. And that’s what made Brett Favre make a comeback was going to a town that closed down. If I would have traded him to New York, nobody to this day would have known who Brett Favre ever was.”
The Bottom Falls Out
The fun-filled frivolity of the 1991 season crashed to Earth in 1992. Atlanta couldn’t find any consistency and ended the year 6-10.
In 1993, Glanville’s schtick had played out. Falcons players tuned him out and the bravado of their head coach became a joke.
Jerry Glanville led the Falcons to the playoffs in 1991 while looking like an integral member of a male stripper troupe known as “The Highwaymen.” pic.twitter.com/a9RDAhS4v0
— Super 70s Sports (@Super70sSports) July 25, 2021
After a second straight 6-10 season, Atlanta fired Glanville.
“I think you judge yourself by whether you’re in the playoffs or not,” Glanville said after being fired. “If you’re not in the playoffs, you’ve had a bad year.”
“We felt it necessary to make this change now so we can start early in making the right decisions for ’94,” said team president Taylor Smith.
As an NFL head coach, Glanville had a 60-69 record over eight plus seasons.
Glanville Turns to Racing
Once he left Atlanta, Glanville turned to broadcasting and landed gigs with Fox Sports, HBO, and CBS.
He also immersed himself in his second love, auto racing.
— NASCAR Legends (@LegendsNascar) October 15, 2021
In 1992, at the age of 50, Glanville made three starts in the NASCAR Busch Series, racing his number 56 Atlanta Falcons Buick.
As was his custom in Houston and Atlanta, Glanville wore all black during every race.
The following year, he returned to the Busch Series, now racing in his number 81 Computer Transport/Harley Davidson Ford in three races.
Glanville then switched to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series circuit in 1995 and raced his number 81 Glanville Motorsports Ford through the ‘99 season.
From 2002-2004, Glanville raced in the NHRA, NMCA, and ARCA RE/Max Series events.
During the 2003 racing season, he was seriously injured during a qualifying event and required painful skin graft surgery.
— Ryan McGee (@ESPNMcGee) February 5, 2017
However, Glanville was back racing less than two months later.
Return to Coaching
In 2005, Glanville got the itch to coach again and took a job as the defensive coordinator at the University of Hawaii.
The hire was surprising as Glanville had been out of coaching for over a decade.
However, during his two-year stint, the Hawaii defense went from a woeful 112th ranking in the nation in 2005, to a 69th rank in 2006.
The Rainbow Warriors also improved from five wins in ‘05 to 11 wins and a Hawaii Bowl victory in 2006.
That turnaround was enough for Portland State University to hire the 66-year-old as their head coach in 2007.
Portland State Vikings football under Jerry Glanville encompassed the 2007, 2008 and 2009 NCAA pic.twitter.com/xjcCnes9tP
— Andrew Raspberry (@andrewtathampi) November 28, 2016
In three years with the Vikings, Glanville went 9-24 and he resigned following the 2009 season.
Glanville Continues to Coach
At a time when most people are in full retirement, Glanville couldn’t stay away from the game after leaving Portland.
In 2018, he returned once again to the gridiron as the defensive coordinator for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League.
The fact that he was 77 years old at the time didn’t deter Glanville.
After spending a year in Canada, Glanville became the defensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Vipers of the XFL in 2020.
— Tampa Bay Vipers (@XFLVipers) May 21, 2019
With the XFL in limbo during the Covid pandemic and sale of the league to actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in ‘20, Glanville decided to keep busy.
In October of that year, he was named the head coach of the Conquerors of The Spring League, an instructional league for aspiring pros.
At 80 years of age, Glanville shows no signs of slowing down.
Although he is known as an affable character, Glanville continues to be sought out by coaches at all levels due to his football knowledge and defensive acumen.
For the man in black, there is nothing better than coaching young men in the sport he loves.
“Here’s your headline: Fifty years to life,” Glanville said in 2018. “I hope it’s life. My goal would be to drop dead on the practice field, running a blitz. Could you go any better way?”