He was a head football coach, an assistant football coach, a Super Bowl champion, a broadcaster, and to me and thousands of others, a dear friend.
I am talking about the late, great Jim Hanifan.
Hanifan, 87, passed away on November 25th at Missouri Baptist Hospital. His daughter said his passing wasn’t related to Covid-19. Despite health issues over the past couple of years, the St. Louis legend was still full of life, and always had plenty of stories to tell.
And not only was he one of the most versatile coaches… but he was one of the most respected.
“Would I have been a Hall of Famer without him as my coach? Probably not,” former Cardinals offensive tackle Dan Dierdorf said in the introduction to Hanifan’s biography, Beyond Xs and Os, My Thirty Years in the NFL.
“When I thought who was the person who was the biggest influence on my professional career, it wasn’t even close. There was no one who could rival what [Jim] Hanifan did for me.”
I had the pleasure of meeting him over five years ago, at the residence of my grandparents. My Dad and I were special guests of my Grandpa at a men’s luncheon with Hanifan as the guest speaker. He told us all of his start with the St. Louis Football Cardinals in the 1970’s as a part of Don Coryell’s coaching staff. The stories involved the great Big Red offensive line consisting of Dierdorf, Conrad Dobler, Roger Finnie, Bob Young and Tom Banks. That offensive line only allowed eight total sacks in a single-season, an NFL record. They were renowned around the league as the roughest and toughest offensive line in football. With Coryell as head coach, and Jim Hart as the quarterback, the Cardiac Cards had the NFL’s best win total (31) from 1974-76.
In 1980, Hanifan became the head coach of the Cardinals, He had three winning seasons in six years at the helm, but was dismissed in classless fashion by owner Bill Bidwell, who had the locks changed in the team facility with one game left to go in the 1985 season. To date, he has the fourth-most wins in Cardinals history (39).
Despite the unceremonious way that Hanifan’s head coach tenure ended in St. Louis, his football career was far from over. He spent seven seasons as an offensive line coach for the Washington Football Team, and then returned to St. Louis football in 1997 to help coach the Rams. It was with the Rams he helped usher in a new generation of star offensive linemen, such as Hall of Famer Orlando Pace, as well as Andy McCollum, Adam Timmermann, Fred Miller, and Tom Nutten. It was this offensive lineman that provided Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk the necessary blocking to unleash The Greatest Show on Turf of the late 90’s and early 2000’s.
The Rams won Super Bowl XXXIV over the Tennessee Titans, giving Hanifan his second Super Bowl ring (he also won Super Bowl XXVI with Washington in 1991).
He remained with the Rams until he retired from coaching in 2003.
After retirement, Hanifan found his way into the Rams’ broadcast booth, a position he was lauded for being in. His style of analyzing and critiquing players, while being humane and genuine, was praised by many listeners.
As I had stated earlier, he was a man chock full of stories to tell, and football knowledge to share. Getting to meet him at the luncheon with my Grandpa was just the first of many occasions I had to get to spend time with him. There would be Sunday afternoons where I would see him before visiting my grandparents and we would just “shoot the breeze” about our week and how the family is doing. He always cared about you when you would talk to him.
In 2016, the Isaac Bruce Foundation held a special “Legends of the Dome” event at the Dome at America’s Center. It was a scrimmage football game featuring Rams legends from their time in St. Louis. Hanifan was there as not only one of the coaches, but as a special guest. He rode a golf cart out there, as he began to slow down, but his sharp wit and presence never waned. I was on the sidelines with him most of the game, and it was like two childhood friends having a blast. I later had the pleasure of getting to celebrate his 85th birthday with him at the residence he lived at.
So, what else is there to say about Hanifan? One of the most enjoyable people I’ve ever had the pleasure of being around. A true gentlemen, but a tough coach. Considered by many to be one of the greatest offensive line coaches in NFL history.
He was a dear friend. And I will truly miss him.