American Football Wiki
Lou Saban
Lou Saban
Saban as Buffalo Bills coach in 1963
Personal Information
Born (1921-10-13)October 13, 1921
Died March 29, 2009(2009-03-29) (aged 87)
Career information
Year(s) 19461949
Undrafted in 1946
College Indiana (1941-1942)
Professional teams
Cleveland Browns (1946-1949, as player)
Case Western Reserve (OH) (1950–1952)
Washington (Asst. coach) (1953–1954)
Northwestern University (1955)
Western Illinois (1957–1959)
Boston Patriots (1960–1961)
Buffalo Bills (1962–1965)
Maryland (1966)
Denver Broncos (1967–1971)
Buffalo Bills (1972–1976)
Miami (FL) (1977–1978)
Army (1979)
University of Central Florida (1983–1984)
Martin County High School (1987–1988)
South Fork High School (1988)
Georgetown High School (1989)
Middle Georgia Heat Wave (1990)
Peru State College (1991)
Tampa Bay Storm (1992)
Milwaukee Mustangs (1994)
SUNY Canton (1995–2000)
Chowan University (2001–2002)
Career stats
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Stats at
Coaching stats at
Stats at
Career highlights and awards

As player:

As coach:

  • AFL Champion (1964, 1965)
  • 2× AFL Coach of the Year (1964, 1965)

Louis Henry Saban (October 13, 1921 – March 29, 2009) was an American football player and coach. Saban played for Indiana University in college and as a pro for the Cleveland Browns of the All-America Football Conference. He was the head coach of the Boston Patriots (1960–1961), Buffalo Bills (1962–1965, 1972–1976), and Denver Broncos (1967–1971) of the American Football League and later the National Football League's American Football Conference, compiling a career AFL/NFL record of 95–99–7. At the time of his death, Saban was the last survivor of the eight coaches of the Original Eight American Football League franchises, the others being Eddie Erdelatz, Frank Filchock, Buster Ramsey, Lou Rymkus, Sammy Baugh, and Hall of Fame coaches Hank Stram and Sid Gillman. Saban was also the head coach at a number of colleges: Case Institute of Technology (1950–1952), Northwestern University (1955), Western Illinois University (1957–1959), the University of Maryland, College Park (1966), the University of Miami (1977–1978), the United States Military Academy (1979), the University of Central Florida (1983–1984), Peru State College (1991), the State University of New York at Canton (1995–2000), and Chowan University (2001–2002), tallying a career college football mark of 94–99–4.

Playing career[]

Saban played college football at Indiana University where he was named All-Big Ten as a quarterback one year and All-Big Ten as a fullback in another. A 10th round selection in the 1944 NFL Draft, he began his pro career with the Cleveland Browns of the All-America Football Conference (AAFC). He was the team captain as the Browns dominated the AAFC in all four years of the league's existence. Saban was twice voted to the league's All-Star team as a linebacker.

Coaching career[]

College coaching[]

He went on to be the head coach at Case Institute, where he compiled a 10–14–1 record from 1950–1952. He then was an assistant coach at the University of Washington, before becoming an assistant coach at Northwestern University in 1954. In 1955, Saban was named as the head coach at Northwestern. Two years later, he moved on to Western Illinois University, where he would remain as head coach until he entered the professional football ranks to guide the Boston Patriots of the newly formed American Football League (AFL). In his last season at Western Illinois, his 1959 team had an undefeated 9–0 record.[1]

Professional coaching[]

In the early 1960s the Buffalo Bills enjoyed an era of glory. The driving force behind it was Lou Saban, whose style of coaching won him the respect, love, and loyalty of his players. "Trader Lou" came to the Buffalo Bills as head coach in 1962, from the Patriots. He set to work building the Bills into a formidable defensive team, with a strong offense as well. His record at Buffalo during the AFL years was 36–17–3, with winning seasons in each of his four years.

In 1964 and 1965, the Bills went 12–2 and 10–3–1, en route to consecutive AFL championships. Saban was the only man ever to accomplish that feat, and the only one to coach his team into the post-season three straight years (1963–1965). His volatile style nevertheless endeared him to his players. He is shown in a famous clip bemoaning to an assistant coach: "They're killin' me out there, Whitey, they're killin' me!" He once suspended Cookie Gilchrist for taking himself out of a game in which Gilchrist claimed the Bills were "passing too much", but Cookie's teammates pleaded with Saban until he reinstated the big fullback. In the 1965 AFL championship game against the San Diego Chargers, when offensive linemen Billy Shaw and Dave Behrman were injured, Saban inserted veteran Ernie Warlick opposite rookie Paul Costa in a double tight end formation, which helped the Bills win the game.

Saban was named Coach of the Year twice, but one week after winning his second title, he quit to become head coach at the University of Maryland, and then the Denver Broncos. He returned to the Buffalo Bills (by then in the NFL) from 1972 through 1976, and was credited with coaching Bills running back O.J. Simpson to his full potential.[2]

Return to college ranks[]

Saban served as head coach at the University of Miami from 1977 to 1978, and is credited with helping lay the foundation for the Hurricanes' future success, in particular recruiting quarterback Jim Kelly to the university. However, despite a winning record in 1978, Saban departed Miami amid controversy. That April, three freshmen Miami players taunted and then attacked a twenty-two-year-old Jewish man wearing a yarmulke who was walking to religious services on campus. They threw the man, who worked at a campus gathering place for UM's Jewish community, into Lake Osceola at the center of campus. When Saban returned to campus a few days later, he was unaware the man was Jewish and reportedly said "Getting thrown in the lake? Sounds like fun to me." Miami's Jewish community complained, and despite numerous apologies, Saban could not stem the protests and Saban offered to resign mid-season. At the request of Athletic Director John Green, Saban remained through the end of the season, and he left to coach at Army.[3]

After coaching at Army, Saban worked for his former assistant coach, George Steinbrenner as President of the New York Yankees in 1981–1982.[4]

Saban spent the 1983 and 1984 seasons as the head coach at the University of Central Florida (UCF), which was a Division II school at the time. He took over a team that had gone 0–10 in 1982 and led the Knights to a 5–6 record in 1983. He was replaced by his assistant, Jerry Anderson, midway through the 1984 season with UCF's record standing at 1–6.

Saban retired in 1985 to Hendersonville, North Carolina.[4] However, he came out of retirement to coach high school football and spent the 1989 season as head coach of the Georgetown High School Bulldogs in Georgetown, South Carolina. Though only winning one game, he was credited with ending a 21 game losing streak, improving the overall operations of the athletic staff and gaining attention for his players, several of whom ended up with college scholarships. In 1990, Saban coached four games for the Middle Georgia Heat Wave, a semipro team in Macon, Georgia, before leaving the job in a manner that the team said was "not a firing" and Saban said was "not a resignation." He then spent a year as head coach at Nebraska's Peru State College in 1991, compiling a 7–4 record. In 1994, Saban coached the expansion Milwaukee Mustangs of the Arena Football League but was fired after only four games. After that, he helped to start the Alfred State College football program, though he never coached a game there. Saban then served as the first head coach at SUNY Canton from 1995 until retiring in 2000. His record at this two-year college was 34–16. He retired to coastal South Carolina, but shortly thereafter returned to coaching in 2001–2002 as head coach at Chowan University in Murfreesboro, North Carolina, compiling a 2–13 record. He is a member of the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.


Including his stops at both two- and four-year schools, Saban's overall collegiate coaching record was 94–99–4. Including playoffs, his professional football record stands at 97–101–7.[5]

Marty Schottenheimer, who played for Saban from 1965 to 1968 with the AFL's Bills, was greatly influenced by Saban's coaching philosophy. Schottenheimer and other coaches influenced by Saban are considered to be in Lou Saban's coaching tree. They include:

Professional football coaching tree[]

Numbers indicate Super Bowls won by Saban's "descendants", a total of three.



Saban served a brief stint as President of the New York Yankees in the 1980s, as a personal favor to his close friend, George Steinbrenner.[6]

Later years and death[]

In his later years, Saban had been experiencing heart problems and recently experienced a fall in his home that required hospitalization. He died at his home in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina at 4 am EST on March 29, 2009.[7]

Head coaching record[]


Year Team Overall Conference Standing Bowl/playoffs
Case Tech Rough Riders () (1950–1952)
Case: 10–14–1
Northwestern Wildcats (Big Ten Conference) (1955)
1955 Northwestern 0–8–1 0–6–1 10th
Northwestern: 0–8–1 0–6–1
Western Illinois Leathernecks (Interstate Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) (1957–1959)
1957 Western Illinois 5–4
1958 Western Illinois 6–1–1
1959 Western Illinois 9–0
Western Illinois: 20–5–1
Maryland Terrapins (Atlantic Coast Conference) (1966)
1966 Maryland 4–6 3–3 T–3rd
Maryland: 4–6 3–3
Miami (FL) Hurricanes (NCAA Division I/I-A Independent) (1977–1978)
1977 Miami 3–8
1978 Miami 6–5
Miami: 9–13
Army Cadets (NCAA Division I-A Independent) (1979)
1979 Army 2–8–1
Army: 2–8–1
Central Florida Knights (NCAA Division II Independent) (1983–1984)
1983 UCF 5–6
1983 UCF 1–6*
UCF: 6–12 *Fired after 7 games
Peru State Bobcats () (1991)
Peru State: 7–4
SUNY Canton Roos () (1995–2000)
SUNY Canton: 34–16
Chowan Hawks () (2001–2002)
Chowan: 2–13
Total: 94–99–4


Team Year Regular Season Post Season
Won Lost Ties Win % Finish Won Lost Win % Result
BOS 1960 5 9 0 35.8 4th in AFL East Division - - -
BOS 1961 2 3 - 40.0 fired after game 5 - - -
BUF 1962 7 6 1 53.8 3rd in AFL East Division - - -
BUF 1963 7 6 1 53.8 1st-T in AFL East Division 0 1 0.00 Lost to Boston Patriots in AFL division playoff
BUF 1964 12 2 0 85.7 1st in AFL East Division 1 0 1.00 Beat San Diego Chargers in AFL championship game
BUF 1965 10 3 1 76.9 1st in AFL East Division 1 0 1.00 Beat San Diego Chargers in AFL championship game
DEN 1967 3 11 0 21.4 4th in AFL West Division - - -
DEN 1968 5 9 0 35.7 4th in AFL West Division - - -
DEN 1969 5 8 1 38.1 4th in AFL West Division - - -
AFL Total 56 57 4 49.6 2 1 66.7 2 AFL titles, 2 AFL division championships
DEN 1970 5 8 1 38.1 4th in NFL AFC West - - -
DEN 1971 2 6 1 27.8 fired after game 9 - - -
BUF 1972 4 9 1 30.8 4th in NFL AFC East - - -
BUF 1973 9 5 0 64.3 2nd in NFL AFC East - - -
BUF 1974 9 5 0 64.3 2nd in NFL AFC East, AFC Wild Card 0 1 0.00 Lost to Pittsburgh Steelers in AFC division playoff
BUF 1975 8 6 0 57.1 3rd in NFL AFC East - - -
BUF 1976 2 3 0 40.0 fired after game 5 - - -
NFL Total 39 42 3 48.2 0 1 0.00
Professional Total 95 99 7 49.0 2 2 50.0 2 AFL titles, 2 AFL division championships

See also[]


  3. Cane Mutiny: How the Miami Hurricanes Overturned the Football Establishment,Feldman, Bruce (2004). pp. 17–18. New American Library. Retrieved on 2009-10-13. ISBN 0-451-21297-5.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Goldstein, Richard. "Lou Saban, a Well-Traveled Coach, Is Dead at 87", The New York Times, March 30, 2009. Retrieved on April 4, 2010. 
  5. "Football coach Lou Saban dies; his sports career spanned 50 years", Los Angeles Times, March 30, 2009. 
  6. Lupica, Mike (2011-04-11). Mayor Bloomberg wandering aimlessly through third term as Cathie Black hiring backfires. New York Daily News. Retrieved 2011-04-11.

External links[]