Former Detroit Lions, Connecticut and Navy coach Rick Forzano has died at the age of 90, the Lions announced Thursday.
Forzano coached the Lions in 1974-76, compiling a 15-17 record as the team moved from Tiger Stadium to the Pontiac Silverdome, but his tenure in Detroit is better known for helping to start the career of New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
Forzano briefly lived with Belichick’s family in 1959 after joining Navy as an assistant coach — and colleague of Belichick’s father, Steve, on the Navy coaching staff — and asked 10-year-old Bill to break down film.
Years later, after Belichick spent a year as a staff assistant with the Baltimore Colts, Forzano gave the 23-year-old his first full-time NFL job in 1976, first as a special-teams assistant and then as wide-receivers and tight-ends coach.
“Rick gave me a great opportunity here, because when I was with the Colts I didn’t have a position to coach, I didn’t really have a group of players that I was responsible for,” Belichick told NFL Films in Detroit in 2017. “When I came here, Rick gave me the opportunity with the tight ends. The opportunity to coach a position, that’s a big step for any coach, and that was an opportunity that Rick gave me that I probably wasn’t ready for, but I certainly appreciated the opportunity for it.”
Forzano also had future NFL head coaches Joe Bugel, Raymond Berry and Jerry Glanville on his staffs in Detroit.
“It was a big part of my life and development and career, and I’ll always be appreciative of that opportunity, like I said, that was given to me by [then-owner William Clay] Ford and Coach Forzano,” Belichick told the Detroit News in 2014.
After coaching, Forzano became a color analyst for football games on ABC and NBC, along with starting Rick Forzano Associates, which connects domestic and international companies to the United States military, government and automotive industries.
Forzano, from Akron, Ohio, graduated from Kent State in 1951. He coached in college at Wooster, Kent State, UConn and Navy. He was also an NFL assistant in St. Louis and Cincinnati.