Red Miller, the fiery head coach who led the Denver Broncos to their first Super Bowl, has died after complications from a stroke. He was 89.
Miller coached the Broncos from 1977-80 and compiled a 42-25 record. He’s best known as the architect of the Orange Crush defense, and the coach who ended decades of losing and turned the Broncos into contenders.
They went 12-2 in 1977, made their first playoff appearance and got to the Super Bowl, where they fell 27-10 to the Cowboys.
Along the way, Miller helped create a rivalry with the Oakland Raiders, making no bones about his hatred of the franchise that had gone 24-2-2 against Denver over the previous 14 seasons.
The Broncos moved to 5-0 in 1977 with a 30-7 win at Oakland — a game in which the Broncos intercepted Ken Stabler seven times — then beat the Raiders 20-17 in the AFC title game.
Denver hosts Oakland this Sunday, in what has long been known in Denver as “Raiders Week.”
Earlier this year, the Broncos decided to place Miller in their Ring of Fame. He is scheduled to be recognized to cap off the franchise’s alumni week, Nov. 17.
“You could tell how much the Broncos meant to Red, and he’s meant so much to everyone here,” Broncos President and CEO Joe Ellis said. “Red was overjoyed to get that phone call in May notifying him of his Ring of Fame selection, and we’re all very saddened that he won’t be able to join us when we honor him in November.”
Miller was a coaching lifer, spending time directing offensive lines in New England, Buffalo, St. Louis and Denver, and also serving two seasons as a defensive line coach for the Colts.
His hiring to replace John Ralston as Broncos head coach in 1977 was considered a surprise, but he lit a fire under a defense that included Lyle Alzado, Tom Jackson, Randy Gradishar and Louis Wright.
“We knew we had a very good team,” Broncos receiver Rick Upchurch told KUSA-TV in Denver. “But the way we came together that year when Red came in and gave us that attitude that we can win and we will win — it was probably the greatest moment in Broncos history.”
While Denver’s first championship remained another two decades off, Miller helped transform the Broncos from an NFL afterthought into one of its better teams.
Over the coach’s four seasons, the Orange Crush allowed a league-low 15 points a game. Denver made the playoffs three of those years, but Miller didn’t win another postseason game after the Super Bowl season, and was let go after going 8-8 in 1980.