Rick Forzano, coach who gave Bill Belichick his start in NFL, dies at 90

Rick Forzano, coach who gave Bill Belichick his start in NFL, dies at 90

Rick Forzano spent 25 years in coaching, including three seasons as the head coach for the Lions from 1974-1976. The Lions announced Thursday that Forzano has died at the age of 90.

“Rick was a wonderful man and we are truly saddened by the news of his passing,” Lions owners Martha Firestone Ford said in a statement. “On behalf of me, my family and the Lions organization, I would like to extend my deepest sympathies to the entire Forzano family. Our thoughts are with his wife Betty, daughters Stacey and Kristie and his son, Rick Jr.”

Forzano, who had a 15-17 record as head coach in Detroit, made arguably his biggest impact on the game in 1976 when he hired Bill Belichick as assistant special teams coach.

Seventeen years earlier, Forzano lived with the Belichick family while an assistant at Navy and colleague of Steve Belichick, who was a scout for Navy for decades. Forzano often enlisted Bill (who was born in 1952) to break down film.

Bill Belichick has credited Forzano with jumpstarting his career in the NFL.

“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,” Belichick told NFL Films.

Belichick told The Detroit News in 2014: “It was a big part of my life and development and career, and I’ll always be appreciative of that opportunity.”

Other future head coaches from the Forzano tree included Raymond Berry (Patriots 1984-89), Joe Bugel (Cardinals 1990-93, Raiders 1997) and Jerry Glanville (Oilers 1985-89, Falcons 1990-93). 

Before coaching the Lions, Forzano had head-coaching stops at Navy (1969-72) and Connecticut (1964-65).