American football coach
Football coach Mike Ditka, known as "Iron Mike" and "Da Coach," was a star tight end for the Chicago Bears from 1961 through 1966, before finishing his playing career with the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys. After retiring from play in 1972, he became an assistant coach of the Dallas Cowboys. He then worked as head coach of the Bears for 11 years, during which he had a 112-68 record and led Chicago to victory in the Super Bowl. Ditka subsequently became coach of the New Orleans Saints, and is now retired. A successful player and coach, he is now a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"You Could Hear the House Rock"
The son of a steelworker from Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, Ditka was large and strong even as a child. In People, Jack Friedman quoted Ditka's father, Mike Sr., who said that when Ditka did pushups, "You could hear the house rock."
Ditka went on to play football at the University of Pittsburgh, where, as an end, he was an All-American. However, in his senior year, he also showed the anger that would later get him in trouble as a coach: at the halftime of a game, he slammed a teammate into a locker because the teammate had missed a tackle. A week later, he apologized.
In 1961, Ditka was drafted by the Chicago Bears, and spent six years playing with them as a tight end. Although he was not fast, he was unstoppable once he had the ball. He was the NFL Rookie of the Year for 1961, and played in the Pro Bowl from 1961 through 1966. Ditka was also willing to play through pain; in 1964 he played most of the season with a separated shoulder. He could not lift his left hand higher than his shoulder, but caught balls by swatting them with his right hand and pinning them to his chest.
In 1967, Ditka was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles, and played two years with them before being traded to the Dallas Cowboys, with whom he played four more seasons. With the Cowboys, Ditka won the Super Bowl in 1972, catching a touchdown pass in the Cowboys'
24-3 victory over the Miami Dolphins. He retired from playing football after that season. During his career he caught 427 passes, 43 for touchdowns. He averaged 13.6 yards per catch
Ditka did not remain unemployed for long. He was soon hired by Tom Landry , the Cowboys' head coach, as an offensive assistant and special teams coach. He helped guide Dallas to a Super Bowl win in 1977, a 27-10 victory over the Denver Broncos.
Head Coach of the Chicago Bears
In 1982, the Chicago Bears' famed coach, George Halas , who had drafted Ditka as a player, brought him back to Chicago, this time as head coach of the Bears. He would coach the Bears for 11 seasons, period of time that would bring him lasting fame in football.
In the 1980s, the Bears were a strong team; from 1985 to 1988, they had 52 regular-season victories, the most ever by an NFL team in any four-year period. Their success hinged largely on one player, running back Walter Payton . Ditka told Mike Sager in Esquire that other teams "tried to stop our running game, and it didn't matter if they did stop it, because we kept trying to run the football, and eventually we made it work. And we made it work because of one guy—Walter Payton." Payton would eventually set a new career rushing record, with 16,726 yards in his 13-year career.
In 1985, Ditka was named the Sporting News Coach of the Year as the Bears went 15-1 and won the Super Bowl 46-10 over the New England Patriots in 1986 with, as Paul Attner wrote in the Sporting News, "some of the toughest, most aggressive, hard-nosed football you could ever want." The Bears played relentlessly, with drive and flair, and Ditka was credited for bringing that out in them. It was the team's first championship since 1963.
The Bears failed to repeat as championships, losing early in the playoffs to the Washington Redskins. Their victory in 1986, however, brought the team fame. As Friedman pointed out, the Bears led the NFL in endorsements at that time; several, including Ditka, owned restaurants; and 13, including Ditka, had their own radio or television shows. Ditka was appearing on both television and radio.
In 1988, Ditka was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That season he led the Bears to a 12-4 record and was named Sporting News Coach of the Year for the second time. Chicago came up one game short of the Super Bowl, losing in the NFC Championship Game to the San Francisco 49ers.
During the 1992 season, Ditka's desire to coach began to wane, and he reached a breaking point on October 4, when the Bears were leading the Minnesota Vikings 20-0 in the first quarter. This was a great beginning, but the Bears played so badly the rest of the way that they lost the game 21-20. After the game, Ditka, veins protruding in his neck, screamed at quarterback Jim Harbaugh. Morale on the team suffered, and the Bears slid to 5-11 for the season. According to Peter King in Sports Illustrated, critics contended that Ditka was burned out and had lost his love of football, citing his bad temper and numerous outbursts directed at players, fans and Bears owner Mike McCaskey. Ditka denied this for many years, but eventually admitted to King, "They spoke the truth. I totally lost my desire. The best thing for me was to do something else, and it was best for the Bears, too."
McCaskey fired Ditka, and Ditka spent most of the next four years golfing, traveling, and working as a motivational speaker and as an analyst on NBC's "NFL Live." However, as he told King, "Getting up and going to the golf course is not life." And he remarked to Paul Attner in the Sporting News, "I was figuring out what color shirt I was going to wear instead of reading a good book or doing something constructive." He began looking for something to do that would give him direction.
New Orleans Saints Head Coach
When the New Orleans Saints offered him a job as head coach, he was skeptical about whether they would actually give it to him and whether he should take it. But when he talked to Saints owner Tom Benson, he became excited about the idea. "I firmly believe everything happens for a reason, and as I sat in that room, I began to think this was where I was meant to be." Ironically, the Saints' previous coach, Jim Mora, had quit after a disastrous game, just as Ditka had.
The Saints needed to improve: they were playing so badly that their fans called them "the Ain'ts," showed up at games with paper bags over their heads, and called the New Orleans Superdome, where the Saints played, the "House of Blues." They had not had a winning season since 1992, and fan morale was so bad that in 1996, the average home game attendance was only 37,750, the worst in the team's 30-year history.
On January 28, 1997, Ditka was announced as the new coach of the New Orleans Saints. His first two seasons with the Saints produced a 12-20 record. In 1999, Ditka traded several draft picks to earn the right to draft Texas running back Ricky Williams. The choice was controversial. "A lot of people think I'm nuts," Ditka told Sager. "People ask me if by giving away our entire draft I'm ransoming the whole future of the Saints. Well, let me tell you: There is no future. This game is about winning. It's about trying to get as good as you can as soon as you can."
|1939||Born in Carnegie, Pennsylvania|
|1961||Drafted by Chicago Bears|
|1967||Traded to Philadelphia Eagles|
|1969||Traded to Dallas Cowboys|
|1972||Retires from playing football|
|1972||Becomes offensive assistant and special teams coach for Dallas Cowboys|
|1982||Becomes head coach of Chicago Bears|
|1986||Leads Bears to victory in Super Bowl over the New England Patriots|
|1992||Fired by Bears owner Mike McCaskey|
|1997||Hired as head coach of New Orleans Saints|
|2000||Retired from coaching|
Awards and Accomplishments
|1961||NFL Rookie of the Year|
|1961-66||Pro Bowl player|
|1972||Dallas Cowboys win Super Bowl|
|1977||Dallas Cowboys win Super Bowl|
|1985-86, 1998||Sporting News Coach of the Year|
|1986||Chicago Bears win Super Bowl|
|1988||Inducted into Pro Football Hall of Fame|
Citing the example of Walter Payton, who was such a large part of the Bears' success in the 1980s, he said, "Maybe that's old-fashioned and maybe the new gurus of football don't see it that way, but I don't really care." In 2000 Benson, evidently feeling that the Saints had not improved enough, fired 22 employees, including Ditka. Since that time, he has been retired from coaching.
As he grew older, Ditka's health began to deteriorate; he suffered a heart attack in 1998 and had an angioplasty. He takes heart medication, and he has had two hip replacements. He told Sager, "The things that seemed so important when you were young don't seem so important anymore. You realize that the greatest gifts you've got are life, health, friends, your spiritual beliefs." Ditka summed up his often-opinionated coaching methods when he told Attner, "There is a reason I do everything. You'll learn that. If I don't say anything for any other reason but effect. If it gets the right effect, then I have said the right thing."
Address: c/o Nationwide Speaker Bureau, Inc., 120 El Camino Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90212; Mike Ditka's Restaurant, 100 E. Chestnut Street, Chicago, IL 60611. Fax: 310-273-5928. Phone: 310-273-8807. Online: www.nationwidespeakers.com; www.mikeditkaschicago.com.
|CHI: Chicago Bears; DAL: Dallas Cowboys; PHI: Philadelphia Eagles.|
Where Is He Now?
Since leaving the Saints, Ditka has continued to work as a motivational speaker, television commentator on CBS Sports, and also as an actor in commercials. He enjoys playing golf, collecting antique cars, and riding motorcycles. He is the owner of Mike Ditka's Restaurant, which has branches in Chicago, Illinois; Naples, Florida; and New Orleans, Louisiana, and is also involved in numerous charitable and nonprofit organizations. He sponsors a scholarship at his alma mater, the University of Pittsburgh. Ditka has been married to his wife Diana since 1977; they have four children from Ditka's previous marriage.
SELECTED WRITINGS BY DITKA:
(With Don Pierson) Ditka: An Autobiography, Bonus Books, 1987.
Attner, Paul. "Everything's Going My Way." Sporting News, July 14, 1997, 38.
Friedman, Jack. "Staring Down His Rowdy Ruffians, Chicago Coach Mike Ditka Prods the Bears to the Super Bowl." People, January 5, 1987, 66.
King, Peter. "The Ditka Dilemma." Sports Illustrated, July 30, 1990, 44.
King, Peter. "Touch Down." Sports Illustrated, April 14, 1997, 46.
Lamb, Kevin. "Ditka is TSN's Coach of the Year." Sporting News, January 27, 1986, 14.
"Once a Bear, Always a Bear." Sports Illustrated. December 16, 1985, 78.
Pierson, Don. "'Da Coach' and 'Da Stoic.'" Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, December 8, 2001, K3903.
Sager, Mike. "Is Ditka Nuts?" Esquire, October 1999, 126.
Mike Ditka's Restaurant, http://www.mikeditkaschicago.com/ (January 5, 2003).
New Orleans Saints Web site, http://www.neworleanssaints.com/ (January 5, 2003).
Sketch by Kelly Winters