American football coach
Weeb Ewbank was small in stature, and could often get lost on the sideline among the players he coached. But he had a large heart and was well liked by most everyone he encountered. As head coach with the Baltimore Colts (1954-1962) and then with the New
York Jets (1963-1973), he would mentor some of the great names in professional football. He also coached the winning team in two of most famous games in NFL history, the 1958 NFL Championships and Super Bowl III. Ewbank spent forty-six years in football and coached at every level. He was the only coach to win championships in both NFL (2 with the Colts) and AFL (with Jets). He died at the age of ninety-one in 1998.
Charles "Weeb" Ewbank was born on May 6, 1907, in Richmond, Indiana, to Mr. and Mrs. Charles Ewbank, and would grow up in the Fairview area of Richmond, the son of a grocery store owner. At nine, Weeb was delivering orders for his father in a horse-drawn wagon. As a teenager, he would find his way to Dayton, Ohio, to watch Jim Thorpe play for the Canton Bulldogs.
At Oliver P. Morton High School, Ewbank was a three-sport star. He married his wife Lucy—whom he would remain married to for sixty-nine years—while still attending high school. In order to earn extra money, he played semi-pro ball. He went on to play football and baseball in college.
The Early Years
After Ewbank graduated from college, he taught and coached at Van Wert High School in Ohio. He made only $2000 a year for his position, since he took the job as the Depression hit, and he learned lessons about frugality that would stick with him the rest of his life. When he made it into professional football and earned a pretty good living, he was never flashy, and he often told his players with bigger contracts to keep quiet about them. He was embarrassed by all the money in the game, and didn't want the lower-paid players to find out (salaries weren't as public then as they are now).
Later he would coach at Oxford-McGuffey High School and lead his team to seventy-one wins and only twenty-one losses in thirteen years. This included a twenty-one game winning streak, where his team outscored their opponents 270 to 0.
Football is like a family in Ohio, and Ewbank was a member of a pretty important family. During the war he had served as an assistant coach for Paul Brown during his time in the armed forces at the Great Lakes Naval Training Base outside of Chicago. In 1949, Paul Brown hired Ewbank to serve as his assistant in charge of tacklers and kickers for the Cleveland Browns. Weeb was uneasy about such specialization, but Brown convinced him, and he excelled at line coach. Ewbank, like Brown, had played quarterback in high school and college, stressed pass protection. He revolutionized pass blocking.
The Baltimore Colts were founded in 1953, and Ewbank would soon take over, leaving the Browns to become the Colts head coach in 1954. He had quite a task in front of him. Art Donovan would say that most of the team was "awful," and claim there were guys on that club who "couldn't make a good high school team." Ewbank's first task was to find a quarterback, and he signed Johnny Unitas in 1955.
Coached in Memorable Games
Ewbank had the distinction of coaching in history-making games. He coached the first sudden death overtime victory title game, in 1958, as coach of the Colts. When the game ended in a 17-17 tie at the end of regulation, no one knew what to do, but they eventually figured it out, setting a precedent for the league.
He also coached in the "Heidi Bowl." On an NBC televised game, with sixty-five seconds remaining, Ewbank's Jets kicked a field goal to take a 32-29 lead over the Raiders in Oakland. At that point, it was 7 p.m. EST, and NBC cut off its coverage of the game with fifty seconds remaining (except on the West Coast) to begin the two-hour children's movie "Heidi." Jets fans were livid, especially when they learned that the Raiders came back to score two touchdowns in nine seconds to win 43-32.
Ewbank was with the Cleveland Browns in their 1950 NFL debut against the Philadelphia Eagles. And then, in what was probably his sweetest victory, coached the Jets, with Joe Namath at the helm, to an upset in Super Bowl III over his former team, the Baltimore Colts. Ewbank was also on the sidelines in the 1970 debut of Monday Night Football, picking up a win against Cleveland.
Though he won a championship with Unitas, Ewbank was fired after the 1962 season, to be replaced by thirty-three-year-old coach Don Shula . When he went to the New York Jets as head coach and general manager in 1963, he needed just five seasons to take Jets to the Super Bowl. Jets owner Sonny Werblin had signed Joe Namath to a $400,000 contract-the richest in team sports at the time. Namath proved to be the catalyst the team needed.
|1907||Born May 6 to Mr. and Mrs. Charles Ewbank in Fairview area of Richmond, Indiana|
|1916||Delivered orders for his father in a horse-drawn wagon|
|1924||Graduated from Morton High School, Richmond|
|1928||Graduated from Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, where he was quarterback|
|1929-30||Coached football at Van Wert, Ohio|
|1930||Named head football coach at McGuffey High School, Oxford|
|1930||Assists with coaching at Miami University (Ohio)|
|1942-45||Joins Navy and is assistant coach for Paul Brown at Great Lakes Naval Training Center|
|1946||Becomes backfield coach at Brown University, where quarterback was Joe Paterno|
|1949||Joins Paul Brown as assistant coach of the Cleveland Browns|
|1954||Takes head coaching position with Baltimore Colts|
|1958||Coaches Baltimore in the first sudden-death overtime game in NFL history|
|1959||"Weeb Ewbank Day" declared in Richmond, Indiana|
|1962||Fired by Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom|
|1963||Named head coach of New York Jets|
|1973||Retires from coaching|
|1974||Inducted into Indiana Football Hall of Fame|
|1977||Co-authors book Football Greats|
|1978||Inducted into Professional Football hall of Fame|
|1998||Dies at age 91 at his Oxford, Ohio home on November 17|
Awards and Accomplishments
|1958||Coached against New York Giants, winning in overtime in what has been called "the greatest game in history"|
|1959||Won NFL Championship with Baltimore Colts|
|1963||Won Super Bowl III with Joe Namath as his quarterback|
|1969||Inducted as charter member in Miami University (Ohio) Hall of Fame|
|1974||Inducted into Indiana Football Hall of Fame|
|1978||Inducted into National Professional Football Hall of Fame|
The Later Years
Ewbank retired in 1974. A quiet man, he seldom got angry with his players, and he didn't do much boat-rocking, so the media rarely paid him much attention. Ewbank just happened to be in the right place when major events took place. He helped shape the game of football, helping make it what it is today. The "no-huddle" offense can be attributed to Ewbank. He was known for working with a simple offense, making it only as complicated as need be to cover all necessary tasks.
Weeb Ewbank had a big heart. He remained married to Lucy for sixty-nine years, had three daughters, many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Over half a century later, Weeb could still remember the names and positions of the players he coached back in Ohio. When he passed away on November 17, 1998, at his home in Oxford, Ohio, Ewbank left behind quite a legacy. At his funeral, many of his former players were there—including Namath—but were too choked up to make any comments.
SELECTED WRITINGS BY EWBANK:
Football Greats, Chalice Press, 1977.
Ewbank, Weeb. Football Greats. Chalice Press, 1977.
Hickok, Ralph. A Who's Who of Sports Champions. New York: Houghton Mifflin, Co., 1995.
Mendell, Ronald L., and Timothy Phares. Who's Who in Football. New Rochester, New York, 1974.
Zimmerman, Paul. Last Season of Weeb Ewbank. New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1974.
Clark, Jan. "Wilbur 'Weeb' Ewbank." (obituary) Palladium-Item (Ohio) (November 18, 1998): 34.
Mravic, Mark and Kostya Kennedy. "A Coach with Nothing To Hide."Sports Illustrated (November 30, 1998): 34.
Time (November 30, 1998): 35.
Didinger, Ray. "Weeb Ewbank." http://www.superbowl.com/xxxvi/insider/weeb_xxx.html/ (October 25, 2002).
Wallace, Bill. "Remembering Weeb: Slightly unconventional, Ewbank was loved by his players." http://archive.profootballweekly.com/content/archives/features_1998/wallace_112398.asp (October 25, 2002).
Sketch by Eric Lagergren
"Ewbank, Weeb." Notable Sports Figures. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 26, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/sports/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/ewbank-weeb
"Ewbank, Weeb." Notable Sports Figures. . Retrieved March 26, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/sports/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/ewbank-weeb