Longtime Browns defensive coach and coordinator Dave Adolph, who led Cleveland's defense during one of the franchise's most successful eras, died Sunday. He was 79.
"The Adolph family has roots in Ohio and deep roots with the Cleveland Browns," said Adolph's son, Mark. "We really appreciate the Browns fans and players for all the support and love they've given him and the outpouring of condolences through this difficult time as a family."
A native of nearby Mogadore, Adolph worked in football at various levels for more than 55 years, coaching numerous Hall of Fame players and appearing in a handful of the sport's most memorable games. He began his career at Cleveland's Shaw High School in 1961 and held an analyst position at the University of Michigan upon his death. He spent nearly a decade with the Browns, joining Sam Rutigliano's staff as defensive line coach in 1979 -- his first year in the NFL and a season that ended with a heartbreaking playoff loss to the Oakland Raiders -- and eventually working his way up to defensive coordinator in 1984. He was the defensive line coach from 1979-81 and linebackers coach from 1981-83.
After a one-year hiatus, Adolph returned to Marty Schottenheimer's staff in 1986 as the Browns' defensive coordinator during the team's back to back appearances in the AFC Championship in 1986 and 1987. En route to the 1986 AFC Championship, Cleveland held its opponents to 17 points or fewer in eight of its final 11 regular season games. The next year, Cleveland limited its foes to 17 or fewer points in 10 of 15 games. The Browns were the NFL's second-best scoring defense in a 1987 season that ended with a dramatic loss to the Broncos in the AFC title game.
Adolph logged 21 years of coaching at the professional level, including 14 as a defensive coordinator. He appeared in the AFC Championship as a coach on three different teams and made 12 career playoff appearances. After his time in Cleveland, Adolph spent the rest of his NFL years in the AFC West with the Chargers (1985, 95-96), Chiefs (92-94, 99) and Raiders (89-91, 97-98). He coached the likes of Derrick Thomas, Junior Seau and Lyle Alzado, whose respective tragic deaths crushed him, Mark said, because he viewed them and treated them as family members.
An all-conference guard at the University of Akron, Adolph was a commissioned officer in the Air Force from 1959-61 before he became a coach. He worked with Woody Hayes at Ohio State (1977-78) and served as Jim Harbaugh's defensive coordinator at the University of San Diego (2004-07). He also coached at Akron ('63-64), Connecticut (65-68), Kentucky (69-72), Illinois (73-76) and San Diego (2004-07). He assisted Jim Tressel's and Urban Meyer's staffs at Ohio State and multiple staffs at Michigan from 2005-2016.
Adolph is survived by his five children -- Michael, Mark, Thomas, Shane and Heather - and their 12 grandchildren.