PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. (AP) – Phil Krueger, who helped build a dominant defense as assistant to the national champion of Southern California in 1967 and later became part of the first coaching staff in the history of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has died. He was 90 years old.
Krueger died Monday in his house, his family said.
Krueger was experienced in all phases of the game and coached offensive, defense and special teams in the NFL and college for more than three decades. He was the head coach in Fresno State and Utah State (31-22) and an assistant in Illinois.
Krueger moved from the field to the Tampa Bay front office and was a senior executive for 10 years, known for his ability to negotiate contracts. He was hired as the Buccaneers' first general manager in 1991 – before that, the team's coaches made player decisions.
Krueger worked under the famous head coach John McKay at USC and Tampa Bay. Krueger's assistant at both locations was the future triple Super Bowl champion Joe Gibbs.
Gibbs and Krueger were roommates in the hotel when Southern Cal was playing on the street.
"I have many great memories of being on the same coaching staff as Phil," Gibbs said this week. "He was very smart. A hot guy with a great sense of humor. He was one of those you always liked to see. "
Krueger's career path was set early when he switched from grammar to rust. He taught English at a high school in Arizona when he took over the football program, and later got a job as an assistant coach at Long Beach City College.
Krueger was a defense assistant at USC from 1966 to 1970. In 1967 the Trojans went 10: 1 – seven opponents to seven points or less – and won the national title.
"My favorite coach ever," said former Southern Cal and longtime NFL linebacker Charlie Weaver from his home in Fresno, California on Saturday. "He recruited me from junior college and I couldn't wait to come to the USC to play under Coach Krueger's guidance."
In 1970, Weaver, Krueger, and the Trojans were part of one of the most important college football games ever. A fully integrated USC squad went to Birmingham and defeated Bear Bryant's all-white Alabama team 42:21 in a matchup that was not nearly as short as the end result.
"Coach Krueger prepared us for the game, it was an exchange of blows," recalled Weaver.
Weaver, who is part of USC's acclaimed Wild Bunch defensive front, said he stayed in close contact with Krueger after her college days.
"We spoke at least once a year," he said. "What a great man."
Krueger joined McKay in 1976 as an offensive backfield assistant at the Buccaneers expansion and had a 0-14 season. Krueger coached linebackers the following year when the Bucs started 0-12 before ending in two wins, including a win over St. Louis in the last game.
Gibbs was with the Cardinals and was released after the season. Krueger helped Gibbs' move to Tampa Bay.
Krueger worked in special teams when the Bucs first appeared in the playoffs and reached the NFC title game in 1979. In 1981 he became the assistant to the owner Hugh Culverhouse.
Krueger left the Bucs after a season as a GM, but didn't give up football. After moving to Florida to be near his daughter, Krueger spent three years advising a pro team in Tokyo, the Kajima Deers.
Krueger was born in LaSalle, Illinois. He grew up in St. Louis and played soccer in southeast Missouri. He was a first lieutenant in the US Army, served in the Korean War and was awarded the Bronze Star.
"Phil Krueger was tough … the reason I couldn't get a date in high school (that's my story)," daughter Kristi Krueger, a long-time presenter at WPLG-TV in Miami, posted on Facebook. "But my friends loved Big Phil and he loved them. Papa was a brilliant writer and the reason I love poetry."
Krueger is survived by his 59-year-old wife Kathy, daughter Kristi and two grandchildren. The family asked for donations on behalf of Krueger to the Alzheimer's Association.
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