Schmidt from The 1953 Owl, Pittsburgh yearbook
|Date of birth:January 19, 1932|
|Place of birth: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania|
|NFL Draft: 1953 / Round: 7 / Pick: 85|
|Debuted in 1953 for the Detroit Lions|
|Last played in 1965 for the Detroit Lions|
|Made coaching debut in 1967 for the Detroit Lions|
|Last coached in 1972 for the Detroit Lions|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Stats at NFL.com|
|Pro Football Hall of Fame|
|College Football Hall of Fame|
Joseph Paul Schmidt (born January 19, 1932) is a former American football player and coach at both the collegiate and professional levels. His 13-year career with the National Football League's Detroit Lions gained him a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1973.
Schmidt grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the borough of Brentwood and attended the University of Pittsburgh, playing on the school's football team for three years from 1950–1952. His hard-nosed play and leadership were an integral part of the team during those three years, with his inspirational pre-game speech helping the Panthers upset a heavily-favored team from the University of Notre Dame, 22–19, on October 11, 1952. One player later commented, "Hell, we were more afraid of Schmidt than Notre Dame."
Despite these attributes, Schmidt's size (6 ft, 195 lb; 1.8 m, 88 kg) worked against him in the NFL draft, when the Lions waited until the seventh round to select him. It was not until his arrival at the 1953 College All-Star Game that the Lion coaches, who were opposing him in the contest, saw his talent on display.
Schmidt worked his way into the lineup, helping Detroit to its second straight NFL title as a rookie. By 1956, Schmidt was named a team captain, a designation he would hold for the next nine years, with his defensive skills resulting in his calling signals for the team.
The latter duty resulted in an amusing, if painful, moment for Schmidt that year, when many teams were experimenting with radio receivers to send signals. On one occasion, Lions' assistant coach Buster Ramsey was so upset after one play that he slammed the radio receiver to the ground, with Schmidt jumping after being on the noisy end of Ramsey's anger.
The following year, Schmidt was named the top defensive player in the NFL, when he made roughly half of the team's tackles on the season. The award was the first of four times that he would receive the honor, with his outstanding play an important part of the Lions' third title in six years. However, Schmidt's 1957 salary of $11,000 became a sticking point before the start of the next season, and after six months of military service during the off-season, Schmidt was a holdout as training camp began. He later signed and finished the year with six interceptions, while also establishing a new NFL record that year by recovering eight fumbles.
Schmidt's physical toughness was put on greater display as injuries began to strike in 1960. After suffering a dislocated shoulder in the September 11 exhibition game, Schmidt was expected to miss six weeks, but instead was back after a month and scored the first touchdown of his NFL career on October 16 against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Two years later, Schmidt battled bruised ribs, but after the year had ended, his career was in peril for activities off the field when he became involved in a gambling investigation. After he admitted wagering on the 1962 NFL Championship game between the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants, Schmidt (along with four teammates) was fined $2,000.
In each of the next two seasons, shoulder troubles continued, but Schmidt continued to be the focal point of the Lions defense.
In 1999, he was ranked number 65 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Football Players. Number 65 was also his uniform number at Pitt, and the school retired it. As a Lion, he wore number 56, and this number was retired as well. Schmidt personally allowed Pat Swilling to wear the number 56 during Swilling's time with the Lions. No player has worn it since.
After a 1965 season in which he intercepted four passes, he announced his retirement on March 10, 1966, and was soon named as a Detroit assistant coach. During that year, he tutored linebackers Mike Lucci, who went on to a productive Pro Bowl career with the team, and Wally Hilgenberg, who later was an effective member of the Minnesota Vikings' defense.
After two years of continued conflict with players, Lions' head coach Harry Gilmer was let go and Schmidt was hired to replace him for 1967. In taking control, Schmidt instilled discipline by establishing curfews and trading unhappy players. The end result that first year was a 5–7–2 mark, but his attempts at improving the team after the season almost resulted in his resignation. Seeing the need for a quarterback, Schmidt attempted to trade for former Lion teammate Jim Ninowski, but was rejected by management. By the time the 1968 NFL season began, Schmidt had settled on former Los Angeles Rams signal caller Bill Munson.
That year, Schmidt heard perhaps the first boos ever by Detroit fans when he ran out the clock, instead of trying to break a 20–20 deadlock against Green Bay. By season's end, the team had finished one game worse than the year before. In 1969, his playing career was honored when he was selected the "Greatest Lion Ever" in conjunction with the NFL's 50th anniversary, and his team also showed strong improvement, finishing 9–4–1 on the campaign. Just hours after the team defeated the 11–2 Rams 28–0 on December 14, Schmidt's celebrating caught up with him when he was arrested for driving while intoxicated.
Schmidt's best season came the following year when the Lions were 10–4 to make the playoffs for the first time in 13 years. The most important win of the year came in a December 14 Monday night clash at Los Angeles, where they defeated the Rams 28–23, while the most heartbreaking loss came on November 8, when Tom Dempsey's record 63-yard field goal beat Detroit 19–17. After that game, Schmidt demoted Munson in favor of third-year quarterback Greg Landry. The playoff run was short, however, as the Dallas Cowboys won a defensive battle, 5–0, on December 26.
In 1971, the team slipped to a 7–6–1 record, but the decline paled in comparison to the death of Lions wide receiver Chuck Hughes in the waning moments of the October 24 game against the Chicago Bears. The following year, the team improved by one game, but with one game left, team owner William Clay Ford, unleashed a barrage of criticism on the squad as a whole.
The end result was that Schmidt resigned on January 12, 1973, saying that, "coaching isn't fun anymore." His mood brightened somewhat three weeks later when he was elected to the Hall of Fame, but Schmidt never again coached and spent the next three decades as a manufacturer's representative.
Joe Schmidt's career mark as a coach was 43-35-7. With the exception of Gary Moeller (who coached just seven games, winning four), he is the most recent Lions coach with a winning record.
Schmidt's personality was that of a perfectionist, perhaps one reason why his coaching was not as successful as his playing. He once stated, "I expect everyone to be like me. I guess that's a mistake."