Widenhofer, one of football's most capable defensive strategists,
resigned as Vanderbilt's head coach November 8, 2001, ending
a seven-year relationship with the university.
tenure on the campus was marked by tough defenses and haunting
losses. Under Widenhofer, Vanderbilt was 15-40-0 overall,
and 4-36 in the Southeastern Conference.
Pennsylvania native and 1970 graduate of the University of
Missouri, Widenhofer earned a national reputation for defensive
coaching years before arriving at Vanderbilt in 1995 as a
who played linebacker for Dan Devine at Missouri, worked at
Michigan State, Eastern Michigan and the University of Minnesota
before agreeing to become linebacker coach for the Pittsburgh
Steelers. The struggling AFL franchise blossomed during Widenhofer's
tenure and its defense, especially Widenhofer's linebacking
corps of Andy Russell, Jack Lambert and Jack Ham, began to
dominate the league. After four years - and two Super Bowls
- Widenhofer became the Steelers' defensive coordinator, witnessing
the famed "Steel Curtain" defense capture two more Super Bowl
titles. Many experts believe Widenhofer's defense at Pittsburgh
was the greatest in professional football history.
1984, Widenhofer joined the upstart United States Football
League, coaching quarterback Doug Williams and the Oklahoma
Outlaws to a 6-12 record.
following year, Widenhofer returned to Missouri, accepting
what he considered a dream job at his college alma mater.
The undermanned Tigers slowly improved under Widenhofer, but
failed to post a winning campaign during his four-year reign.
the Missouri disappointment, Widenhofer surfaced as defensive
coordinator for the Detroit Lions. He spent four years in
Detroit and two more with the Cleveland Browns before newly
hired Vanderbilt coach Rob Dowhower invited Widenhofer to
oversee the Commodore defense.
Dowhower's tenure resulted in identical 2-9 campaigns, Widenhofer's
defenses were feared by its opponents. The defensive-minded
Commodores just missed upsets of Notre Dame, Alabama, Florida
and Tennessee during the two-year period.
1997, Vanderbilt administrators named Widenhofer as the school's
25th head coach. After 2-9 and 3-8 seasons, Commodore followers
seemed within grasp of a winning season three years ago,only
to watch their team drop close decisions to Florida and Kentucky.
The 5-6 mark in 1997 was Widenhofer's best finish at Vanderbilt.
2000, expectations were dashed when two of Vanderbilt's finest
players were ruled ineligible for the first two games. The
Commodores lost both contests, and never recovered, going
2001 season started in bitter fashion for Widenhofer and his
Commodores. The team was stunned by Middle Tennessee State
37-28 in the season opener, then dropped heartbreaking conference
losses to Alabama and Auburn. They ended the season 2-9.