September 16, 2019


R.I.P., Coach Ralston



John Ralston and his Broncos staff. Top row from left: Doc Urich, Myrel Moore, Bob Gambold, Jerry Frei, Dick Coury. Bottom row from left: Max Coley, Ralston, Joe Collier.




(The prelude is a repeat of my On the Colorado Scene commentary. If you read that and clicked the link to get here, scroll down for the book excerpt about Coach Ralston.)


Former Stanford and Denver Broncos coach John Ralston passed away over the weekend.


Denver owes him gratitude because during his five-season tenure with the Broncos, he was instrumental in getting them moving in the right direction after the early days of ineptitude in the AFL and then the NFL. Much of it had to do with his ability to spot and judge talent.. During his five-season stint as GM and coach, the Broncos took, among others, Randy Gradishar, Otis Armstrong, Louis Wright and Tom Jackson,  when there were reasonable justifications to overlook them, and it laid the foundation for the franchise's improvement.



His exit was complicated, far more so than the way it is often portrayed -- as the result of a widespread player revolt.


In fact, the "revolt" was led by a very small group of players, it was rebuffed by ownership and management, and the manifesto loosely attibuted to a "Dirty Dozen" was leaked after many present at a team meeting to discuss it believed they'd not approved it, agreed that it would not be released and instead endorsed a much more mild statement, only offering support for general manager Fred Gehrke. 


Ralston ultimately was fired when it became clear that he wouldn't be able to stick to his promise to just be the coach after he was given a choice between his two jobs -- GM and coach -- and he picked coaching. Gehrke was named GM, but it became obvious early on that couldn't work because Ralston continued to act as if he was in charge of personnel, too. He was good at that and he could have been a Hall of Fame GM.   



I told the story in'77: Denver, the Broncos, and a Coming of Age. 



The pertinent pages follow.


Later in the book, when profiling the '77 players, many of them when into more detail about their gratutude to Ralston. And it was sincere. 


My father, Jerry, had coached against Ralston in the Pacific 8 and moved from Oregon to be Ralston's offensive line coach in Denver from 1972-75. After Ralston's fourth season, my dad kept his promise to his closest friend in coaching, John McKay, to join McKay's staff if he ever moved to the NFL. So my father was not on Ralston's staff for the climactic 1976 season. He and Ralston remained friends, though.














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