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Joe Collier, former Bills coach, dies at 91

DENVER (AP) — Joe Collier, the former Buffalo Bills head coach and architect of the Denver Broncos’ famed “Orange Crush” defense, has died. He was 91.

Collier was 13-16-1 at the helm of the Bills, leading them to the AFL Eastern Division title in 1966 with a 9-4-1 record. He coached the Bills’ linebackers and defensive backs from 1962-65 before taking over as head coach from 1966-68.

The Broncos said Collier’s family confirmed that he died at his Littleton, Colorado, home on Monday night.

“Joe Collier is one of the most impactful coaches in the history of the Denver Broncos and regarded among the best defensive coordinators of all time,” the Broncos said in a statement. “He was an innovator in the NFL with his 3-4 defense, helping the Broncos to three Super Bowl appearances during a legendary career with our franchise that spanned more than two decades.

“Intelligent, modest and soft-spoken, Collier provided steady leadership to five different head coaches as the Broncos emerged as perennial contenders in the 1970s and 1980s. His profound influence on countless players and coaches in Denver included 12 Broncos Ring of Famers, 11 Pro Bowl selections and 2024 Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Randy Gradishar.”

In a recent interview with The Associated Press regarding Gradishar’s induction into Canton this summer, Collier said, “It’s long overdue. I couldn’t be prouder of him. Randy was a great leader of our defense.”

Collier said he hoped Gradishar’s enshrinement would do two things: show today’s fans what a coolly efficient tackler Gradishar was and open the door for more members of the Orange Crush defense to get into the Hall of Fame.

Collier spent 20 seasons on the Broncos’ coaching staff from 1969-88, a tenure surpassed only by Mike Shanahan’s 21 years. Collier helped Denver to a 168-132-7 record, five division titles and Super Bowl appearances after the 1977, ’86 and ’87 seasons.

Led by Collier’s defense, the Broncos made their first of eight Super Bowl appearances after the 1977 season, when they defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers and Oakland Raiders in the playoffs to win the AFC. The Broncos lost to Dallas in the Super Bowl.

Collier started coaching at Western Illinois University (1957-59) before breaking into pro football as an assistant for the Boston Patriots from 1960-61. He returned to New England as defensive coordinator from 1991-92.

He was a two-time All-America defensive end at Northwestern before being drafted by the New York Giants in 1954.

Collier is survived by three children, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

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