LEXINGTON, Va. – Walt Michaels ’51, a Washington and Lee Athletics Hall of Famer and member of the 1951 Gator Bowl team, passed away on July 10.
Michaels played both linebacker and fullback for the Generals, garnering Honorable Mention All-America honors as a fullback following the 1950 season. He also earned All-Southern honors that season, helping lead W&L to a Southern Conference Championship, its first in 16 years. The Generals finished 8-3 overall and played Wyoming in the Gator Bowl on January 1, 1951.
After graduating from W&L with a bachelor of arts in psychology and education, Michaels was selected by the Cleveland Browns in the seventh round of the 1951 NFL draft. He was soon traded to the Green Bay Packers, but was eventually traded back to the Browns just one year later. He played nine seasons in Cleveland, appearing in five NFL Championship games and winning NFL titles in 1954 and 1955. He was named to the Pro Bowl five times and missed just two games in 10 NFL seasons.
After a successful professional career as an athlete, Michaels turned to coaching, serving as an assistant coach with the Oakland Raiders in 1962. He joined the New York Jets as defensive line coach in 1963, serving in a variety of roles through the 1972 campaign. Michaels is largely credited with helping mold the Jets’ 1968 defense into one of the best in the NFL, culminating in a victory over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.
Michaels also served as an assistant coach with the Philadelphia Eagles for three years, before returning to New York as the Head Coach of the Jets from 1977-82. He posted a 39-47-1 overall record, making the postseason in 1981 and 1982, when the Jets fell to the Miami Dolphins in the AFC Championship game.
After a two-year break, Michaels returned to coaching in 1984, serving as the Head Coach of the New Jersey Generals of the USFL for two seasons, producing a 25-11 overall record.
Michaels was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in 1977.
Michaels’ wife Betty died six years earlier to the day. The couple had four children, Mary Ann, Walt Jr., Mark and Paul. The family is planning a private funeral and requests that in lieu of flowers, donations be sent in Michaels’ name to the NFL Retired Players Congress, an organization dedicated to “the men who made the game”. More information is available at www.playerscongress.com.