When he was 27 years old, in 1958, Richard “Dick” MacPherson started a coaching career that would span 34 years and lead him from graduate assistant to NFL head coach; from the Illinois Fighting Illini to the New England Patriots. Along the way, he earned four conference titles and four Bowl Game victories (plus one tie).
Yesterday, at age 86, MacPherson passed away in Syracuse, New York, where he found the most success as a head coach.
Born on November 4, 1930 in Old Town, Maine, Richard MacPherson attended the MArtine Maritime Academy and served in the United States Air Force between 1950 and 1954. He later went on to earn his bachelor's degree at Springfield College in Massachusetts where he also played center and linebacker.
MacPherson went on to join the University of Illinois before working as an assistant at UMass and Cincinnati. After a one-year stint as Maryland's defensive backs coach, he joined the NFL for the first time in 1967: MacPherson served as the Denver Broncos' defensive backs and linebacker coach for four seasons.
In 1971, he earned his first head coaching job taking over at UMass for Vic Fusia. MacPherson spent seven years with the Minutemen and led them to four titles in the Yankee Conference as well as a victory in the 1972 Boardwalk Bowl. After another short tenure in the NFL – seving as the Cleveland Browns' linebackers coach from 1978 until 1980 –, MacPherson started his most successful coaching job in 1981.
Despite starting his tenure at Syracuse with two consecutive losing seasons, MacPherson was able to turn the program around. In 1985, he led the Orangemen to their eighth ever Bowl Game, a 35-18 loss against one of the coach's former teams, Maryland. Two years later, Syracuse tied Auburn 16-16 in the Sugar Bowl before winning three straight Bowl Games from 1988 until 1990.
Before MacPherson's arrival at Syracuse, the team had only won three other Bowl Games. Due to his success and the 66–46–4 record he accumulated during his 10 seasons in New York, MacPherson became an attractive coaching candidate at the NFL level. He ultimately opted to the New England area to serve as the Patriots' head coach.
After New England fired Rod Rust following a disastrous 1990 season, which saw the team go 1-15, it turned to MacPherson to turn the franchise's fortunes around. In 1991, he and his coaching staff – which included current Patriots assistants Ivan Fears and Dante Scarnecchia – were able to guide New England to a 6-10 record.
However, the team was unable to build on its 1991 season. Behind four different starting quarterbacks, the Patriots finished the following year with a 2-14 record and replaced MacPherson with Bill Parcells (as well as the four-headed quarterback monster of Hugh Millen, Tom Hodson, Scott Zolak and Jeff Carlson with Drew Bledsoe).
The 1992 Patriots were MacPherson's final stop as a football coach. He later went on to become color commentator for Syracuse's radio coverage. Yesterday, in the presence of his family, Dick MacPherson passed away.