Former Bengals head coach Forrest Gregg is largely remembered and associated around the NFL as one of the great linemen in NFL history, playing for head coach Vince Lombardi during Green Bay's golden years in the 60s. Lombardi praised Gregg, who played 188 consecutive games at one point, as the "best player I ever coached". Along with being named to nine Pro Bowl teams, seven First-Team All-Pro teams, Gregg was part of seven NFL championship teams, including three Super Bowl winners. Eventually his career was celebrated when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977.
Once his playing career had closed ,Gregg eventually became an offensive line coach for the Cleveland Browns in 1974, promoted to head coach following Nick Skorich's dismissal in 1975. There he coached in Cleveland until he was fired by Art Modell five days before the Browns' regular season finale in 1977. Gregg took a year off in 1978 before joining the Toronto Argonauts for a year in 1979. Then things got a little complicated. From the Associated Press on December 29, 1979.
Under mild-mannered Homer Rice, the Bengals posted dismal 4-12 records the past two years. Rice was fired the day after this season ended. The Bengals immediately sought Gregg to take over.
When Gregg had heard that the Bengals were interested, the head coach sought his immediate release from his three-year deal with the Canadian football team, with a strong desire to return to the National Football League. Lew Hayman, owner of the Argonauts at the time, had a decision to make. "We'd like him to stay," Hayman told the AP on December 25, 1979. "It's going to come down to our judgment whether to release him or not. He's just asking for a big, big favor and I'm telling him how much I want him to stay. I made up my mind a year ago that I wanted him to stay and that hasn't changed." Hayman even reportedly offered to sweeten Gregg's contract.
After firing Homer Rice, Bengals president and general manager Paul Brown cleaned house, firing every assistant coach that was under Rice. However when Gregg began formulating his coaching staff, he elected to keep three of Rice's assistants in special teams (and tight ends) coach Frank Gansz, defensive line coach Dick Modzelewski and offensive backfield coach George Sefcik, along with strength and conditioning coach Kim Wood.
Gregg also convinced a coach from Green Bay to quit for Cincinnati. This coach would ultimately become one of the great coaches in the game today when Dick LeBeau joined the Bengals as the defensive backs coach. "The hallmark of any secondary I coach will be aggressiveness," said LeBeau on January 2, 1980. "We'll play the game within the rules, but we'll hit."
Gregg coached the Bengals four seasons from 1980 through 1983, compiling the highest winning percentage (.557) in franchise history. He also led the Bengals to their first Super Bowl in 1981, with a squad that won 12 games that year with Ken Anderson as his quarterback. Additionally he was the head coach of the only Bengals squads that went to the playoffs in consecutive seasons from 1981-82.
Despite having a year remaining on his contract, Gregg left Cincinnati to sign a five-year deal with the Green Bay Packers on Christmas Eve in 1983, replacing former head coach Bart Starr. Allowing Gregg to leave with a year remaining was understandable from the team's perspective. Paul Brown recognized the impact a head coach vacancy in Green Bay would have on Gregg and allowed him to explore Green Bay's offer, eventually conceding to his departure.
"We felt that with his relationship with the Packers that he deserved a chance to consider their offer. Forrest Gregg was an outstanding coach to the Bengals. He contributed so much to our team, and we are particularly grateful to him. Any time you have a coach that takes you to the Super Bowl, you have someone special."
Gregg admitted that if the Green Bay job hadn't come up, he wouldn't have left the Bengals, a team that he left on good terms with.
Gregg went 25-37-1 as Green Bay's head coach, failing to generate a winning record in any of his four seasons with the Packers, eventually retiring from the NFL. However he coached his alma mater at the Southern Methodist University for two seasons (1989, 1990) in the hopes to revive a program decimated from NCAA's "death penalty". Considering that the SMU job would have been a failure from the start for any coach, Gregg resigned to be solely the school's athletic director through 1994. Gregg returned to the CFL to coach the Shreveport Pirates from 1994-95, however the CFL expansion into the United States was brief and folded in 1995.
Today Gregg is 78 years old, is fighting for his life with Parkinson's disease.
"I'm going to do the best I can to try to keep it from controlling my life," Gregg said. "I'm going to try to have the best quality of life I can."
Tyler Dunne with the Journal Sentinel writes about Gregg's fight, as well as the man himself from player to coach. Despite being associated largely with the Packers, Gregg had an impact in Cincinnati. It's a good read for anyone to learn about Cincinnati's past.
As for Cincinnati, the team replaced Gregg with a former quarterback who spent three seasons with the Bengals from 1968-1970. After receiving the call as Indiana's head coach, Sam Wyche left the univerity to join the Bengals, becoming only the second head coach in franchise history to take the team to the Super Bowl. Not a bad little run of head coaches for Cincinnati.
Check out other great articles at 49erslines.com.