When we consider versatility in the NFL, we commonly think of performing multiple functions on the football field, such as passing and rushing.
Mike McCormack displayed versatility as an NFL player, having a Pro Football Hall of Fame career, principally with the Cleveland Browns, as an offensive line right tackle and a defensive line middle guard.
When he retired from playing in the NFL, McCormack then expanded his versatility to a level exhibited by only a handful of Pro Football Hall of Fame players, working as an assistant coach, head coach, and executive for seven NFL teams.
We take a look at the life of Mike McCormack – before, during, and after his NFL career.
The Early Years Through High School
Michael Joseph McCormack, Jr. was born on June 21, 1930 in Chicago, Illinois.
On June 30, 1930, Mike McCormack, American NFL player (New York Yankees, Cleveland Browns, Philadelphia Eagles), and coach and team owner (Carolina Panthers) is born in Chicago, Illinois. pic.twitter.com/P61DuSDO5e
— MMJYBBJWIdols (@MMJYBBJWIdols) June 21, 2020
“Most of the men that had any kind of meaning to me when I was growing up were coaches. So that’s what I wanted to be.”
McCormack attended De LaSalle High School in Kansas City, Missouri.
After high school, McCormack played football at tackle and lettered at the University of Kansas for three years from 1948 through 1950.
In 1948, at 18 years old, McCormack was one of the biggest players on the Kansas team, standing six feet, three inches tall and weighing 225 pounds.
McCormack’s play helped Kansas defeat Nebraska 27-7 on October 23, 1948; it was just the third home win for Kansas in its 55-game series with Nebraska.
Kansas finished with a 7-3 record in 1948.
The following season, playing on the road, Kansas again defeated Nebraska 27-13 on November 5, 1949, marking the first time that the Jayhawks had ever won three games in a row in their series with Nebraska.
Kansas finished with a 5-5 record in 1949.
In 1950, McCormack was named co-captain of the Kansas football team.
While Kansas lost to Oklahoma (which was ranked first in the nation in the final Associated Press poll in 1950) 33-13 on November 11, 1950, Oklahoma voted McCormack the toughest lineman that it faced.
The key to good blocking, according to McCormack, was:
“Beat your opponent to the charge and keep your feet.”
McCormack was voted first-team All-Big Seven Conference at tackle in 1950.
McCormack’s play helped Kansas running back Wade Stinson rush for 1,129 rushing yards in 1950 – the first 1,000-yard rusher for Kansas.
Kansas finished with a 6-4 record in 1950.
McCormack is one of only three University of Kansas football players (along with Gale Sayers and John Riggins) who later was inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
McCormack also played in the 1951 College All-Star Game, losing to the Cleveland Browns 33-0 on August 17, 1951.
Consistent with what he wanted to be growing up, McCormack expected to move on to become a high school football coach after college.
However, his play in college sufficiently impressed the NFL that he was selected by the New York Yanks in the third round of the 1951 NFL draft (34th pick overall).
The Pro Football Years
While we associate New York in football today with the Giants and the Jets, there was once another team – the New York Yanks.
The New York Yanks franchise (originally known as the New York Bulldogs) began in 1949.
McCormack, as a rookie in the NFL, played in 12 regular-season games and started 11 regular-season games as a right tackle for the Yanks in 1951.
McCormack was one of only two rookies to be invited to the Pro Bowl in 1951.
The New York Yanks had a 1-9-2 record in 1951.
After the 1951 season, McCormack entered a different draft – in the U.S. Army for the Korean War.
McCormack served in the military for two years.
When McCormack returned after the Korean War and resumed playing football in 1954, he was no longer a member of the New York Yanks, but instead had become a member of the Cleveland Browns.
The New York Yanks franchise moved to Dallas and became the Dallas Texans in 1952.
However, the Dallas Texans folded, and many of their players, including McCormack, were signed by a new team, the Baltimore Colts.
McCormack though never played a game for the Colts.
On March 26, 1953, McCormack was traded by the Colts to the Cleveland Browns in a 15-player trade.
In the 15 player trade that sent Don Shula to the Baltimore #Colts in 1953, @ProFootballHOF tackle Mike McCormack was sent to the #Browns.
Harry Agganis, who pitched two years for the #RedSox, was also in the deal.
— Jeff Kerr (@JeffKerrCBS) May 4, 2020
The Browns traded 10 players – Harry Agganis, Bert Rechichar, Don Shula, Carl Taseff, Ed Sharkey, Elmer Wilhoite, Art Spinney, Gern Nagler, Stu Sheets, and Dick Batten – to the Colts.
In exchange, the Browns received Don Colo, Tom Catlin, Herschel Forester, John Petitbon, and McCormack, from the Colts.
Browns head coach Paul Brown, who remembered McCormack’s play during his rookie season, had interesting plans for McCormack.
With the retirement of Browns future Pro Football Hall of Famer Bill Willis in 1953, the Browns had a hole in their defensive line at middle guard.
Brown decided to move McCormack from offensive tackle to fill Willis’ spot on the defensive line.
McCormack started all 12 regular season games at middle guard for Cleveland in 1954.
2x #NFL Champion & HoFer Mike McCormack pic.twitter.com/p4WH4alQFG
— CLEVELAND ROCKS (@CLEVELOVE1) September 24, 2020
McCormack intercepted one pass (which he returned for 14 yards) and recovered two fumbles (which he returned for six yards) in 1954.
Helped by McCormack’s play on the defensive line, the Browns led the NFL in 1954 in allowing only 162 points.
In six games (all Cleveland victories), the Browns defense held their opponents to less than 10 points in the game.
Typical of McCormack’s play was his role in a goal-line stand by the Browns in a 6-0 shutout of the Philadelphia Eagles on November 21, 1954.
“They got down to the 1-yard line. On the first play, I made the tackle for a yard loss. The second play, I made a tackle for a yard loss again.”
After a delay of game penalty pushed the Eagles back five yards, McCormack continued:
“I rushed the passer and he threw incomplete. Then on fourth down, I pulled out of the line and went into pass defense. I’ve still got the broken ring finger where I hit the ball and made it incomplete.”
The Browns won the NFL East Division title in 1954 with a 9-3 record and advanced to the NFL championship game against the Detroit Lions on December 26, 1954.
The Browns had lost the three prior NFL championship games (including in 1952 and 1953 to the Lions).
Starting the game at middle guard, McCormack made a key play early in the game when he grabbed the football out of the hands of Lions quarterback Bobby Layne.
The play (which was ruled a fumble recovery by McCormack) helped set up an early Browns touchdown, as the Browns routed the Lions 56-10 to claim their second NFL championship.
McCormack recalled the reaction of Browns fans after the victory in the 1954 championship game:
“The fans crowded onto the field and went berserk. Players had no police escorts then; it took us one-half hour to get off the field. People were asking, begging, for souvenirs. I gave my helmet to one kid, the chin strap to another. All I kept was my jersey.”
McCormack was voted second-team All-Pro by United Press International in 1954.
In 1955, McCormack moved back to the offense, where he remained for the rest of his NFL career.
McCormack started all 12 regular-season games at right tackle for Cleveland in 1955.
McCormack helped the Browns offense lead the NFL in scoring in 1955 with 349 points.
In addition, Browns quarterback Otto Graham won both the United Press International NFL Most Valuable Player/Player of the Year award and the Sporting News NFL Player of the Year award.
The Browns again won the NFL East Division title in 1955 with a 9-2-1 record.
With McCormack starting the game at right tackle, the Browns then won their second consecutive NFL championship, defeating the Los Angeles Rams 38-14 on December 26, 1955 in the 1955 NFL championship game.
McCormack was voted first-team All-Pro by the New York Daily News and the Sporting News, and second-team All-Pro by the Newspaper Enterprise Association and United Press International, in 1955.
In 1956, McCormack again started all 12 regular-season games for the Browns at right tackle.
1956 was a transition year for the Browns, who struggled in trying to replace Otto Graham after his retirement following the 1955 season.
The Browns had a 5-7 record in 1956.
Despite the lack of team success, McCormack was still recognized for his individual play in 1956.
McCormack was invited to his second Pro Bowl, and was voted second-team All-Pro by the Newspaper Enterprise Association and first-team All-Conference by the Sporting News.
One of the keys to McCormack’s success as a tackle was his powerful body.
As described by McCormack’s son, Michael:
“My high school buddies called him Big Mike. One of them said after meeting him, That was like shaking hands with a package of iron hot dogs. In his heyday, he was a 6’4”, 260-pound . . . offensive tackle, destined for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He had a big meaty head that had to be shoe-horned into his helmet, an upper body like a kitchen appliance, and thighs as big as oaks.”
With McCormack again starting all 12 regular-season games for the Browns at right tackle, the Browns rebounded in 1957, winning the NFL East Division title in 1957 with a 9-2-1 record.
McCormack’s play helped the Browns offense finish third in points scored (269), and second in rushing yards (1,958), in the NFL in 1957.
In addition, Browns rookie running back Jim Brown led the NFL in rushing yards (942) in 1957.
The Browns (with McCormack starting the game at right tackle) lost in the 1957 NFL championship game 59-14 to the Detroit Lions on December 29, 1957.
In 1957, McCormack was invited to his third Pro Bowl.
In addition, in 1957, McCormack was voted first-team All-Pro by the Newspaper Enterprise Association, second-team All-Pro by the Associated Press and United Press International, and first team All-Conference by the Sporting News.
McCormack played and started in only nine regular-season games at right tackle for the Browns in 1958.
The Browns tied with the New York Giants for the NFL East Division title in 1958, with a 9-3 record.
The Browns, helped by McCormack’s play, finished third in points scored (302), and first in rushing yards (2,526), in the NFL in 1958.
In addition, Jim Brown again led the NFL in rushing yards (1,527) in 1958, nearly doubling the rushing yards of second-place finisher Alan Ameche.
The Browns played a “tie-breaker” playoff game with the New York Giants on December 21, 1958, but lost the game to the Giants 10-0.
It was to be the last playoff game for McCormack, who started the game at right tackle.
In 1958, McCormack recovered a fumble – the last of eight fumble recoveries for McCormack in his NFL regular season and playoff career.
McCormack was voted second-team All-Pro by the Associated Press, the Newspaper Enterprise Association, the New York Daily News, and United Press International, and first-team All-Conference by the Sporting News, in 1958.
In 1959, McCormack played in only 10, and started nine, regular-season games at right tackle for the Browns in 1959.
McCormack contributed to the Browns again finishing third in points scored (270), and first in rushing yards (2,149), in the NFL in 1959.
Jim Brown led the NFL in rushing yards (1,329) in 1959 for the third consecutive year.
The Browns had a 7-5 record in 1959.
McCormack was voted second-team All-Pro by the Associated Press, the New York Daily News, and United Press International, and first-team All-Conference by the Sporting News, in 1959.
McCormack started all 12 regular-season games at right tackle for the Browns in 1960.
Aided by McCormack’s play, Cleveland led the NFL in points scored (362), and was third in rushing yards (1,930), in 1960.
Jim Brown, for the fourth consecutive year, led the NFL in rushing yards (1,257), and Browns quarterback Milt Plum finished third in the NFL in passing yards (2,297), in 1960.
Despite a good 8-3-1 record in 1960, the Browns missed the playoffs, as only the two division winners made the NFL playoffs under the system in effect in 1960.
For his play in 1960, McCormack was again invited to the Pro Bowl.
In addition, McCormack was voted second-team All-Pro by the New York Daily News and United Press International, and first-team All-Conference by the Sporting News.
Besides McCormack’s excellent play on the field, McCormack was popular with his teammates for his character.
As described by Browns offensive lineman John Wooten:
“We had a play where Mike was supposed to call out how I was to block. He didn’t make the call and I didn’t block the way I was supposed to. As I came off the field, Paul Brown ate me alive. Mike stepped in and said it was his fault and Paul didn’t say another word. That still resonates because that shows how Mike’s character was strong at all times. . . . He’s the best captain I’ve been around on any level of football. I’ve never seen a captain more committed than Mike. His leadership was outstanding. Of course he was a great football player, but he was also a man of strong character.”
McCormack was captain of the Browns from 1956 through 1962.
McCormack also was known for taking impeccable notes in team meetings that he would copy and distribute to his Browns teammates.
In 1961, McCormack started all 14 regular-season games at right tackle for the Browns.
McCormack helped the Browns finish second in the NFL in rushing yards (2,163) in 1961.
In addition, Jim Brown, for the fifth consecutive year, led the NFL in rushing yards (1,408).
The Browns had an 8-5-1 record in 1961.
In 1961, McCormack was invited to his fifth Pro Bowl.
McCormack was also voted second-team All-Pro by the Newspaper Enterprise Association, the New York Daily News, and United Press International, and first-team All-Conference by the Sporting News, in 1961.
1992 was McCormack’s final playing year in the NFL.
He again started all 14 regular-season games at right tackle for the Browns.
In the final NFL regular-season game in which he played, on December 15, 1962, McCormack helped Jim Brown rush for two touchdowns and 135 yards (on 22 rushing attempts), as Cleveland defeated the San Francisco 49ers 13-10.
The Browns had a 7-6-1 record in 1962.
Even in his last playing season in the NFL, McCormack continued to earn honors.
McCormack was invited to his sixth Pro Bowl, and was voted second-team All-Pro by the Newspaper Enterprise Association, and first-team All-Conference by the Sporting News, in 1962.
The Years After The NFL
For some retired NFL players, their post-retirement lives have little to do with football.
Such was not the case with Mike McCormack.
McCormack began a long coaching career by working as an assistant for four years in the annual College All-Star Game.
McCormack’s first coaching job with an NFL team was when he worked as a part-time coach with the Kansas City Chiefs.
In 1966, McCormack received his first full-time coaching job with an NFL team when he was hired as an assistant coach by the Washington Redskins.
McCormack worked as an assistant line coach (1966-1968), assistant defensive line coach (1969-1970), and assistant offensive line coach (1971-1972), for the Redskins through 1972.
During that time, McCormack served under Washington head coaches former teammate Otto Graham, Vince Lombardi, Bill Austin, and George Allen.
The unblinking eye of CBS looks over future Eagles coach Mike McCormack and the legendary Vince Lombardi, 1969. @Ol_TimeFootball @SportsDaysPast @NFL_Journal @FootballHistory @ProFootballHOF @1970sFootball @70sBaseball pic.twitter.com/TdZlouuVrP
— Eagles Over the Years (@EaglesOrtheYear) August 1, 2020
While coaching with the Redskins, McCormack did not have success against the Cleveland Browns, as the Redskins lost to the Browns in each of six regular season games.
The Redskins made the playoffs for the first time in 26 years in 1971 and advanced to the Super Bowl (before losing to the Miami Dolphins) in 1972.
McCormack received his first NFL head coaching job with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1973.
In hiring McCormack, Eagles owner Leonard Tose stated:
“I spent six weeks investigating coaching possibilities, but Mike was No. 1 from the start. I wanted a man with class. I wanted a man associated with winning football. I wanted a knowledgeable man who could get along with players. Mike is all of those things and more. . . . Paul [Brown] said Mike was his (team) captain in Cleveland and he was the best captain the Browns ever had. He said Mike was all you could ever want in a football player, a team leader and a man. When Paul Brown says that, I believe it.”
Under McCormack, the Eagles improved to a 5-8-1 record in 1973 from their 2-11-1 record in 1972.
One of the Eagles’ best victories in 1973 was a 30-16 win over the Dallas Cowboys (who finished the season, winning the NFC East Division title, with a 10-4 record in 1973) on October 28, 1973.
The Eagles further improved to a 7-7 record in 1974.
However, the Eagles stumbled to a 4-10 record in 1975, and McCormack was fired as head coach of the Eagles.
No #Eagles head coach since Mike McCormack (1973-1975) has coached fewer than #ChipKelly ‘s 47 regular season games. pic.twitter.com/AqwZk3IvxQ
— Dan Mallon (@MallonDan) December 30, 2015
McCormack did not stay out of football for long, as he was hired as an assistant coach by the Cincinnati Bengals (and Paul Brown) in 1976.
McCormack served as assistant offensive line coach for the Bengals for the 1976 through 1979 seasons.
The Bengals posted a 5-3 record against the Cleveland Browns during McCormack’s four years with Cincinnati.
In 1980, McCormack received his second NFL head coaching job, being hired by the Baltimore Colts.
McCormack was head coach of the Colts for two years in 1980 and 1981.
In McCormack’s first year with the Colts, Baltimore improved from a 5-11 record in 1979 to a 7-9 record in 1980.
The Colts defeated the Buffalo Bills (who won the AFC East Division with an 11-5 record in 1980) twice in 1980 – 17-12 on October 12, 1980, and 28-24 on November 30, 1980.
The Colts did lose to the Cleveland Browns 28-27 on November 9, 1980.
The Colts fell to a 2-14 record in 1981, including another loss to the Browns 42-28 on October 25, 1981, and McCormack was fired by the Colts.
The next destination in McCormack’s NFL career was Seattle.
It appeared that McCormack would have an administrative, rather than coaching, role with the Seattle Seahawks, when McCormack was hired as director of football operations in 1982.
However, when Seahawks head coach Jack Patera was fired during the 1982 season, McCormack was appointed as interim head coach.
During McCormack’s time as interim head coach, Seattle compiled a 4-3 record in 1982 – the only winning record in a season for McCormack as an NFL head coach.
McCormack was popular with Seahawks players, including as evidenced by an incident involving Seahawks Pro Football Hall of Fame safety Kenny Easley.
After Easley suffered a severe concussion in a 16-0 Seahawks shutout of the Pittsburgh Steelers on November 28, 1982, when Easley awoke in the hospital, the first person he saw was McCormack, leaning over the bed and assuring Easley that everything would be all right.
“It made an impression on me. I thought, ‘This is a man who really cares about me. I want to play for a man like that.’”
The Seahawks wanted to hire McCormack as a permanent head coach, but McCormack decided that he was done with coaching.
In assessing his coaching career, McCormack stated:
“Paul [Brown] taught football. I tried to teach the same way, but as a head coach I guess my emotions got away from me.”
Instead of being head coach of the Seahawks, McCormack became president and general manager of the Seahawks in 1983.
While McCormack served in this role from 1983 through January, 1989, the Seahawks made the playoffs in years 1983, 1984, 1987, and 1988 and won three playoff games.
During the 1983 through 1988 seasons, the Seahawks defeated the Cleveland Browns all four times – 24-9 on October 2, 1983, 33-0 on September 3, 1984, 31-13 on December 8, 1985, and 16-10 on October 9, 1988.
McCormack was fired by the Seahawks in January, 1989 and moved on later in 1989 to a new NFL-related job – serving as a consultant to an investment group led by Jerry Richardson that was trying to be awarded an NFL franchise for an expansion team in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Richardson said about McCormack:
“It is safe to say that we would probably not have a team in the Carolinas if it were not for Mike McCormack. He had the contacts in the National Football League and was universally respected by everyone associated with professional football. He was a wonderful man.”
When Richardson and the investment group acquired the expansion franchise, McCormack was hired as president and general manager of the new Carolina Panthers.
McCormack held this post for the Panthers’ first two NFL seasons in 1995 and 1996.
In 1996, in just their second year of existence, the Panthers won the NFC West Division title with an 12-4 record and won a playoff game before losing in the NFC championship game.
After the 1996 season, after over 40 years in and around the NFL, McCormack retired from NFL work.
McCormack also worked in the insurance business.
McCormack married his wife, the former Ann Helsby, in 1956.
They stayed married for 57 years until McCormack’s death.
McCormack had four children, Michael, Tim, Molly, and Colleen.
McCormack, suffering from heart problems, died in hospice care near his home in Palm Desert, California on November 15, 2013 at the age of 83.
In 1984, McCormack was inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
He was presented for induction by Paul Brown.
McCormack’s biography on the Pro Football Hall of Fame website includes the following quote from McCormack:
“A big thing in pro football is emotion. You’ve got to go out and play with a tear in your eye. I never went on a football field when I didn’t think we would win.”
In 1994, McCormack was selected as one of the three best tackles in NFL history when he was named to the USA Today NFL all-time 75th-anniversary team.
McCormack was the inaugural member of the Carolina Panthers Hall of Honor in 1997.
A statue of McCormack outside of the Carolina Panthers stadium was unveiled in 1997.
McCormack was inducted in the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame in 2001.
In addition, in 2001, McCormack was one of the inaugural members of the Cleveland Browns Legends Program.
In 2008, McCormack was inducted in the Kansas Football Ring of Honor.
McCormack was one of the inaugural members of the Cleveland Browns Ring of Honor in 2010.
McCormack’s NFL Legacy
While McCormack’s experience as a coach and executive should also be recognized, it is McCormack’s playing career with the New York Yanks and the Cleveland Browns that earned him induction in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
HOF OT Mike McCormack was born OTD in 1930. Played 10 seasons w/ NY Yanks & @Browns. Selected to 6 Pro Bowls & won 2 @NFL Titles w/ CLE. pic.twitter.com/Ebo94ZU3Yw
— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) June 21, 2017
It may be easy to diminish McCormack’s individual achievements with the Browns given that he played with so many other great players in the 1950’s and 1960’s, including other Pro Football Hall of Famers Otto Graham, Jim Brown, Lou Groza, Frank Gatski, and Gene Hickerson.
However, McCormack’s individual performance should not be ignored.
“I consider McCormack the finest offensive tackle who ever played pro football.”
Paul Brown added in 1984, when presenting McCormack for his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction, that McCormack was the “finest offensive lineman I ever coached.”
Former NFL player and executive Bucko Kilroy said of McCormack:
“Power combined with great intelligence and 4.8 speed. I’ve seen him have games where if you were grading him, he’d score 100. Not one mistake, and his guy would never make a tackle.”
As the Cleveland Browns stated after McCormack’s death:
“[McCormack’s] contributions to our history are profound . . . Both the Browns and the NFL are most fortunate to have shared part of his amazing life.”
Current Browns offensive tackles Jedrick Wills and Jack Conklin should see Mike McCormack as a role model and hope to match McCormack’s success on the field.
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