Rusty Tillman, the longest-tenured coach in franchise history who spent 16 seasons with the Seahawks, died Sunday at the age of 75.
A special teams standout as a player over an eight-year career with Washington, Tillman spent much of his coaching career in that same phase of the game, coaching Seattle's special teams units from 1979 to 1991 before being named the team's defensive coordinator.
So respected was Tillman as a coach that his Seahawks career spanned three head coaches. After Jack Patera made Tillman the team's first full-time special teams coach in 1979, Chuck Knox kept him on the staff in 1984—one of just two holdovers from Patera's coaching staff—adding tight end coach to his special teams duties. Tillman moved to the defensive side of the ball in 1987, coaching middle linebackers while still coaching special teams, then when Tom Flores became head coach in 1992, he named Tillman defensive coordinator.
Tillman established the Seahawks special teams units as some of the best in the NFL, with Seattle leading the league in punt coverage three times, kickoff coverage twice, and punt return average once. The 1983 coverage units led the league in kick and punt coverage, becoming only the second team in NFL history to accomplish that feat.
Under Tillman's leadership, the Seahawks had four players earn Pro Bowl honors a total of six times on special teams: kicker Norm Johnson in 1984, linebacker Fredd Young as a special teamer in 1984 and 1985, kick returner Bobby Joe Edmonds in 1986, and linebacker Rufus Porter as a special teamer in 1988 and 1989.
"He really was an incredible special teams coach," said former Seahawks safety and defensive backs coach Paul Moyer, who played under and worked alongside Tillman in Seattle. "He was a fantastic motivator, he really made you feel special teams were incredibly important. He had great ideas. He was just a really good fundamental coach. He would challenge you like nobody's business, it didn't matter if you were an All-Pro or a rookie. What I learned from him was you don't want to be too negative, you want to encourage guys to make good plays, not belittle them for the bad ones… Rusty made it positive, and because of that, players busted their tails for him on special teams.
"Rusty was one of the great special teams players of all time when he was with Washington. He was a legend. He was one of the best motivators and is one of the greatest special teams players and coaches of all time."