Howie Long was probably the best defensive lineman in the history of the Oakland-Los Angeles-Las Vegas Raiders, and Long gives the credit to one man—his defensive line coach, Earl Leggett.
Leggett presented Long for induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000, and Long spoke about his mentor at Leggett’s funeral after he passed away in May of 2008 at the age of 75.
“Twenty-eight years ago, a fat man with an accent I never heard, walked onto the Villanova campus and changed my life forever,” said Long, who was a not very highly-regarded prospect when he came out of Villanova in 1981. “He told me, ‘If you do what I tell you to do if you work as hard as you can, I’ll make you a household name in every house in America.’ Turns out, he was right.
“I don’t know if my career would like … I doubt it would have been as successful on a personal level as it was without Earl Leggett. Coaching is a remarkable vocation. If you have a great coach you can fully maximize a player’s ability, and he took me places physically and mentally that I didn’t know I could get to.”
Leggett prompted the Raiders to select Long in the second round of the 1981 NFL Draft (No. 48 overall) and he proved to be a steal.”
Long turned out to be an eight-time Pro Bowl selection, was selected to the All-Pro team five times, was the NFL co-Defensive Player of the Year in 1985, made the NFL’s 1980s All-Decade Team, and helped the Raiders win Super Bowl XVIII, 38-9, over the Washington Redskins.
At first, Long, who was essentially a defensive end but played across the D-Line, originally didn’t understand what Leggett was doing with him.
“Earl was moving me around early on, and all I could think to myself was … ‘They’re moving me around because they can’t find a place for me,’” Long recalled. “So I’m thinking I’m going to get cut because, throughout my career, nothing was guaranteed. I played 13 years and could’ve been cut any time.
“But Earl Leggett, as it turns out, was moving me around with a plan. His plan was I’m going to be the first guy who plays from tackle to tackle in any sequence of plays. I could be a nose guard on one play, left tackle the next, right tackle the next, left end, right end. I could play anywhere. I didn’t know that at the time, but he was building me to do that specifically.
“It was a brave new world. Going from Villanova to that Oakland locker room was … there was a priest on every floor at Villanova. There’s not a priest anywhere near that locker room—particularly at that time.”
Long retired following the 1993 season after recording 91½ sacks, second on the Raiders’ all-time list, in addition to intercepting two passes and returning them for 84 yards, and recovering 10 fumbles. Again, we don’t know how many tackles he made because they were not an official NFL statistic at the time, but there were plenty.
Since retiring, Long has become an even bigger star as an NFL commentator on television.
Long is not the only Pro Football Hall of Famer who speaks so highly of Leggett, who was a pretty good player himself before he became a coach.
Defensive end Michael Strahan of the New York Giants, a six-time All-Pro pick and seven-time Pro Bowl selection who had Leggett as his defensive line coach from 1993-96, also speaks highly of him.
“The biggest influence for me in football was my first professional coach, Earl Leggett,” said Strahan, who was NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2001, who played college football at Texas Southern, and also was a second-round pick (No. 40 overall) by the Giants in 1993. “Going into the (NFL), I really didn’t know all that much about football.
“I had watched games with my dad and read the sports magazines. I knew that—from the viewpoint of the defense—a quarterback sack was a good thing, and in high school that’s all I tried to do. I was big enough, fast enough, and naturally gifted enough to play football in college, but I had no technique, no sense of the strategy. Thank God for Earl Leggett.
“Coach Leggett taught me technique and showed me how the repetition of drills slowly became instinct. He showed me how to think like my opponents, how to anticipate their moves and adjust my game accordingly. He explained the science of the game. You have to be willing to learn, no matter how old you are.”
Leggett was an All-SEC selection at defensive tackle for LSU in 1956 and was selected by the Chicago Bears in the first round (No. 13 overall) of the 1957 NFL Draft and played nine years with the Monsters of the Midway, including on their 1963 NFL Championship team.
After that, Leggett played for the Los Angeles Rams in 1966 and the New Orleans Saints from 1967-68.
However, his biggest contributions to the game came in 23 seasons as the line coach of the Seattle Seahawks in 1976-77, the San Francisco 49ers in 1978, the Raiders from1980-88), the Denver Broncos from 1989-9, the Raiders again in 1991-92, the Giants from 1993-96 and the Washington Redskins from 1997-99.
Just ask Long and Strahan.
Want to air your opinion about all things Las Vegas Raiders? Maybe you like to talk about other sports that aren't silver and Black related? We got your back. Join our 100% FREE message board, a brand new option, when you CLICK RIGHT HERE.
Make sure you like our Facebook Page WHEN YOU CLICK RIGHT HERE.
Want the latest breaking Las Vegas Raiders news delivered straight to your email for FREE? Sign up for the DAILY Raiders Nation newsletter when you CLICK THE FOLLOW button on the main page. Don't miss any of the latest up to the second updates for your Las Vegas Raiders when you follow on Twitter @HondoCarpenter