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Original NY/NJ XFL Coach Rusty Tillman Passes Away At 75

Tillman, an NFL staple for over three decades, was one of the faces of the original XFL, guiding the NY/NJ Hitmen to a 4-6 record.

Rusty Tillman, a head coach in the original incarnation of the XFL, passed away earlier this week at the age of 75. His passing was confirmed by the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, with whom he spent 16 seasons in a variety of roles, primarily as a special teams coach.

“He really was an incredible special teams coach,” former Seahawks safety and defensive backs coach Paul Moyer said in a statement to John Boyle on Seahawks.com. “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.”

Tillman was one of the eight coaches in the original XFL, heading up the New York/New Jersey Hitmen during their lone season of competition in East Rutherford. After an 0-3 start, Tillman helped the Hitmen recover to win four of their final seven games, including two shutouts over Chicago and Birmingham after making a quarterback switch from Charley Puleri to Wally Richardson.

Notably, Tillman tried not to get involved in the extracurriculars of the original XFL. He famously refused to get involved in manufactured drama with NBC announcer and former professional wrestler Jesse Ventura, who pejoratively nicked Tillman “Gutless Rusty” for his conservative play calling.

Though the XFL was his only head coaching experience, Tillman spent over three decades as an NFL assistant, most recently with the Minnesota Vikings (2003-05). Tillman’s professional endeavors began with eight years as a linebacker in Washington, where he partook in seven postseason contests, including Super Bowl VII.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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