Pratt’s NFL comeback tops all others

1953 BMHS grad to return to coach Arizona’s linemen

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While Offensive Coordinator Jim Caldwell is basking in the Baltimore Ravens’ 34-31 victory over San Francisco in Super Bowl XLVII  on Sunday, he isn’t the only Beloit native with a Super Bowl ring.

Another Beloiter, Tom Pratt was the coaching mastermind behind the Kansas City Chiefs’ powerful defensive line of the 1960s that featured Buck Buchanan and Curley Culp. They helped the Chiefs win Super Bowl IV in 1970.

“Jim has two rings so he’s one up on me,” Pratt said from his home in Florida. “I’ve got to catch up.”

Pratt will have an opportunity to do exactly that. New Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians recently signed him to a two-year contract to be his defense’s pass-rush coach.

A 34-year coaching veteran of the National Football League, Pratt is also 77 years old. His comeback looks even more impressive than the one the 49ers nearly pulled off Sunday.

Only Pratt says he’s never really been away from football.

“I haven’t worked full-time since 2000 with the Chiefs, but I’ve been pretty busy,” he said. “I’ve continued to work in football, training college kids for the scouting combine and working with NFL players in the off-season.”

He has been a regular in the Pittsburgh Steelers training camp in recent years.

“I was a little surprised when I heard from Bruce (Arians), but I didn’t hesitate,” Pratt said. “I’ve never really thought of myself as retired. It just hasn’t been 24-7 work. It’s been a little more leisurely. But I think this is going to be fun. Bruce Arians is a great guy. I’ve worked with him in Kansas City and in Pittsburgh.”

Pratt said his relationship with Arians sold him on the job.

“I’m real familiar with him and how he works,” Pratt said. “It’s always better to go someplace where you know what’s going to happen.”

Pratt’s own playing days began at Beloit High School, where he starred as an All-State guard for an undefeated 1952 team. He went on to earn All-American honors at linebacker for the University of Miami in 1956.

Pratt stayed in Florida and coached at his alma mater after graduation. He became good friends with another Miami assistant, Hank Stram.

While Pratt moved on to coach at Southern Mississippi University, Stram became head coach of the Dallas Texans of the American Football League (AFL). When the team relocated in Kansas City and became the Chiefs in 1963, Stram hired Pratt to coach the defensive line and considers him the finest line coach he ever had.

The Chiefs became one of the AFL’s best teams in the 1960s, losing the first Super Bowl to the Green Bay Packers, but upsetting the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV.

“That Chiefs team had four coaches. Period,” Pratt said. “That was true for most teams at that time. There were no special teams coaches or strength coaches. You just had to know football and you split things up and went after it. Obviously things are a lot different today.”

Pratt said the small staff wasn’t always a bad thing.

“ If you have too many guys maybe you get in the way of each other,” he said. “When we had that small staff you just talked it out and made a decision and went with it. Coaching staffs have evolved and there are a lot of intricacies to think about now. Computers have also changed how people coach.”

Pratt was an assistant with the Chiefs through 1977, working alongside Bill Cowher and Tony Dungy, then moved to New Orleans where he coached for the Saints for three seasons. From there, he moved to the Cleveland Browns from 1981-1988, then back to the Chiefs from 1990 through 1994. After a season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1995 and another in 1997 with the Coast Guard football program (and ex-Chiefs assistant Chuck Mills) he returned to Kansas City for a final 2000 season. 

Pratt has also worked each summer at the Steelers training camp as well as at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., where he taught college and pro prospects how best to play defensive line.

Pratt said he’ll see one of the IMG Academy alums, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, twice a season.

He’ll also see one of the prime players in Super Bowl XLVII — 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick.

“Kaepernick is really a talented guy,” Pratt said. “So is Wilson. You could see at the academy that Wilson was a special guy and he proved us right.”

Pratt had a flight scheduled to Phoenix late Monday afternoon and he was scheduled for his first staff meeting Tuesday. Then he expects it will be hours of film study to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the players he’ll inherit with the Cardinals.

“I’m not even sure if we’re going to play a 3-4 or a 4-3,” he said. “We haven’t talked about it yet. That’s something we have to determine.”

Pratt pretty much knows what his role will be.

“Coaching is coaching,” he said. “You have to be able to teach the fundamentals. That’s what Bruce is interested in. He wants a teacher. I think that’s why he’s bringing in Tom Moore, too. Tom is a very good teacher. And we’re about the same age (Moore is 74). I guess Bruce wants some stability.”

Moore will be the Cardinals’ new assistant head coach/offensive coordinator under Arians, who was acting head coach and offensive coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts when Chuck Pagano was being treated for leukemia. The Colts were 9-3 under Arians, qualifying for the postseason to defy all expectations.

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