Heimerdinger remembered for competitive nature, courage

Saturday, October 1, 2011 at 11:54am

Almost from the moment he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer last November, Mike Heimerdinger started to put together a game plan.

Just as was the case when he directed an offense, he was not interested in three yards and a cloud of dust. Sure, the traditional elements of cancer treatment were necessary, but chemo therapy, for example, bored him other than that it gave him time to review game film.

So he set out to explore other ways to gain ground on the disease that had penetrated his body. Early on, he studied the restorative powers of food and in an interview with The City Paper shortly after the 2010 season he joked that he had eaten chicken “every way it could be prepared.”

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the former Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator was in Mexico undergoing an alternative form of treatment Friday when he passed away at 58 years old.

“You don’t expect these types of things to happen and they shouldn’t happen,” Titans tackle Michael Roos said. “I felt confident that he was going to beat this after seeing his resolve last season in dealing with it. He was such a competitor and a fighter — the things that made him such a good coach were also the traits that I thought would lead him to beat the cancer.

“My prayers are with his family.”

Heimerdinger joined the Titans in 2000, the year after they made their Super Bowl appearance. In five seasons, the offense finished among the top 10 in passing yards three times. In 2003, Tennessee scored 435 points — the second-highest total in franchise history. Four years in a row (2001-04), at least one wide receiver topped 1,000 yards — the longest such streak in franchise history.

He returned in 2008 and a year later helped make running back Chris Johnson one of the most explosive players in league history. In addition to Johnson’s franchise record 2,006 rushing yards that season, he had the second-longest streak of 100-yard rushing games (12) in NFL history and became the first player ever with three touchdown runs of 85 yards or more in a career — and he did so all in one season.

“He was a great coach and a tough coach. I know I wouldn’t have become the player I am without his confidence and the trust that he showed in me,” Johnson said. “My thoughts go out to his family.”

Heimerdinger remained on the job through the final six games of last season even after he was diagnosed.

He also interviewed for the job as head coach after Jeff Fisher was fired, a clear indication that he planned to continue to work. The position, though went to Mike Munchak, who replaced Herimerdinger.

“Mike was a great football coach; and over the years, we had a great relationship,” Munchak said. “I learned a lot of football from Mike, and I have a number of great memories and experiences that will always be with me. It is just hard to believe his is gone. It is a sad day for his family and for those who knew him.”

Heimerdinger played football and baseball at Eastern Illinois University, where he was a roommate of current Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan.

That turned out to be a fortuitous relationship as Shanahan helped Heimerdinger get a job as a graduate assistant at the University of Florida after five years as a high school coach. Those two worked together again in Denver, when Shanahan was coach of the Broncos, first with Heimerdinger as wide receivers coach (1995-99) when that franchise won back-to-back Super Bowl titles, and again when he was assistant head coach/quarterbacks (2007).

He also spent one season as offensive coordinator with the New York Jets (2005). His NFL career was preceded by numerous jobs in college football.

“ ‘Dinger,’ as many people knew him, was a great coach and a good man,” former Titans and Jets center Kevin Mawae said. “For those who knew him and played for him, they knew Dinger was a man who loved his family, enjoyed his players, and loved the game of football.

“Dinger's fight with cancer was indicative of the type of person he was: determined and courageous.”

Heimerdinger is survived by his wife Kathie, daughter Alicia and son Brian.

“Any time you lose a friend, you feel it,” former Titans running back Eddie George said. “My heart goes out to his family, it is a terrible loss. Mike was a highly competitive coach and person, who expected and demanded nothing but the best from you. He was a good guy to be around and he will surely be missed in this world.”

7 Comments on this post:

By: serr8d on 10/1/11 at 11:03

RIP, 'Dinger.

By: Bellevue on 10/1/11 at 12:49

Here was a man who gave his heart and soul to his profession. Even after being diagnosed with this deadly disease, he postponed treatment in order to continue what he loved best - coaching.

And for his efforts, Mike Munchack and Bud Adams threw him out the door to die for the sake of winning a football game.

May God have mercy on your rotten soul.

By: serr8d on 10/1/11 at 1:59

Damn you Bellvue for your lies.

'Dinger could not assume the duties expected of an OC, given his condition. Everyone knew the score; this was a fast-moving small-cell cancer that wasn't responding to treatment.

The Titans had to have an OC. 'Dinger had the resources and help he needed to go in the direction he needed to go.

For you to slam such a remark in here is disgraceful. You should be ashamed of yourself; if you even have enough character in your miserable person to recognize your error, you should immediately apologize and withdraw in mortification.

By: Bellevue on 10/1/11 at 2:54


No lies here. Coach Mike had cancer and the Titans fired him. Plain and simple.

The compassionate thing to have done would have been to offer him a position somewhere in the organization in order to allow him to sustain his dignity, respect and morale during his life and death struggle.

Appears that you place sports above humanity.

By: scavendish on 10/1/11 at 6:46
The Titans honored his contract even though he was removed from his position as offensive coordinator. (Via a City Paper article on Feb. 8)

“Our organization is deeply appreciative of Mike’s dedication to his work, especially in light of his ongoing medical issues,” Titans executive vice president Steve Underwood said. “Once we learned in November that Mike and his family were facing difficult heath concerns, we immediately offered to extend his employment agreement so that he could focus on his recovery and work. This way, he was not facing uncertainty about his employment.

“… We will honor Mike’s existing agreement with our club and continue to wish him a complete recovery.”


Steve Cavendish
By: TITAN1 on 10/2/11 at 6:37

Bellevue, your statement is so stupid and childish. Mr Adams and Munch knew how bad his situation was. They could not keep him out of sympathy. We will miss you, Dinger. May God bless your family.

By: fdanshep on 10/3/11 at 5:21

The great thing about the First Amendment is that even a moron like Bellevue can exercise freedom of speech. That is what makes this ountry great. I look forward to more gibberish from Bellevue in the future.

As for Dinger, he is an inspiration that you never give up. He was still fighting that terrible disease to the end.