Bud Carson, the renowned National Football League strategist who devised the Pittsburgh Steelers' Steel Curtain defenses of the 1970s, died Wednesday at his home in Sarasota, Florida. He was 75.
The cause was emphysema, his wife, Linda, said.
In a quarter-century as a defensive coordinator and, briefly, the head coach of the Cleveland Browns, Carson created aggressive and unpredictable schemes that pressured and confused opposing quarterbacks.
As coach Chuck Noll's defensive coordinator with the Steelers from 1972 to 1977 -- teams that won two Super Bowls -- Carson put together defenses featuring Mean Joe Greene, Dwight White, L.C. Greenwood and Ernie Holmes on the line; Jack Lambert, Jack Ham and Andy Russell at linebacker; and Mel Blount, Glen Edwards, J.T. Thomas, Donnie Shell and Mike Wagner in the secondary.
Carson's alignments combined a fearsome front four and complicated zone coverage in the secondary known as Cover 2.
"He did things that I never heard of," Russell told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "He would have us playing five or six different defenses before the ball was even snapped. He wanted to be in the best defense for every offense."
Dan Rooney, the Steelers' owner, recalled that Carson defied the common notions of his era. "At that time, talk was starting about getting the big guys who could just jam things up," Rooney said in a statement Wednesday. "Bud always wanted the fast players, the athletic players who could get up the field and really rush the passer."
The Steelers of Noll and Carson won the Super Bowl in the 1974 and 1975 seasons, and Carson's 1976 defensive unit yielded only 28 points in a nine-game winning streak that took the Steelers from a 1-4 start to a playoff berth.
A native of Freeport, Pennsylvania, and the son of a steelworker, Carson was a defensive back at North Carolina, began his coaching career in high school and served as the head coach at Georgia Tech from 1967 to 1971 before joining the Steelers.
After his six seasons in Pittsburgh, Carson was a defensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams, the Baltimore Colts, the Kansas City Chiefs and then the Jets, from 1985 to 1988, before becoming the Browns' head coach. His 1989 Cleveland team went to the American Football Conference championship game, losing to the Denver Broncos. But Carson was fired the next season after the Browns got off to a 2-7 start.
Returning to his specialty, he was the Philadelphia Eagles' defensive coordinator from 1991 to 1994. He returned to the NFL in 1997, taking over the St. Louis Rams' defensive unit, retired, then came back as a consultant to the Rams in 2000.
Although he never played pro football, and his players towered over him, making his 5-foot-9-inch frame seem smaller, Carson's intensity and intellect served him superbly.
At speaking engagements, people remarked, "Well, it must have been hard to handle those guys," Carson told Bill Chastain in "Steel Dynasty." But, as Carson put it: "Very seldom was that the case in my whole career. If you knew what you were talking about, people listened."