Rusty Tillman, an assistant coach with the Seahawks for 16 years, has died at the age of 75, the team announced Tuesday.
Tillman died Sunday in Flagstaff, Arizona. A cause of death was not immediately disclosed.
Tillman coached Seattle’s special teams from 1979-91 under head coaches Jack Patera, Mike McCormack (interim coach after the firing of Patera in 1982) and Chuck Knox. During this time, the Seahawks often had a reputation for annually fielding some of the best return, kicking and coverage teams in the NFL.
In 1983 the Seahawks led the NFL in both kickoff and punt coverage. Seattle led the NFL in punt coverage three times, kickoff coverage twice and punt returns once during his time as special-teams coach.
Tillman also had the additional responsibility of coaching tight ends and linebackers during some of those years.
He then was Seattle’s defensive coordinator from 1992-94 under Tom Flores.
“He really was an incredible special-teams coach,” said former Seahawks safety and defensive-backs coach Paul Moyer, who played for Seattle from 1983-89 and was an assistant alongside Tillman from 1990-94. “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, who played collegiately at Arizona and Northern Arizona, came to the Seahawks after an eight-year career as a player with Washington, including playing in Super Bowl VII where he was a linebacker and special-teams standout.
“Rusty was one of the great special-teams players of all time when he was with Washington,’’ Moyer told the team’s website.
Tillman was not retained with the Seahawks when Dennis Erickson took over for the fired Flores following the 1994 season and had coaching stints with Tampa Bay, Oakland, Indianapolis and Minnesota in the NFL and was a head coach with the New York/New Jersey Hitmen in the XFL.
Tillman was born on Feb. 27, 1946, in Beloit, Wisconsin.