When people talk about the greatest linebackers not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Maxie Baughan’s name is high on the list. Named to nine Pro Bowls in his twelve-year career, Baughan was a constant force on the defense of the Philadelphia Eagles and the Los Angeles Rams. He finished his playing career with the Washington Redskins in 1974.
He started playing football when he was about six years old. According to Baughan, “Football was a way of life back then.” He continued, “I lived in a steel town in Alabama. You either played football or you were in the band. I couldn’t play an instrument, so I played football. We all played football. You lived in a neighborhood where all of the steel workers were on strike. You hadn’t got anything, but you always had football.”
Baughan attended Georgia Tech. “I wanted to go to work and wear a white shirt. I figured if I took Industrial Management and Engineering, that I would be able to go to work.” He continued, “My daddy came home from work. He climbed telephone poles at U.S. Steel. About two or three times a year, he would come home with marks all over his arms and his legs where he had to grab the pole as he fell and he came down. I didn’t want to do that. That is the reason why I went to [Georgia] Tech. It was a great football program. I am glad I [went there] and I would do it again.”
Even though academics were high on Baughan’s agenda, he still played football and played well. Baughan set a record with 124 tackles his senior year at Georgia Tech. That season, he was named All-American and was the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year. It was at that point that pro football showed interest in him. “I never thought about playing professional football until my senior year when I started to receive some flyers from various pro teams. Being consensus All-American didn’t hurt, either. When all of that stuff started happening, I started thinking about it.” He added, “I thought I might as well try it. I thought I would probably play two or three years, but as the years went on, I never thought about quitting.”
Baughan’s professional career started about the best way possible for any player. “I was lucky. My rookie year, I started every game. I went to the Pro Bowl. We won the World Championship. We beat Green Bay. I got a ring as a rookie. It was a lot of fun.” He continued, “I thought, ‘Well, hey, we will do this every year.’ I did go to nine Pro Bowls, but I never went back to that World Championship Game again. I was in the playoffs a lot, but I never won another World Championship. Never got another ring. A lot of players go their entire career and never get one. At least I have one.”
However, the Eagles started to dismantle the team over the next several years. Baughan knew he was on his way out. “I think that it was time for me to move on. There were a few of us that had to move on. We didn’t agree with Coach Kuharich. He asked me, ‘Do you want to get traded?’ I said, ‘Yes, sir. I would like to go to New York. That is where the money is, or I would like to go to Atlanta. That is where I live.’ So, he traded me to Los Angeles. But, that was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Did it bother him that he was traded to a team that was not on his list? “It bothered me right off the bat, because I didn’t know George Allen.”
Prior to Allen’s head coaching stint with the Rams, Allen was the head coach of both Morningside College and Whittier College. He was then an assistant coach with the Rams for one year before moving on to be an assistant coach with the Chicago Bears.
According to Baughan, “I knew that [Allen] had come from the Chicago Bears. A good friend of mine played for him with the Bears, Larry Morris. Larry was a linebacker at Georgia Tech before I got there. I lived about six or eight houses from him in Atlanta. I talked to him, and he said, ‘This is the luckiest day of your life.’ I said, ‘Oh, I hope you are right.’ He said, ‘I am right. You just wait.’”
Baughan continued, “When I got there, I could see what Larry was talking about. All of a sudden, I was calling the defenses and we were winning. We were one of the best defensive teams in football.” He added, “We had some pretty good players. Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen and Roosevelt Greer in front of us on the defensive line. Eddie Meador. Jack Pardee. We brought in Bill George on how to learn the system. Bill George was a linebacker from the Bears.”
“George Allen was a great football mind. I called the defenses. Back then, you didn’t have signaling in like today. I went to his office every morning, early. He and I would look at film. We would go over the practice schedule and prepare with him. Then, all of a sudden, I am thinking like he is. That is what he wanted to happen. In practice, we wound up doing what we talked about earlier that day. I had called the defenses for the Eagles. Now, I am calling them for the Rams.”
He played five seasons for the Rams, from 1966 through 1970. However, after an injury-plagued 1970 season, Baughan retired as a player and went into coaching. He credits Allen as his inspiration to become a football coach. “Yeah. That’s the only reason. I never thought about coaching before. I was selling bolts and nuts and industrial lubricants. As a football player, you had to work in the off-season to make things meet.”
Baughan started his coaching career at Georgia Tech. “Bill Fulcher got the [head coaching] job and he offered me the defensive coordinator job. I was there in 1972 and 1973. Then Fulcher quit. He decided that he didn’t want to coach anymore or something. I don’t know. Then, Pepper Rodgers came in. I would have stayed there with him. I walked into his office and he said, ‘Maxie, this place is not big enough for the both of us.’ So, that was the end of my coaching career at Georgia Tech.”
However, that was not the end for Baughan’s coaching aspirations. After leaving Georgia Tech, he joined the pro ranks as an assistant coach. “When [the Georgia Tech firing] happened, George Allen called. He said, ‘Hey Maxie, come on up here and play.’ I said, ‘George, I can’t even walk, let alone run.’ He said, ‘You can coach the linebackers, and if Chris [Hanburger] gets hurt, you can fill in for him calling the defenses.’ He wanted a backup for his signal-caller. He always had somebody. An old guy that knew what was happening. So, I went up there and played a year. I was a player-coach. I might have been one of the last of those. I don’t know.” Baughan played in two games for the Redskins before retiring for good from playing football.
“After that year, Ted Marchibroda went to Baltimore as a head coach, and Ted had been the offensive coordinator in L.A. when I was out there, and the offensive coordinator of the Redskins when I was there. [Marchibroda] said, ‘Hey Maxie, come to Baltimore and be the defensive coordinator.’ I said, ‘OK.’”
While Baughan was with the Colts, the team won three straight division titles. “We had a good run in Baltimore.” He continued, “We had some good players. Bert Jones was our quarterback. Physically, Bert was probably one of the best quarterbacks I was ever associated with, and I was associated with some pretty good ones. Norm Van Brocklin. Sonny Jurgensen. Pretty good quarterbacks.”
After spending five seasons with the Colts, Baughan coached the linebackers for the Detroit Lions for thee years. Then, he received his first and only head coaching job – Cornell University. According to Baughan, “I was coaching in Detroit. Tom Matte, who was a running back with the Colts, was a friend of mine. He recommended me to Cornell. He and Roger Weiss came out to Detroit to see me.”
Baughan added, “It was always a challenge. I always thought of coaching at the academy. Navy. Army. Air Force. Coast Guard. Some of those, because of the discipline. I thought that would be fun. Then, I turned it over to the Ivy [League] for the same reason. I didn’t even interview with Cornell. My wife did. My wife came to Ithaca because we were playing in the playoffs against the Redskins. I couldn’t come. By the time she got through, we had the job. She had a good interview!”
In 1988, he led Cornell to a first place tie with the University of Pennsylvania for the Ivy League crown. He left after the 1988 season and went back to the NFL. “I wanted to stay on defense and the linebackers. To me, coaching linebackers in the NFL was a heck of a job. I enjoyed that.”
From Cornell, Baughan coached linebackers with the Minnesota Vikings, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Baltimore Ravens.
“In football, you are hired to get fired. As soon as the head coach goes, you go.” Ravens’ head coach Ted Marchibroda was fired after going 6-10 in the 1998 season. Baughan was out of a job. According to Baughan, “We lived here in Baltimore for the second time. Diane didn’t want to move. So we stayed right here. That is when we retired.”
Retirement has gone well for Baughan. “I am sitting on my screened-in porch looking over a golf course. I played golf and I have a garden out here and I spend a lot of time with the grandchildren. We have three sons and eight grandchildren.” Baughan added, “I do some youth camps for kids from eight to around 15 or 16 years old. I do about three or four of those a year.”
Throughout his career, Baughan played with Hall of Fame linebackers: Chuck Bednarik, Dave Robinson and Chris Hanburger. “When you get with people like Chris and Jack Pardee and Dave Robinson, those guys are players. You don’t have to motivate them. They are already motivated. Just like Deacon Jones and Merlin Olsen. You just get them mentally ready. That is what George Allen did.”
He also coached perennial Pro Bowl linebackers Derrick Brooks and Ray Lewis. “Derrick was a great young man. Smart. He wanted to play football more than anything in the world.” He continued, “The same thing with Ray Lewis. He wanted to play. A quick story about Ray Lewis. We were going to have two [first round] draft choices [in the 1996 NFL Draft] with the Ravens. I didn’t think that we would use the first choice to get [Lewis], but I really wanted to get him. I was hoping that we could use the second draft choice. We drafted Jonathan Ogden number one, which was great. He was a great player and turned out to be one of the best offensive tackles to play the game. Then, we were coming up on our second pick and they were thinking of drafting a wide receiver or running back. I stood up and said, ‘Hey. Listen. We have got to draft Ray Lewis. He is the best linebacker in the draft. He could play for a long time.’ [Some of the scouts] said he was too little. Anyway, I convinced them, or I think that I convinced them, that Ray Lewis is the man for that time in the draft. Eventually, they went along with it and they drafted him. I think that he was one of the better linebackers to ever play.”
In 2005, Baughan was inducted into the Professional Football Researchers Association’s (PFRA) Hall of Very Good. The Hall of Very Good is the PFRA’s way of honoring players who have had excellent careers, but are not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Baughan currently lives in Maryland with his wife.
• Philadelphia Eagles (1960-65)
• Los Angeles Rams (1966-70)
• Washington Redskins (1974)
• Georgia Tech – Assistant Head Coach, Linebackers Coach, Defensive Coordinator (1972-73)
• Washington Redskins – Linebackers Coach (1974)
• Baltimore Colts – Defensive Coordinator (1975-79)
• Detroit Lions – Linebackers Coach (1980-82)
• Cornell University – Head Coach (1983-88)
• Minnesota Vikings – Linebackers Coach (1990-91)
• Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Linebackers Coach (1992-95)
• Baltimore Ravens – Linebackers Coach (1996-98)
• Named to the Pro Bowl nine times
• Inducted into the Georgia Tech Hall of Fame (1965)
• Inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame (1980)
• Inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame (1983)
• Inducted into the Gator Bowl Hall of Fame
• Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame (1988)
• Inducted into the Professional Football Researchers Association’s Hall of Very Good (2005)
• Inducted into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame (2012)
Ken Crippen is the former executive director of the Professional Football Researchers Association. He has researched and written about pro football history for over two decades. He won the Pro Football Writers of America’s Dick Connor Writing Award for Feature Writing and was named the Ralph Hay Award winner by the Professional Football Researchers Association for lifetime achievement on pro football history.
Follow Ken on twitter @KenCrippen