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Joe Collier, creator of Broncos' famed 'Orange Crush' defense, dies at 91

joe collier, r m
Posted at 4:44 PM, May 07, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-08 13:41:09-04

LITTLETON, Colo. — Joe Collier, the legendary Denver Broncos defensive coordinator who created the famed "Orange Crush" defense, died at his Littleton home Monday night, the team announced. He was 91 years old.

Collier spent 20 seasons on the coaching staff from 1969 to 1988, the second-longest tenure among Broncos coaches only behind head coach Mike Shanahan (21 seasons).

Collier was initially hired as a scout during the 1968 season but made the shift to defense the next season. He served as the defensive backs coach for three seasons (1969-1971) before being promoted to defensive coordinator in 1972 and assistant head coach/ defensive coordinator in 1982.

The Broncos saw a 168-132-7 (.559) record under his leadership, as well as five division titles and three Super Bowl appearances.

The "Orange Crush" defense came to be in 1976 when Collier switched the team to a 3-4 defense — three down linemen and four linebackers. The defense featured nine future Broncos Ring of Fame players and struck fear into many opponents.

With the Orange Crush defense, the Broncos made their first of eight Super Bowl appearances in 1977. Collier led the team back to the Super Bowl in 1986 and 1987.

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In a statement, the team called Collier "one of the most impactful coaches in the history of the Denver Broncos."

“The architect of the famed ‘Orange Crush’ defense, Joe Collier is one of the most impactful coaches in the history of the Denver Broncos and regarded among the best defensive coordinators of all-time. He was an innovator in the NFL with his 3-4 defense, helping the Broncos to three Super Bowl appearances during a legendary career with our franchise that spanned more than two decades. Intelligent, modest and soft-spoken, Collier provided steady leadership to five different head coaches as the Broncos emerged as perennial contenders in the 1970s and 1980s. His profound influence on countless players and coaches in Denver included 12 Broncos Ring of Famers, 11 Pro Bowl selections and 2024 Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Randy Gradishar.

“Collier’s loyalty to the Broncos extended beyond the playing field as a Ring of Fame Selection Committee member for more than 20 years dedicated to recognizing our all-time greats. As we celebrate the extraordinary life and career of Joe Collier, our hearts go out to his three children (Joel, Julie and Lisa) along with his entire family and many friends.”

Collier is survived by his three children — Joel, Julie and Lisa — as well as four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.