Longtime offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger, a widely respected NFL assistant who earned two Super Bowl rings while with the Broncos, helped develop star quarterbacks Steve McNair and Jay Cutler, and called plays for the Jets in 2005, died late Friday night after a nearly year-long battle with cancer. He was 58.
Heimerdinger, a former college wide receiver at Eastern Illinois, died while receiving experimental cancer treatments in Mexico. He was diagnosed with what was called a “small-cell, fast moving” type of cancer last November and underwent chemotherapy, yet still called plays for the Tennessee Titans.
Nicknamed “Dinger” by family, friends and football colleagues, Heimerdinger helped develop star NFL quarterbacks including Steve McNair and Jay Cutler, and was a receivers coach for the Broncos’ Super Bowl championship seasons in 1997-98. A former college roommate and close friend of Redskins coach Mike Shanahan, who previously coached the Broncos’ Super Bowl championship teams, Heimerdinger was the Titans’ offensive coordinator for eight years before being fired last February.
“We have been overwhelmed and incredibly touched by all of the support that we have felt from family, friends, fellow coaches, players, fans and the league this past year,’’ Heimerdinger’s wife, Kathie, said in a statement Saturday morning. “Mike approached cancer with the same vigor and tenacity that he approached any football game: to win. Even in the final minutes he never gave up – that was our Dinger.”
Heimerdinger was hired as the Jets’ offensive coordinator in 2005 by then head coach Herman Edwards. The team finished 4-12 that year, in part because quarterback Chad Pennington tore the rotator cuff in his right (passing) shoulder for the second straight season. Pennington was injured in the third game.
Heimerdinger was Broncos’ assistant head coach for the next two seasons under Shanahan. The two were roommates and teammates at Eastern Illinois in the early 1970’s, and celebrated Denver’s only two Super Bowl titles while on the same staff. Heimerdinger was the Broncos’ receivers coach under Shanahan, and helped develop such standouts as Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey.
"We lost a very special person and my best friend in Mike Heimerdinger," Shanahan said in a statement Saturday. “I know the man upstairs needed a superstar, so he took him earlier than we all wanted. His love for his family was unprecedented and I will forever miss him."