Former Packers coach Infante dies at 75

Pete Dougherty
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Former Green Bay Packers coach Lindy Infante during a practice in 1990.

Lindy Infante was the offensive guru hired in 1988 who was unable to revive a Green Bay Packers organization that had been dormant since the late 1960s.

Infante died Thursday in Florida at 75 of what former Packers safety LeRoy Butler described as complications from pneumonia.

The 10th head coach in Packers history, Infante had one promising season with the team franchise. In 1989, he was named the NFL’s coach of the year after the Packers went 10-6 and just missed out on a playoff berth via tiebreakers.

But ultimately, he was unable to turn around the Packers and was fired by Ron Wolf about a month after Wolf took over as general manager in late November 1991.

“The Packers Family was saddened today to learn of the passing of Lindy Infante,” Packers president and CEO Mark Murphy said in a statement Thursday. “Lindy’s 1989 team rekindled the enthusiasm of Packers fans with its exciting victories, and he and his wife, Stephanie, were very active in the community during their time in Green Bay. The organization’s sincere condolences go out to the entire Infante family.”

Infante coached the Packers from 1988 to 1991 and finished with a 24-40 record.

According to Butler, who played for Infante, the former coach was diagnosed with pneumonia recently after doctors took X-rays following a fall in which he’d broken four ribs. Doctors put him in hospice care before he died.

"You put (Infante) together with a (defensive coordinator) Buddy Ryan or Fritz Shurmur defense, he probably could have won a championship because his offense could score points, no doubt about it,” Butler said. “He never had a great defense. If you’re an offensive-minded coach, you have to get a good coordinator and system, and have enough great defensive players to compete.”

Infante made his reputation in the NFL as an offensive assistant coach with the Cincinnati Bengals from 1980 to 1982 and the Cleveland Browns in 1986 and 1987.

He was the Bengals’ quarterbacks/receivers coach in 1981, when the Bengals went to the Super Bowl with Ken Anderson as their quarterback. In 1982, he was their offensive coordinator. He was offensive coordinator in both seasons with the Browns, and with Bernie Kosar as quarterback, the team finished fifth and third in the NFL in scoring.

Tom Braatz, the Packers’ general manager in 1988, hired Infante after Michigan State coach George Perles accepted the job, then changed his mind the next day.

The highlight of Infante’s time with the Packers was the 1989 season, when the “Cardiac Pack” won six games by four points or less. The biggest of those was the famous 14-13, “Instant Replay” victory over Chicago when on a fourth-and-goal from the Bears’ 14-yard line in the game’s final minute, quarterback Don Majkowski scrambled and hit receiver Sterling Sharpe for a touchdown.

Officials initially nullified the play because they’d penalized Majkowski for crossing the line of scrimmage before he threw the pass. But after reviewing it on instant replay, they reversed the call, the touchdown counted and the Packers won the game.

Although the Packers’ 10-6 record put them in a tie with Minnesota atop what was then the NFC Central Division, the Vikings won the tiebreaker and the division title. The wild cards went to two 11-5 teams, Philadelphia and the Los Angeles Rams.

“For a franchise that had been struggling for so long to find a winning way, the emergence of that team under Lindy as new coach and Majkowski as its quarterback gave us great promise for the future,” Bob Harlan, the Packers' president at the time, said in the team's statement. “It brought back a great deal of excitement in the community we hadn’t felt for a long time.”

But the Packers quickly declined. The No. 2 pick overall in the 1989 draft, tackle Tony Mandarich, turned out to be a bust, and Infante’s team never recaptured the magic of '89. In 1990, they went 6-10 and finished fourth in the division, and in 1991 they were 4-12 and again finished fourth.

Harlan fired Braatz as GM in November of 1991 and hired Wolf to replace him. Wolf fired Infante on Dec. 22, then in January hired Mike Holmgren to replace him and traded for Brett Favre at quarterback. That was the start of the Packers’ resurgence, which continues to this day.

Infante’s .375 winning percentage was fourth-worst among the 14 head coaches in team history, ahead of only Lisle Blackbourn (.354), Gene Ronzani (.311) and Scooter McLean (.091).

After the Packers fired him, Infante was out of coaching for three seasons but then returned as offensive coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts in 1995. They advanced to the AFC championship game that season. He replaced Ted Marchibroda as head coach the next season, went 9-7 and advanced to the playoffs but lost in the wild-card round.

Infante was fired after going 3-13 the following season. His big win in 1997 was when his previously winless team pulled off a 41-38 upset of the Packers, who went on to the Super Bowl that year.

Infante also was a head coach with the Jacksonville Bulls of the United States Football League in 1984 and 1985. He had a 15-21 record with the Bulls.

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