The invincible “Red” Cochran

John Thurman "Red" Cochran Jr. (August 2, 1922 - September 5, 2004) was an American football cornerback and later an assistant coach and scout in the National Football League. He played college football at Wake Forest University.

Red grew up in Fairfield, Alabama and played high school football at Hueytown High School. Cochran received a scholarship to play football and baseball at Wake Forest University, then in Wake Forest, North Carolina, where he was the passing tailback in a single wing formation offense. He played under Wake Forest Hall of Fame Coach Douglas "Peahead" Walker. He made the All-Southern Conference football team honors in 1942.  On Nov. 26, 1942, Cochran had an amazing day in a 33-14 win over South Carolina at Legion Memorial Stadium in Charlotte. In the first quarter, Cochran took a lateral pass and went 30 yards for a touchdown. In the third quarter, he broke through right tackle and went 54 yards for a score. Also in the third quarter, he sprinted 25 yards and threw a lateral to a teammate who went on to score. Cochran added a 57-yard punt return for a score in the third quarter and went 45 yards with an interception for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

However, World War II broke out in the middle of his college career and he became a B-24 Liberator pilot with the Fourteenth Air Force in China as part of the 373rd Bomb Squadron, 308th Bomb Group.

Cochran completed his senior year eligibility in 1946 after his service.  He also was a starting outfielder for Wake Forest batting in the #4 clean-up position as the team’s power hitter.  Later after his NFL pro football career was cut short by a career ending knee injury in 1950, he then returned as a Demon Deacons assistant coach from 1951 to 1955.  He was inducted into the Wake Forest Sports Hall of Fame in 1973.

Cochran was drafted in the eighth round of the 1944 NFL Draft by Card-Pitt (a merger of the Cardinals and Pittsburgh during World War II because of a lack of players). He played cornerback, return specialist, punter, and running back for the Chicago Cardinals from 1947 to 1950. Starting corner back as a rookie in 1947, he played on the Cardinals only NFL Championship team in 1947, when the Cardinals beat the Philadelphia Eagles 28-21 at Comisky Park in Chicago.  In his first two seasons, Cochran had 15 interceptions in 24 games.  In the 1948 NFL Championship game, Red intercepted the ball twice, in a close game won by the Philadelphia Eagles, 7-0 in a blizzard rated by ESPN as one of top 10 worst weather games in NFL history.   Cochran holds the Cardinal team record for Punt Return Average at 20.9 yards/return, in 1949. He also led the NFL in 1949 in total kick return yardage with 724 yards (410-Kickoff, 314-Punt), including a lead leading 2 punt returns for touchdowns. Red also took over punting duties in 1949 with a 42-yard average for the season.

After being an assistant coach at Wake Forest from 1951 to 1955, Cochran was hired for his first NFL coaching position an assistant coach for the Detroit Lions, where he would coach from 1956 to 1958. Red was the first assistant coach to be hired by Vince Lombardi for his staff as the offensive backfield (including quarterbacks) coach for the Packers, where he would coach from 1959 to 1966.

There he helped mold the NFL Hall of Fame backfield of Bart Starr, Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung, from a team that was the worst team in the NFL and the worst team in Packer's history in 1958. The pair of Hornung and Taylor, along with Jerry Kramer and Fuzzy Thurston were known for the legendary Packer Sweep, part of the most feared running attack in the NFL during the Packer dynasty of the 1960s, averaging 153.8 yards rushing per game.  While he was coaching the running backs, he would shout at Ray Nitschke and say “Nitschke, keep the hell off my running backs” because Ray practiced like he played, all-out attack.  As Jerry Kramer used to say, “always strap your helmet on tight because if you go near Nitschke, he’s going to hit you”.

After a year away from football, Cochran would coach for the St. Louis Cardinals (1968-1969) and the San Diego Chargers (1970). He then went back to Green Bay as offensive backfield coach (1971-1974), his last coaching position. Then, from 1975 until his death in 2004, he was a scout for the Packers.

The two of us sat in the Cochran house in De Pere
A wonderful friendship that began with a simple greeting and never diminished but strengthened every day

Whenever General Manager, Ron Wolf, wanted an honest opinion Red was the first guy he asked.  He was always straight and forthright and it was an absolute delight to be in his company.

I first met him in the office of Ron Wolf’s secretary, Jeanne Bruette, when I was photocopying some documents about the Packers’ history with my back to the door.  The door opened and Jeanne said, “Terry, can I introduce you to?” At this point I had turned around and immediately recognised Red.  My first words were, “I’m so pleased to meet you Mr. Cochran”.  Red replied, “call me Red young man” and that’s where our great friendship started.  Later that evening the telephone rang in our apartment and it was Red.  “How would you like to spend some time tomorrow at a market with me and my wife, Pat?”  From then on it was football all the way and on future visits to Green Bay we would stay with the Cochran’s at their house in De Pere.  Pat & Red visited us in England and stayed in Lancaster with us as we showed them around Lancaster and the Lake District.

Articles

The two of us again in the Lake District at Kirby Lonsdale enjoying the sunshine
and sporting our Green Bay jackets, well what else would you wear in the presence of a legend?

Sat in our Hall of Fame in Lancaster with Pat & Red

On a visit to the Cochran’s cottage Margaret gets in front of the camera
and shares a seat with Red, they became firm friends

Just the two of us on this one in the Hall of Fame in Lancaster
with a signed football by Ray Nitschke on the window sill and a Miller Lite poster behind Red

Back in Green Bay in 1994

Cochran's teams, in 52 years as a player (1947-1950), assistant coach (1956-1966, 1968-1974) and scout (1975-2004), played in 10 NFL championship games, and won seven.  In 1997 he was inducted into the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame.

In 2014 Cochran was posthumously inducted into his home state's Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in Birmingham, AL for his lifetime achievements in sports, primarily in football.

We will never forget Red & Pat Cochran and how they opened their door and their hearts to two travellers from England, they were indeed a very special couple.

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