One of the most obscure – but also most influential – assistant coaches in Browns history has died.
Darvin Willis, who got his big break – and his start in the NFL – while serving as a defensive assistant/quality control with the Browns from 1982-88, died earlier this week after suffering a heart attack. He was 60.
Don't be fooled by his job title. Wallis was much, much more than the name infers in that he launched the Browns into the computer era.
"He did a good job of starting us off into research and development," said former Browns head coach Sam Rutigliano, who hired Wallis.
Before that, much of the preparation coaches did was written out by hand in painstaking fashion that took hours upon hours. Once Wallis began to get his processes instituted, that work was cut done considerably, saving staff members a lot of time to do other things. Many NFL teams were way behind the Browns at that point in terms of the move into computerization.
Now, of course, all NFL and major college clubs use computers almost as much – or more – than blocking sleds, tackling dummies, gauntlets, whistles and clipboards.
"He helped Marty (Schottenheimer, then Browns defensive coordinator) out a lot," Rutigliano said. "He was very quiet. He was extremely bright, but he was also very much behind the scenes. That's the way he wanted it. He didn't want to be out front coaching. He made that clear. But he was very good at what he did."
And the Browns were very lucky to get him. To show you how fate works, Wallis came to the team totally by accident.
"He was married to the daughter (Vicky) of a good friend of mine, Larrye Weaver," Rutigliano said of the man he coached with on Chuck Fairbanks' New England Patriots staff in 1973. "I knew his wife. She's a wonderful, wonderful person. So it was just a matter of giving a guy a chance."
Not only did the Browns get someone who introduced them to some great technology, but they also got a great worker.
"One of the things about Darvin is that when you gave him a job to do, he always did it better than it had to be done," Rutigliano said.
A year later, in 1983, Rutigliano hired Weaver as his offensive coordinator, uniting Wallis with his father-in-law on the head coach's 12-member staff.
When Rutigliano was fired midway through the 1984 season, Schottenheimer, who was promoted to serve as his replacement, also dismissed most of Ruitigliano's assistants when he began his first full season on the job in 1985. Wallis, however, was one of the few he retained.
In fact, Wallis stayed with Schottenheimer for a long time. When Schottenmheimer was fired after the 1988 season, Wallis was one of the Browns assistants he took with him to the Kansas City Chiefs when he was hired as their head coach in '89 Wallis was given the same title, defensive assistant/quality control, he had had with the Browns.
When Schottenheimer ended his long, successful run in Kansas City following the 1998 season, Wallis remained with the Chiefs. Continuing under the same title and with same role of working in computerization, he coached with the Chiefs under three more head coaches, Gunther Cunningham, Dick Vermeil and Herm Edwards, ending his 19-year career with the club when he retired following the 2007 season.
Wallis was part of 14 playoff teams, five with the Browns (1982 and 1985-88) and nine with the Chiefs, and was one of only six assistant coaches in Kansas City history to spend more than a decade with the club.
Wallis, born on Valentine's Day 1949 in Ft. Branch, Ind., got his undergrad degree in '72 from the University of Arizona, and his Ph.D. in '99 from tiny Adams State, where former kicker Don Cockroft, a Cleveland Browns Legend, played.
He started his coaching career in 1972 as an assistant at Wilcox (Ariz.) High School, then served as the head coach at Ajo (Ariz.) High from 1973-75. He moved to the college ranks as the offensive line coach in 1976-77 at Adams State, then was offensive line/strength coach at Tulane in 1978 and '79 and tight ends/tackles coach at Mississippi in 1980 and '81 before going to the Browns.
"I was very taken aback when I heard he had passed away," Rutigliano said. "He was a super guy. It's said, really sad."
Wallis is survived by his wife, Vicky, and three sons, Darvin Jr., Austin and Tyson, a senior football player at Liberty University, where Rutigliano served as head coach for more than a decade.
Funeral arrangements are being handled in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, Kan.