A Rumors and Rants History Lesson: John Hadl

May 5, 2009 – 10:33 pm by TheBaker

He was banished from the NCAA. Coached by the guy who put Rudy in a game. Did something in the NFL only two players have done more of in the game’s history. Coached John Elway and Steve Young. And he was the last of his kind – numerically speaking, that is.

So who the heck is John Hadl?

He started his career at the University of Kansas as a star halfback, but he played quarterback his final two years in Lawrence. An example of his versatility, Hadl also punted and played defensive back for the Jayhawks. 

He still holds the school record for longest interception return (98 yards vs. TCU) and longest punt (94 yards vs. Oklahoma). He became the school’s first two-time All-America, was voted Kansas’ Player of the Century and inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1994. 

After college, Hadl was given the difficult task of choosing between Detroit (who drafted him 10th overall in the 1962 NFL Draft) or San Diego (who drafted him in the third round of the AFL Draft). 

Hmm, tough one. This or this? The place with perfect weather, a cool zoo and people like this to hang out with or the scene for RoboCop’s wasteland.

Hadl spent 11 seasons (1962-72) with the Chargers and after he became the full-time starter in 1966, he averaged 3,000 yards and 23 touchdowns a season (which were 14 games long) for four consecutive years.

He led the AFL in passing two times and the NFL once (the AFL merged with the NFL in 1970). He was a four-time AFL All-Star and was a two-time Pro Bowler in the NFL. But Hadl was kind of a high-reward-high-risk type passer. He threw more interceptions than touchdowns in 10 of his 16 seasons. His 268 career interceptions are third most all-time, behind only Brett Favre and George Blanda.

In 1973, some kid named Dan Fouts arrived in San Diego, and Hadl was traded to the Los Angeles Rams. He led the Rams to the playoffs that year and was named the NFC Player of the Year, throwing for 2,008 yards and 22 touchdowns. 

Green Bay coach Dan Devine, a longtime Missouri head coach and Jayhawk nemesis, went all Mike Ditka on us and traded two first round picks, two second rounders and a third round pick for the 34-year old Hadl. 

If you remember the name Dan Devine, it’s because he coached a Joe Montana-led Notre Dame to the 1977 national title. Oh, and he was the coach that finally let Daniel Reuttiger suit up, though he was none to pleased with Hollywood’s portrayal of him.

Hadl started 19 times for the Packers over two seasons before a two-year stint in his final stop, Houston.

During his career, Hadl wore the No. 21. In 1973, the NFL instituted a policy restricting quarterbacks from wearing numbers higher than 19. Because of that Hadl was the last signal caller to wear a number in the 20s (or 30s and 40s for that matter).

Apparently, Hadl is still holding out hope the NFL Hall of Fame’s veterans committee will nominate him like they for AFL counterpart Emmitt Thomas in 2008.

Hadl returned to his alma mater as a quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator from 1978-81 under Jayhawks coaches Bud Moore and Don Fambrough. But Hadl, the heir apparent to Fambrough, resigned in April 1982, a month after the school learned of a preliminary NCAA probe.

It is believed Hadl was the focus of the probe and was the unnamed assistant coach that provided improper benefits to recruits.

The Jayhawks were banned from postseason play in 1984, threatened with a television ban and put on two years probation. As part of the judgment, the guilty party or “unnamed” was forced to stay away from campus for three years.

“It said a former assistant football coach – who was not named – must remain separated from any involvement in the university’s intercollegiate athletics program for a period of three years beginning Nov. 21, 1983.”

Hadl denied any wrongdoing. 

He landed a gig in Denver as the Broncos quarterbacks coach. Among his charges was a rookie named John Elway. But Hadl left Denver after just one season to become the head coach of the USFL’s Los Angeles Express. Wishing he had spent more than one season with Elway, Hadl called it “a career blunder.”

As the Express’ head coach, Hadl had yet another future Hall of Fame pupil in BYU star Steve Young. But that was short-lived.

After messing around with real estate, he returned to Lawrence in 1988 – long enough to satisfy the NCAA-imposed three-year ban. And believe it or not, he eventually rose to the rank of assistant athletics director. His key role: fundraising/major gifts

How apropos. 

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  1. 3 Responses to “A Rumors and Rants History Lesson: John Hadl”

  2. nice story. Sounds like a pretty interesting sports career. and his new job couldn’t be any more appropriate

    By Pablo on May 7, 2009

  3. John Hadl was he best and so were good $5.00 seats at Balboa Stadium and the Chargers in general. The battles between Hadl and Len Dawson of the Chiefs are what football is all about. Now that was the “GOOD OLD DAYS”

    By Rick Hill on May 15, 2009

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