Archie Cooley, Football Coach Known as ‘the Gunslinger,’ Dies at 85

Archie Cooley, the exuberant architect of a passing-crazy offense at Mississippi Valley State University in the 1980s that featured the wide receiver Jerry Rice, a future Pro Football Hall of Famer, died on April 18 in Fort Worth. He was 85.

His son, Dwight, said that his father died in a hospital but that he did not yet know the cause.

Cooley — whom a sportswriter nicknamed the Gunslinger for the cowboy hats he wore and the offense he masterminded — was hired in 1980 as the head coach at Mississippi Valley State, in tiny Itta Bena. But it was not until the 1984 season that what he called his “Satellite Express” offense exploded.

With Willie Totten at quarterback, the Delta Devils lined up receivers in various configurations — among them double slots, five wideouts and all receivers on one side of the field — that dared defenses to catch up to Rice and his fellow receivers.

“We feel we have the best receivers in college football,” Cooley told The New York Times early in the 1984 season. “People aren’t going to be able to double-team Rice near as much this season.”

In the first two games of the season, the Delta Devils overwhelmed Kentucky State, 86-0, and Washburn University, 77-15. Totten passed for 536 yards and nine touchdowns against Kentucky State; Rice caught 17 passes for 294 yards.

The future Pro Football Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice, seen here in 1984, was a star under Cooley at Mississippi Valley State.Credit…Manny Millan/Sports Illustrated, via Getty Images
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