INDIANAPOLIS – John Teerlinck, 69, one of the greatest defensive line coaches in NFL history who spent the 2002-12 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, has passed away, Colts owner Jim Irsay said Sunday night.
"Rest In Peace, John Teerlinck," Irsay tweeted. "One of our sport's all-time greatest assistant coaches. And a Horseshoe guy, through-and-through."
Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, who developed into one of the most feared pass-rush duos in NFL history under Teerlinck's tutelage, both expressed their feelings on their former coach's passing Sunday night and into Monday morning.
Freeney and Teerlinck were both with the Colts from 2002 through 2012, and in that time, the former first-round pick out of Syracuse would rack up 107.5 sacks, the fourth-most in the league over that span.
"JT was a man of true legend," Freeney told Colts.com on Monday. "He was an innovator and his teachings were way ahead of his time. He taught me so much and I definitely would not have had the career I had if it wasn't for him.
"I will miss him," Freeney continued. "Rest in peace my friend. The greatest D-line coach of all-time!"
Mathis, whose 123 sacks are the most in Colts franchise history, frequently gave Teerlinck credit for his role in developing him into one of the most feared pass rushers in league history after entering the NFL as a fifth-round pick out of Alabama A&M in 2003.
Mathis, the NFL's all-time leader in forced fumbles (54), also tweeted tributes to his former coach on Sunday night.
"R.I.P. to THE GREATEST Passrush Coach OF ALL TIME!!!! #JohnTeerlinck," Mathis wrote.
Teerlinck, a Western Illinois product, was a fifth-round pick by the San Diego Chargers in the 1974 NFL Draft. A defensive tackle, he would play in 20 games with seven starts across the 1974 and 1975 seasons before embarking on his coaching career.
Teerlinck got his start in coaching at Iowa Lakes Community College in 1977, and worked his way up from there, with stops at Eastern Illinois (1978-79) and Illinois (1980-82) before entering the NFL ranks as a defensive line coach with the Cleveland Browns in 1989.
From 1989 through 2012, Teerlinck would guide some of the greatest defensive linemen in NFL history as a coach with the Browns (1989-90), Los Angeles Rams (1991), Minnesota Vikings (1992-94), Detroit Lions (1995-96), Denver Broncos (1997-2001) and Colts (2002-12).
Seven of Teerlinck's players would end up with at least 100 career sacks, including Bubba Baker, Chris Doleman, Kevin Greene, John Randle and Neil Smith, and last but not least, the great duo of Freeney and Mathis with the Colts.
Under Teerlinck, Freeney and Mathis would combine to collect 199 combined sacks together through 2012 with the Colts, who would capture the Super Bowl XLI title over the Chicago Bears in the 2006 season.
Teerlinck, in all, would win three Super Bowl titles as an assistant coach: Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII with the Broncos, and XLI with the Colts. Thirty-one of his players earned Pro Bowl honors, while two – Doleman and Randle – have been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame; Randle selected Teerlinck to present him at his Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2010.
"First of all, I want to thank John Teerlinck for presenting me, motivating me, focusing me on the game that I love," Randle said in his Hall of Fame speech. "I also want to say, John, thank you for saying I could excel and play in the National Football League, even though I wasn't drafted, didn't play for a major school. Also thank you for showing me what sometimes I didn't see in myself."