Clyde Emrich, who became the NFL’s first strength and conditioning coach in 1971 and spent the rest of his life working for the Bears, died Wednesday at age 90. He recently had undergone treatment for colon cancer.
Nicknamed “The Legend,” he served as a strength coach for 20 years before moving into team administration. He was the Bears’ longest-tenured employee, at 50 years.
“He was a wonderful mentor to me and many others and was well-respected by everyone in the Bears family as well as around the league,” Bears vice president Brian McCaskey, who worked for him for almost 40 years, said in a statement. “Clyde revolutionized the way teams trained for an NFL season. He shared his knowledge and expertise with athletes from all walks of life and at all levels. Clyde would always say, ‘Give me an athlete, and I’ll make them an even better athlete by making them stronger.’
“One of the things that makes Clyde’s story so unique is that he was self-taught. As accomplished as Clyde was, he was driven to be the best at his craft. A ‘Legend’ in every sense, he was a wonderful friend to many. He is irreplaceable and will be missed by everyone who knew him.”
Emrich has been a training camp administrator — a role McCaskey shared — since 1984.
Before joining the team, he had an impressive 21-year-long weightlifting career. He participated in the 1952 Olympics and the world championships in both 1954 and 1955. In 1957, he became the first man under 200 pounds to clean and jerk 400 pounds.
He won a gold medal in the 1959 Pan American Games. Four years later, he met George Halas — he was already training some of his players on the side — to discuss isometric training. He was hired full time eight years after that.
The Bears named their weight room after him 13 years ago.
Visitation will be held Monday at Burnett-Dane Funeral Home in Libertyville, with a service at 11 a.m. Tuesday at St. Joseph Church.