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SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — Well-known for his jocularity and peppery, occasionally off-beat comments, Dick MacPherson was beloved in Syracuse for that and so much more. Heck, he likely could have been mayor if he chose to run.
Instead, he stayed on the football field and made his mark with the Orange, resurrecting a declining program and returning it to national prominence. MacPherson arrived before the 1981 season, taking over a program that had slumped through a decade of mediocrity, producing only three winning seasons. After two seasons of transition, MacPherson produced a winning team in 1983 (6-5).
By the time he left in 1990, MacPherson had compiled a 66-46-4 record, departing as the school's second-winningest coach.
Two years ago, the university honored the career of Coach Mac. Seated in a small vehicle that transported him to midfield, he joked with former Syracuse great Floyd Little as he was showered with cheers. It was his final public appearance at the school.
MacPherson died Tuesday at home in Syracuse with his family at his side, according to the university. He was 86. Cause of death was not released.
"Coach Mac and his family are part of the very fabric of Syracuse football," Orange coach Dino Babers said. "The fondness with which former players talk about him, you can tell he had a significant impact on them both as players and as people. In my interactions with Coach Mac, what really stood out was the love he had for Syracuse, this university and the football program."
In 1959, Syracuse was the undefeated national champion. Between 1967 and MacPherson's arrival, the Orange made only one bowl trip as the program dropped from the higher echelons of Division I.
In 1987, he led Syracuse to a No. 4 national ranking and an 11-0-1 mark, blemished only by a tie with Auburn in the Sugar Bowl, and was named national college coach of the year by several organizations. His career college coaching record was 111-73-5.
A native of Old Town, Maine, MacPherson was a three-sport star in high school and graduated from Springfield College in 1958. He was a center on the football team there and started on the 1956 team that went unbeaten. He was captain of the team as a senior and then served in the Air Force during the Korean War.
MacPherson later served as assistant freshman football coach at Illinois, freshman football and wrestling coach at Massachusetts, assistant football coach at Cincinnati, and defensive backs coach at Maryland.
After leaving Syracuse, he served as head coach of the New England Patriots (1991-1993). He also was an assistant with the Denver Broncos (1967-1970) and Cleveland Browns (1978-1980). He joined the Broncos in 1967 as coach of the linebackers and defensive backs and later was defensive coordinator with Denver before leaving in 1970 to become head coach at Massachusetts.
After coaching there for seven seasons, MacPherson returned briefly to the NFL, joining the Browns as linebackers coach in 1978. He left the Browns to become Syracuse's 25th head coach.
Although he adopted Syracuse as his second home, when the chance came to coach the Patriots, MacPherson seized the opportunity. He took over a Patriots team that had finished 1-15 and led it to a five-game improvement in his first season, finishing 6-10. The five-game improvement helped MacPherson finish fifth in NFL coach of the year balloting, but his "dream job" quickly became a nightmare. He was fired by the Patriots on Jan. 8, 1993, after compiling a 6-24 record over two seasons.
MacPherson retired from coaching after the 1992 season and returned to Syracuse. He was briefly courted as a possible mayoral candidate but instead pursued business opportunities that included opening a sports bar. He also served as a color commentator on radio broadcasts of Syracuse football games and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2009.
"He was as fine of a person as I've ever known," said broadcaster Sean McDonough, who worked with MacPherson when he was a student at Syracuse. "He was a great role model to me and a lot of other people, a great influence on me throughout my life, in a lot of ways like a second dad. A special man. A great loss. So many people loved him very much, including me."
MacPherson is survived by his wife, Sandra, his daughters Maureen and Janet, and four grandchildren. His grandsons, Macky and Cameron, played football at Syracuse, where Macky is currently in his second season as a graduate assistant coach. Funeral arrangements were not announced.