By Todd Sitomer, CNN
(CNN) – Rudy “Rudy” Riska, the Heisman Trophy-winning running back who defined the style of exciting, passing-dominated offenses as offensive coordinator at four of Notre Dame’s five national titles, has died, the Fighting Irish announced on Monday. He was 85.
Riska died Monday night in his home in Peoria, Illinois, following an illness, Notre Dame Athletics said in a statement.
Riska was a running back and part-time quarterback in college, playing football for the Indiana University Police. He was hired as an assistant coach at Indiana in 1953, then took up running back and linebacker coaching.
He played fullback at Notre Dame from 1952 to 1955 and graduated with a degree in education in 1956. At the time, he was the second-youngest player to win the Heisman Trophy, a college football award that honors the best player in the country.
Riska went on to become Notre Dame’s offensive coordinator in 1959 under head coach Frank Leahy.
“Coach Leahy made all the decisions,” he once said, “and the offensive players were certainly aware of his decision-making.”
That wasn’t the case long into their tenure.
“At the beginning of my time at Notre Dame, I wanted to coach offense. After a while, we decided to run the ball,” he told the NFL Network in a 2007 interview. “I was the fourth offensive coordinator in five years. I had most of the other offensive coaches out of the room at the end of the day. I was a little frustrated, but I learned to adjust.”
The Fighting Irish went to the playoffs five straight years. The 1961 team won the national championship.
Under co-coaches Bob Davie and Lou Holtz, Notre Dame also won the national title in 1966, 1969 and 1974. In between, Riska also was the offensive coordinator of the ’62 team.
His teams were featured in a playbook called the “Rudy Plan,” a nod to his nickname, which earned him the nickname “Rudy.” Some of his popular plays included “One was a punt.”
That sign of extreme confidence caught the attention of ESPN commentator Kirk Herbstreit in 1989.
“What always was a tactic to put the defense on its heels became a trademark for the ‘Rudy Plan,'” Herbstreit said in a statement on Monday. “Rudy’s ability to anticipate what was coming next left his opponents visibly shaking their heads.”
In the NFL, Riska coached with the Cleveland Browns and Atlanta Falcons. He remained with Notre Dame after retiring from coaching in 1981.
“The world is a little sadder for the loss of one of the true legends of college football today,” said Joe Theismann, a former Notre Dame and Washington Redskins quarterback. “Rudy was a special man and a great friend. No one knew anything about football than Rudy did. He truly knew how to run an offense. He enjoyed the game and always put his players first.”
Riska was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1985.
Among the players he coached were Terry Bradshaw, Eddie George, Rod Smith, Ron McBride, Matt Millen, Eddie George, Mike Tomczak, Ron Pearson, Charles Alexander, Pat Swilling, Anthony Munoz, Mike Singletary, Russ Grimm, Hugh Green, Ken O’Brien, Willie Roaf, Tony Richardson, Mike Tomczak, Ron Meeks, Shane Conlan, John Riggins, William “The Refrigerator” Perry, Daryl Johnston, Matt Millen, Corbin Smith, Marcus Allen, Orlando Pace, Gary Fencik, Corey Dillon, Curtis Martin, John Riggins, Donovan McNabb, Greg Gumbel, John Hannah, John Elway, Lance Alworth, Jim McMahon, Brian Urlacher, Mike Tomczak, Tedy Bruschi, Percy Ellsworth, Anthony Mitchell, Dexter Manley, Ray Lewis, Bert Emanuel, Ray Lewis, John Lynch, J.J. Watt, A.J. Green, Reggie Bush, Philip Rivers, Tony Romo, Malcolm Smith, Julio Jones, Brandon Marshall, Buster Skrine, Terrell Owens, Darnell Dockett, Antoine Bethea, Quintin Demps, Charles Woodson, Harrison Gaines, Terrell Davis, Reggie Wayne, Matt Forte, Stephen McGee, Nick Mangold, Chris Snee, Chris Christie, Bill Belichick, Mark Schlereth, Brian Urlacher, Michael Strahan, Tracy Porter, Al Baker, Ryan Clady, Dante Scarnecchia and Brandon Meriweather.