Sonny Randle, All-Pro receiver and college coach, dies at 81

Sonny Randle, one of the best players in the history of the Cardinals franchise and later a college head coach, has died at the age of 81.

A high school track star, Randle enrolled at the University of Virginia with little football experience and wasn’t even on the team as a freshman. But he made the team as a walk-on during his sophomore year and eventually became a star, leading the ACC in catches, receiving yards, kickoff return yards and all-purpose yards in 1958.

The Chicago Cardinals took early notice of Randle’s talent and used a 19th-round draft pick on him in 1958, even though he still had a year of college ahead of him. In those days, a team could draft a player who wasn’t done playing college football and own his rights until he finished his college career, and the Cardinals were happy to wait until he could sign a pro contract in 1959.

In 1960 the Cardinals moved to St. Louis and Randle became one of the top players in the league, leading the NFL with 15 receiving touchdowns and earning first-team All-Pro recognition. He would have three more Pro Bowl seasons for the Cardinals after that, but injuries began to take their toll, and later in his career he bounced around the league in San Francisco, Dallas and Washington without matching the success he had in St. Louis.

Randle was a natural as a coach, starting while he was still an active player and the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team noticed his speed and asked him to give baseball players instructions on sprinting techniques. Cardinals outfielder Lou Brock, who would go on to lead the National League in stolen bases eight times, said Randle helped him become a faster runner.

In retirement Randle became a college football coach and had a great deal of success early on, leading East Carolina to back-to-back Southern Conference championships. That got him hired at his alma mater, Virginia, but he struggled there and was fired after two losing seasons. He eventually got another shot as a head coach, at Marshall, but there were allegations of mistreatment of players, more losing, and he was fired again.

Randle found success later in life as a broadcaster, including working as a color commentator on Marshall games. He worked in broadcasting into his late 70s, retiring in 2014.

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