EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Harland Svare, a starting linebacker on the New York Giants’ 1956 NFL championship team and later the team’s defensive coach while still a player, has died. He was 89.
The Yampa Valley Funeral Home in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, reported on its website that Svare died on April 4. The San Diego Union-Tribune was first to report the death.
For many years, Svare also held the distinction of being the NFL’s youngest head coach at 31 years, 11 months. He was elevated from defensive line coach to head coach by the Los Angeles Rams midway through the 1962 season.
Lane Kiffin of the Raiders and Sean McVay, the Rams’ current coach, subsequently were made head coaches at younger ages.
Svare was a 17th-round draft choice of the Rams in 1953 out of Washington State. He joined the Giants prior to the 1955 season.
In coach Tom Landry’s defense, Svare lined up at left linebacker, next to Hall of Fame middle linebacker Sam Huff. He started all 13 games in 1956, including the 47-7 rout of the Chicago Bears in the championship game. Svare also played in championship-game losses to the Baltimore Colts in 1958 — the “Greatest Game Ever Played” — and 1959.
The Giants’ defense of the late 1950s also included two other Hall of Famers, Andy Robustelli and Emlen Tunnell.
Svare played in 89 regular-season games with 79 starts, including 70 games with 61 starts for the Giants. He had nine career interceptions and recovered five fumbles.
When Landry left the Giants after the 1959 season to become the Dallas Cowboys’ first head coach, Svare took over as defensive coach and started every game. He retired as a player after the 1960 season and remained as the Giants’ defensive coach under Allie Sherman in 1961.
With the Rams, Svare’s teams went 14-31-3 before he was fired following the 1965 season. He returned to the Giants as their defensive coach in 1967 and 1968 before spending the 1969 season working under Vince Lombardi with the Washington Redskins.
In February 1971, Svare was hired as San Diego Chargers general manager. He added the head coaching duties with four games remaining that year. The Chargers were 1-6-1 in 1973 when Svare resigned as coach with an overall record of 7-17-2. He was fired as general manager after the 1976 season.
Svare is survived by his daughter, Mia Anderson; two granddaughters; and a brother, known as G.O. His wife, Annette, was the personal secretary to the late Giants owner Wellington Mara, She died in 2008.
“My father was an amazing man,” Anderson, who was adopted at birth by Svare and was an only child, told the Union-Tribune. “He always was my rock, always stood beside me in everything in life. That first night he fell in love with me and the feelings were mutual.”