Ken Riley, former NFL star, Florida A&M standout and coach, dead at 72

Former NFL star Ken Riley dead at 72

BARTOW, Fla. — Ken Riley, a three-time All-Pro defensive back during 15 seasons in the NFL and a standout quarterback at Florida A&M University who later coached at his alma mater, died Sunday. He was 72.

Riley died in his hometown of Bartow, Florida, where he excelled in high school According to his family, Riley died of a heart attack shortly after 6 a.m. Sunday, The Ledger of Lakeland reported.

“I woke up this morning (Sunday) with a heavy heart as I learned of the passing of FAMU and NFL great Ken Riley,” FAMU football head coach Willie Simmons said Sunday in a statement. “Coach Riley was one of the first to welcome me to the ‘FAMULY’ and having him speak to our team before our first Orange and Green game is definitely at the top of my list of unforgettable moments as head coach here at FAMU. My deepest condolences go out to his family and we as football community will surely honor his memory.”

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Riley enrolled at FAMU in 1965 and became the Rattlers’ starting quarterback the following season. Under legendary coach Jake Gaither, Riley compiled a 23-7 record and led the Rattlers to three Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference titles, the Tallahassee Democrat reported.

Riley was drafted in the sixth round by the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals in 1969 and was switched to defensive back, where he would intercept 65 passes to place fifth on the league’s all-time list. He returned five interceptions for touchdowns. He also recovered 18 fumbles.

Riley played his entire NFL career in Cincinnati and competed in Super Bowl XVI.

“When he came here, Kenny and Lemar Parrish had never played cornerback, and they’re the two best we’ve ever had. And we’ve had a lot of good ones,” Bengals owner Mike Brown said in a statement. “We put him over there for a decade and a half and we didn’t have to worry about it. Kenny was quick to the point of the ball as a great interceptor and he was an excellent tackler, even though he wasn’t a very big man. I’m going to miss him. He was a good guy and a solid man. We send our condolences to his family.”

After his pro career ended, Riley returned to his alma mater and coached at FAMU for seven seasons. He compiled a 48-39-2 record, sharing a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title in 1988 and winning the crown outright in 1990. He was named MEAC coach of the year in 1988 and 1990. Riley was the school’s athletic director from 1994 to 2002.

Riley was elected to the FAMU Sports Hall of Fame in 1982, the Florida Sports Hall of Fame in 1992, and the Black College Football Hall of Fame in 2015.

“I am really hurt,” J.J. Corbett, 97, one of Riley’s coaches at Bartow’s Union Academy during the 1960s, told The Ledger. “Even in high school, Ken was quite a young man, and he proved himself after coming home. He did so much for the young men of this county. He was not the type of guy who was always bragging about himself, he was kind of quiet. But when he got on a job to do something, he did it without banter.”

“Ken Riley was the nicest human being you could meet,” Winter Haven High School coach Charlie Tate told The Ledger. “Ken cared for people, he was patient with people. He was talented as an athlete and a scholar. He was very community-minded and was fair to all people.”

Ken RIley intercepted 65 passes during his 15-season career with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Ken RIley intercepted 65 passes during his 15-season career with the Cincinnati Bengals. (Gary Landers/Associated Press File)