John Ralston, the former Broncos head coach and general manager who led the franchise to its first winning season, died at the age of 92 on Saturday, Sept. 14.
Ralston’s tenure, which began with the 1972 season, signaled a shift in the Broncos’ fortune. Prior to his arrival, the team had a .304 win percentage and a reputation as a cellar-dweller in the fledgling American Football League and, after the AFL-NFL merger, in the NFL, too. But over the course of the next five years, Ralston led them to win 50.7 percent of their games.
The franchise reached new heights with Ralston as head coach, including the team's first winning season in 1973 and a then-franchise-record nine wins in 1976. For his efforts in 1973, Ralston was named AFC Coach of the Year by the AP, UPI and PFWA.
More than that, Ralston helped build the Broncos as its general manager, adding a remarkable amount of talent that would eventually lead the team to its Super Bowl XII berth. Of the 22 offensive and defensive starters for that team, 16 Broncos had been drafted or signed by Ralston. Six of his draftees or free-agent signees would eventually become Ring of Famers.
Prior to his time in Denver, Ralston coached at Stanford and Utah State. At Stanford, Ralston won two Pacific-8 championships and two Rose Bowl wins, and helped Cardinal quarterback Jim Plunkett win the Heisman Trophy in 1970. At Utah State, Ralston won Skyline Conference championships in 1960 and 1961. Years after his coaching career at the professional football level, Ralston returned to the collegiate ranks to lead San Jose State’s football team from 1993-96.
Ralston, who had a 97-81-4 college record as a head coach, is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.