ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- After 36 years of coaching football -- including 17 in the NFL -- Wayne Nunnely is retiring from the game.
"It has been an absolute dream come true for me to coach for 36 years," Nunnely said in a statement. "I am so thankful for all the opportunities I have been given to have a positive impact on others through the game of football. More than anything, I am proud of the accomplishments of the teams and players I have been so privileged to work with over the years."
Nunnely coached the Broncos defensive line for three seasons after spending 12 years coaching that position for the San Diego Chargers and two for the New Orleans Saints at the start of his NFL career.
While the defense became his passion in the professional ranks, it wasn't always that way.
"I was a running back," Nunnely told DenverBroncos.com before the team's 2011 season opener. "I was coaching running backs the first year of my first college job. Our D-line coach quit that spring and for some reason, I always say it was God's will, he came to me and asked if I would coach the D-line. I coached it that year, left there, went to another school, coached D-line, went back to running backs for about eight years, and ended up with the D-line once again at UCLA – my last college job. And then I was in the NFL after that – I've been coaching the D-line ever since. It was meant to be to coach the D-line, because my expertise at that time was running backs, but the good Lord saw fit for me that he knew in the future I was going to be coaching D-line."
And he excelled coaching that position.
His lines have contributed to seven seasons in which his teams have ranked among the league's top seven clubs in rushing yars per game allowed -- including No. 1 with San Diego in 2005 and 1998.
In his first season with the Broncos, he coached the only line in the league comprised entirely of first-year full-time starters, and the team's three down linemen helped the Broncos rank seventh in the league in both yards per game and yards per play allowed in 2009. In addition, his group played a role in the club's 39 sacks -- the highest total in seven years and 10th-best output in the league that season.
Last season, Nunnely coached an entirely new defensive front for the second consecutive season in addition to implementing new schematic responsibilities with the defense's conversion to a 4-3 base. Elvis Dumervil earned his second career Pro Bowl selection in 2011 and the defensive line helped the Broncos post 41 sacks to mark their highest total in 11 years.
"Wayne has been an outstanding teacher and mentor for so many players and coaches throughout his career," Head Coach John Fox said in a statement. "His passion for the game is something that I greatly admire, and it's one of the many reasons why he was so valued and respected as a coach. Although I only had the opportunity to work with Wayne for one season, it was a pleasure to watch him coach. His positive influence on the defensive line was an important part of our team's success."
"When Wayne reflects on everything he accomplished in his career, I hope he is as proud as I am of what he has done as a coach. I am happy that Wayne will have the opportunity to spend more time with his family, and I congratulate him on a great coaching career."
During his time in the NFL, Nunnely coached a number of talented players, including three Pro Bowlers in Jamal Williams, Marcellus Wiley and Dumervil.
"He's a great man and a great mentor off the field as well," Dumervil said of Nunnely. "He helped me become a mature person off the field. He's a great technician coach. He was always fiery and he always had it in gameday, practice -- he always came with it every day to work. Those were things I learned from him, no matter how you feel, you have to come to work every day, day in and day out. It's all about consistency and he showed a good example and was a role model for our defensive linemen."
Defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson called Nunnely a "perfectionist," and said the defensive linemen will miss him this season.
Defensive end Robert Ayers agreed.
"He definitely was, in my opinion, a very great coach in this league," Ayers said. "He's very established, and if you look at his résumé and the guys that he's coached there are a lot of Pro Bowlers and a lot of great players. He's going to be missed and we definitely learned a lot from him. He brought a lot to work. Guys fed off his tenacity. His passion for the game was intense and we all fed off that."
One of the first African-American head coaches at the Division I level, Nunnely spent 18 years coaching in college including a four-year stint as the head coach of his alma mater, UNLV.
Nunnely, 60, is married to Velda and they have three sons, Steven, Channing and Aaron, and one daughter, Amber.
"This was not an easy decision, but it was the right one for me and my family," Nunnely said. "At this stage of my life, I want to devote more time to my wife, Velda, and the rest of our family. They have been with me every step of the way through an incredible career that I've been so blessed to enjoy. The NFL has a wonderful retirement plan, and it's time for me to begin the next chapter of my life."
Jay Rodgers, who spent the last three seasons as a defensive assistant with the club -- including working primarily with Nunnely and the defensive line in 2011 -- now takes over as defensive line coach.
Rodgers is in his fourth season with the club after working nine seasons at the collegiate level.
"The defensive line will be in good hands with Jay Rodgers, whom I've worked with very closely for the last three years," Nunnely said. "He is very deserving of this opportunity, which he has earned through his hard work and knowledge. Jay has many great qualities as a person and coach that will make him successful in his new role.
"I will truly miss being around so many dedicated players and coaches here in Denver. I look forward to watching the Broncos and wish them all the best this season."
Click here for a photo gallery of Nunnely's Broncos career.