- Associated Press - Saturday, October 1, 2011

NASHVILLE, TENN. (AP) - Mike Heimerdinger, a veteran assistant in the NFL who coached players including Steve McNair, Jay Cutler and Vince Young, has died. He was 58.

The Tennessee Titans confirmed Heimerdinger’s death after talking with his family. He died Friday while in Mexico to receive experimental treatments for a rare form of cancer. He was offensive coordinator for the Titans when he was diagnosed with cancer in November 2010.

Mike approached cancer with the same vigor and tenacity that he approached any football game _ to win,” Heimerdinger’s wife, Kathie, said in a statement. “Even in the final minutes he never gave up _ that was our Dinger. He was a deeply devoted husband and father, loving son and brother, loyal friend and committed coach who loved the game and life.”

Heimderdinger began chemotherapy treatment five days after the diagnosis a day before Thanksgiving last November. At the time, coach Jeff Fisher said Heimerdinger had been very sick for three weeks.

Heimerdinger made a trip to Houston with the team for that Sunday’s game and was greeted on the field before the game by his son, an intern with the Texans at the time.

He maintained his duties for the rest of the season but was fired in February, one day after Mike Munchak succeeded Fisher as Titans‘ coach.

Heimerdinger was in his second stint as the Titans‘ offensive coordinator. The man called “Dinger” was college roommates with Mike Shanahan and helped coach McNair to co-MVP of the NFL with Peyton Manning in 2003 during his first run in Tennessee.

He also spent 2005 as offensive coordinator of the New York Jets before joining Shanahan in Denver as assistant head coach in 2006 and 2007. Then it was back to Tennessee.

“He was a great coach and a tough coach,” Titans running back Chris Johnson said. “I know I wouldn’t have become the player I am without his confidence and the trust that he showed in me. My thoughts go out to his family.”

In Denver, he worked for Shanahan and coached dynamic wide-receiving tandem Ed McCaffrey and Rod Smith.

“We lost a very special person and my best friend in Mike Heimerdinger,” Shanahan, now the coach of the Washington Redskins, said in a statement. “I know the man upstairs needed a superstar so he took him earlier than we all wanted. His love for his family was unprecedented and I will forever miss him.”

Broncos football chief John Elway tweeted: “The world lost a great coach and a great man in the passing of Mike Heimerdinger. He was a big part of our championship years.”

Heimerdinger was born in Dekalb, Ill., and was a wide receiver and centerfielder at Eastern Illinois University where he received a degree in history.

He spent four years as a high school coach in McHenry, Ill., and then was a coach at the University of Florida, the Air Force Academy, North Texas State, Cal State-Fullerton, Rice and Duke.

Heimerdinger then coached for the Denver Broncos, New York Jets and two stints with the Tennessee Titans. He coached Manning in a couple of Pro Bowls, and they played golf together in the offseason, and Manning noted Saturday that Heimerdinger was close with Kerry Collins, now with the Colts, and a couple other players in Indianapolis.

“So it’s sad around here today as well,” Manning said in a statement. “He was a man’s man. I appreciated his friendship. I am sorry and sad about his passing. He will be missed, and my prayers are with his family.”

New York Jets receiver Derrick Mason sent his prayers to the Heimerdinger family on Twitter. Heimerdinger was Tennessee’s offensive coordinator when Mason got the chance to play receiver in the NFL when he had been working just as a returner.

“Dinger gave me a opportunity and I will forever thank him for that! Great teacher!!” Mason wrote.

Heimerdinger had a daughter and a son.

“You don’t expect these types of things to happen and they shouldn’t happen,” Titans tackle Michael Roos said. “I felt confident that he was going to beat this after seeing his resolve last season in dealing with it. He was such a competitor and a fighter _ the things that made him such a good coach were also the traits that I thought would lead him to beat the cancer.”

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