Rory Sharrock, Tallahassee Democrat
Published 11:58 a.m. ET June 7, 2020
Ken Riley, a former Cincinnati Bengals All-Pro cornerback and former Florida A&M quarterback and head football coach, died Sunday morning at his home in Bartow, Florida. He was 72.
Florida A&M University announced the death of one of the school’s most respected icons on Twitter Sunday morning.
Riley spent 15 years in the NFL with the Bengals from 1969-83. He grabbed 65 interceptions, which ranks fifth all-time in NFL history.
Riley played quarterback at FAMU in the 1960s. He later worked as the Rattlers’ head coach (1986-93) and athletics director (1994-02). Under his leadership as the AD, FAMU won 35 MEAC championships in 11 sports.
Riley’s death surprised many who were close to him.
“He was a good man. He was one of our greatest athletes and person,” FAMU Sports Hall of Fame chairman Alvin Hollins said.
“Ken showed tremendous leadership as a student and a quarterback. The only regret is that he didn’t get in the Pro Football Hall of Fame before he passed. Several of the players he coached made it to the NFL. We had great success with him as a coach and athletics director.”
Riley enrolled at FAMU in 1965. He earned a starting position at quarterback the following season. Under the direction of legendary head coach Jake Gaither, Riley compiled a career record of 23-7. Riley led the Rattlers to Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) titles during each season on The Hill.
At FAMU, Riley was an elusive scrambler. In his senior year, he completed 100 of 108 passes (92.5%) for 1,408 yards and 14 touchdowns. In addition to his success on the field, he was a Rhodes Scholar.
After college, he was selected in the sixth round of the 1969 NFL draft by the Cincinnati Bengals and was converted to cornerback. He also played in Super Bowl XVI. Cincinnati lost 26-21 to San Francisco.
After retiring from the NFL, the three-time All-Pro (1975, 1976 and 1983) returned to FAMU to work as a head coach. He led his alma mater to a 48-39-2 record and captured two MEAC crowns in 1988 and 1990. The Rattlers also recorded three top-20 finishes in the polls in 1988, 1990 and 1992.
“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.
Former Rattler Football Legend Ken Riley Passes Away https://t.co/Ds8yTMwlEU
— FAMU Athletics (@FAMUAthletics) June 7, 2020
“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.”
Vice President and Director of Athletics Kortne Gosha also expressed sadness over the death of the Rattler icon.
“FAMU Athletics and the entire Rattler Nation is deeply saddened of the passing of former FAMU football player, head coach, athletics director and NFL great Ken Riley. We wish his family our deepest condolences,” Gosha said.
Riley was inducted into the Black College Football Hall of Fame in 2015.
Follow Rory Sharrock on Twitter @rattlernews and @married2game1.