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Bears legend Clyde Emrich honored at NFL Combine

Colts director of sports performance and former Bears strength and conditioning coordinator Rusty Jones (left) and Clyde Emrich's son, Ken Emrich (right)
Colts director of sports performance and former Bears strength and conditioning coordinator Rusty Jones (left) and Clyde Emrich's son, Ken Emrich (right)

INDIANAPOLIS – Bears pioneering strength coach Clyde Emrich posthumously received two prestigious honors Wednesday night at the NFL Combine.

Emrich, who passed away in November at the age of 90, was the recipient of the NFL Strength and Conditioning Coaches Lifetime Achievement Award. In addition, the organization renamed the honor the Clyde Emrich Lifetime Achievement Award.

Emrich's son, Ken, accepted the honor on his father's behalf.

"It's incredible because it'll keep his legacy alive," Ken said. "He created something so special with the Bears. After he passed, the Bears family reached out, as did former players, coaches, the folks here, the NFL. It's been phenomenal. To know that his legacy is being carried forward for as long as this exists is fantastic."

Nicknamed "The Legend," Emrich worked for the Bears for 50 years, making him the franchise's longest tenured full-time employee. He became one of the NFL's first strength coaches when George Halas hired him in 1971 and remained with the team until his passing.

While Emrich last served as the Bears' strength coach in 1991, the team named its weight room at Halas Hall after him in 2008 and he continued to provide strength-training tips to players. He worked in an administrative capacity with the Bears the past three decades, handling a myriad of responsibilities. Emrich also served as a training camp coordinator since 1984, a role he shared with Bears vice president and longtime friend Brian McCaskey.

Before being hired by the Bears, Emrich had worked with several of the team's players—most notably Hall of Famers Stan Jones and Doug Atkins—at the Irving Park YMCA in Chicago. Emrich's first official contact with the Bears came prior to the 1963 season when he met with Halas to discuss isometric resistance training, a revolutionary concept at the time.

Emrich joined the Bears with impressive credentials. During a competitive weightlifting career that spanned 21 years, he participated in the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki, Finland, won a bronze medal at the 1954 world championships in Vienna, Austria, captured a silver medal at the 1955 world championships in Munich, Germany, and won a title at the 1959 Pan American Games in Chicago.

Emrich won four national titles and in 1957 became the world's first man under 200 pounds to clean and jerk 400 pounds. Unlike many of his competitors, Emrich never worked with a coach or trainer. He started lifting weights in 1946 as a 15-year-old who stood 5-foot-6 and weighed 110 pounds, training at home with homemade cans of sand and cement and cable-chest expanders.

Emrich is a member of the USA Weightlifting Hall of Fame, the Illinois State Weightlifting Hall of Fame, the USA Strength Coach Hall of Fame and the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame.

At Wednesday night's banquet, longtime NFL strength and conditioning coordinator Rusty Jones presented the award to Ken Emrich. Jones worked closely with Emrich while serving as the Bears' strength and conditioning coordinator from 2005-12.

"When I first met him in the late '80s, he was just so classy in everything about him," said Jones, who has been the Colts' director of sports performance since 2018. "And he was so into what he did. His son said it: He never worked a day in his life because he loved it. He loved everything he did."

“To know that his legacy is being carried forward for as long as this exists is fantastic.” Ken Emrich on the NFL Strength and Conditioning Lifetime Achievement Award being named after his father

Jones experienced Emrich's passion for his job throughout their time together with the Bears.

"He was just a calm individual," Jones said. "Everything was talked through when we talked. It was like having a father with you. I don't want to say that, but I lost my dad when I was 26.

"To come tonight and have this honor for Clyde, it might be the greatest honor as a strength coach you could ever ask for. His name's on the award now, and I'm able to be the guy to come up [and present it]. I can't think of anything better."