The Tragic Death of Cincinnati Bengals Great Ken Riley

Ken Riley had a huge passion for the game of football. He was a skilled athlete and was always one of the best players on the field growing up. Riley had the opportunity to play professionally with the AFL and NFL.

After his playing career was over, he got into coaching. He had success as a coach and impacted a lot of players. Almost a month ago, Riley lost his life, and his loss saddened those who knew him.

Ken Riley was a great athlete on the field

Riley attended Florida A&M for college and was the starting quarterback on the football team. Riley used his athleticism to have success at the quarterback position. He could throw and run the ball at a high level. During his senior year, he completed 108 passes for 1,408 yards and 14 touchdowns. During his time at Florida A&M, he led his team to Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference titles each season he played.

After a successful college career, the Bengals selected Riley in the sixth round of the common draft. Coming into training camp as a quarterback, the Bengals head coach Paul Brown decided to convert Riley to a cornerback. That decision would pay off in the long run. In his first season, he immediately made an impact as a defensive back, finishing with four interceptions and 66 return yards. Riley also recovered two fumbles and had 334 yards on 14 kickoff returns. The Bengals took advantage of Riley’s athleticism. Throughout his career, he continued to be one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL.

He recorded three or more interceptions in all but three of his 15 seasons, which is an impressive stat. In 1976 he had his best season finishing with nine interceptions, 141 return yards, one touchdown, and two fumble recoveries. Riley’s nine interceptions set a franchise record for most interceptions in a season. That record wasn’t broken until 30 years later by Deltha O’Neal in 2005. During the 1981 season, Riley helped the Bengals reach their first Super Bowl appearance against the San Francisco 49ers. In 1983 Riley finished his final NFL season on a high note with eight interceptions, 89 return yards, two touchdowns, and two fumble recoveries. He was a three-time All-Pro selection.

Ken Riley switching from playing to coaching

Riley finished his playing career with a total of 65 interceptions, 596 return yards, five touchdowns, 18 fumble recoveries, 96 fumble return yards, 334 kickoff return yards, and 15 receiving yards. Riley retired from the game as one of the bests to ever play. His 65 interceptions ranks fifth all-time in NFL history. After his playing days were over, the coaching days began.

He spent two years as an assistant coach for the Green Bay Packers. In 1986, he took over as the head coach of his alma mater, Florida A&M. From 1986 to 1993, Riley coached the football team and finished with an overall record of 48-39-2 and winning two Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference titles. He was also named the MEAC Coach of the Year twice in 1988 and 1990.

Ken Riley left a legacy that many will remember

After coaching at Florida A&M, Riley served as the athletic director of the school from 1994-2003. During his tenure as athletic director, Florida A&M won 35 MEAC championships in 11 sports. After serving as the athletic director, Riley retired and lived in his hometown of Bartow, Florida.

On June 7, 2020, Riley died at the age of 72, and his cause of death was not released. When the news broke out about what happened, many people that were close to him were shocked. In an article from, Florida A&M Sports Hall of Fame chairman Alvin Hollins said that Riley was a good man and a great athlete. “Ken showed tremendous leadership as a student and a quarterback,” Hollins said. “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 left an impact on the game of football as a player and a coach and he will always be remembered.