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Leslie Frazier, Elijah Pitts inducted into Black College Football Hall of Fame

A pair of remarkable men — who built proud and successful coaching careers with the Bills — are now enshrined in Canton’s Black College Football Hall of Fame

Leslie Frazier Photo by Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images

A pair of Buffalo Bills coaches who were legends in their own rights as collegiate and NFL coaches have been inducted into the Black College Football Hall of Fame as part of the Hall’s 2023 class. Former defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Leslie Frazier and the late running backs coach Elijah Pitts joined six other individuals whose legacy-defining careers began at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU).

To celebrate their 2023 inductions, we take a look back at the extensive football careers held by both Frazier and Pitts.

Leslie Frazier

Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator (2017-2019)
Buffalo Bills assistant head coach/defensive coordinator (2020-2022)

The esteemed Leslie Frazier holds a long and accomplished coaching resume that spans 34 years. The two-time Super Bowl winner — first as a defensive back with the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XX, then as a coach with the Indianapolis Colts in SB XLI — has held myriad coaching positions in the NFL for 23 seasons. In 2022, Frazier was honored by the Professional Football Writers of America (PFWA), who bestowed the 2022 Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman Award on Frazier as a lifetime achievement award.

Perhaps most notably for Bills fans, Frazier was Buffalo’s assistant head coach and defensive coordinator from 2017 through the 2022 NFL season — until his decision to step down as part of a year away from coaching. Frazier initially joined the team as defensive coordinator, before a promotion that saw him add the title of assistant head coach for the organization over the final three years of his tenure.

Under the guidance of Frazier, the Bills fielded one of the NFL’s best defenses year after year — utilizing a successful blend of bend-but-don’t-break and disguised pressure packages as part of the team’s big nickel defense. With the marked rise in production out of the passing game as a result of the sport’s evolution, Frazier proved adept at countering the bulk of NFL offenses with the utilization of a full-time nickel corner in place of more traditional three- or four-linebacker sets.

Prior to his time in Orchard Park, NY, Frazier held numerous coaching titles, beginning with his appointment in 1988 as the first head coach for Trinity College (Trinity International University) in Deerfield, Illinois. After nearly a decade building Trinity’s football program, Frazier moved on to become defensive backs coach for the University of Illinois.

Frazier entered the NFL’s coaching ranks in 1999, joining Andy Reid and the Philadelphia Eagles as the team’s defensive backs coach. From there, Frazier would accumulate coaching highlights as defensive coordinator for Marvin Lewis and the Cincinnati Bengals (2003-2004), and assistant head coach / defensive backs coach for Tony Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts (2006). Then in 2007, Frazier succeeded Mike Tomlin as defensive coordinator/assistant head coach with Brad Childress and the Minnesota Vikings. Frazier would eventually succeed Childress, taking on the role of interim head coach during the 2010 NFL season. From there, Leslie Frazier was hired as head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, a title he held from 2011-2013.

Following his time in Minnesota, Frazier went on to become defensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and then defensive backs coach for the Baltimore Ravens before joining head coach Sean McDermott and the Buffalo Bills.

As a defensive back, Leslie Frazier made a name for himself at Alcorn State University, earning All-Southwestern Atlantic Conference First Team Defensive honors, being named to the NAIA All-District Team, and part of the 1979 Southwestern Atlantic Conference Championship team.

In the NFL, Leslie Frazier found success after signing an undrafted free-agent contract with the Chicago Bears in 1981. In four seasons, Frazier played in 65 games, making 20 interceptions, 2 touchdowns (off INTs), 2 fumble recoveries, and 1 sack. Frazier’s highly productive NFL career was cut short at the conclusion of the 1985 season. During Super Bowl XX, Frazier suffered a career-ending knee injury returning a punt during the game’s second quarter. While original prognoses allowed for Frazier to make a return to the NFL during the home stretch of the 1986 season, his knee never healed to the point that would allow him to return to the rigors of professional football’s gridiron as a player. The Bears eventually released Frazier during the summer of 1987, and he entered the coaching ranks the following season.

Leslie Frazier is currently focusing his energy towards NFL opportunities next season, having recently attended the league’s “Coach Accelerator” program in hopes of better-positioning himself to land a head-coaching opportunity in 2024 and beyond.

(Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference)

Elijah Pitts

Buffalo Bills running backs coach / special teams coach (1978-1980)
Buffalo Bills running backs coach (1985-1991, also special teams coach 1986)
Buffalo Bills assistant head coach/running backs coach (1992-1997)
Buffalo Bills interim head coach (1995)

Elijah Pitts (2/03/1938 - 7/10/1998) was an accomplished collegiate and NFL multi-threat halfback who won five NFL titles as a member of the Green Bay Packers under head coach Vince Lombardi — notably scoring a pair of touchdowns in Super Bowl I. Pitts’ talent and ability to meaningfully contribute no matter the required on-field task endeared him to the famously gruff Lombardi, who was driven by integrity and expected excellence at all times. Pitts attended Philander Smith College in Little Rock, AR. It was after Lombardi and the Packers acquired film of Pitts at Philander Smith that Green Bay decided to draft Pitts 180th overall in 1960.

Pitts’ played 11 seasons in the NFL thanks in large part to his tenacity as a tackler early in his career that quickly earned him the role of special teams captain. Pitts spent a decade with the Packers — culminating with his enshrinement into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in 1979. For his career, Pitts played in 134 games, compiling 514 carries for 1,788 yards, with 28 rushing TDs; adding 104 receptions for 1,245 yards, with 6 receiving TDs. Pitts’ abilities transcended traditional halfback duties, and as a passer he went 4-of-9 for 113 yards with one touchdown; additionally, Pitts was a fearsome special teams players, returning 75 punts for 394 yards, with 1 touchdown, and 28 kickoffs for 535 yards; Pitts added 6 fumble recoveries.

Pitts is perhaps best-remembered by Bills fans for his NFL coaching career. Pitts joined Chuck Knox in Buffalo as the team’s running backs coach from 1978-1980. Following a departure for other opportunities that led to his coaching Earl Campbell with the Houston Oilers then as running backs coach for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the CFL, Pitts returned to Orchard Park, NY and the Bills with Kay Stephenson. Pitts would continue in his role as running backs coach for Hank Bullough and then Marv Levy. While with Levy, Pitts was promoted to assistant head coach starting with the 1995 season. During that 1995 season, Pitts was named interim head coach for three games in place of Levy — who was undergoing treatment for prostate cancer. In all, Pitts — who was Buffalo’s running backs coach during all four of the team’s Super Bowl appearances — spent 16 seasons coaching with the Buffalo Bills.

During October of the Bills’ 1997 season, Elijah Pitts was diagnosed with abdominal cancer. The disease would claim his life at the age of 60, just nine months after its initial discovery. Pitts left behind his wife Ruth, and three children — two sons, and a daughter. Pitts’ oldest son, Ron, followed in his father’s footsteps, playing cornerback for both the Buffalo Bills and the Green Bay Packers.

(Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference)