University of Miami football great Cortez Kennedy, a Pro Football Hall of Famer remembered for his warmth off the field as much as his fierceness on it, has died.
Kennedy, who lived in Orlando, was 48.
“We can confirm his passing and at this time there is nothing suspicious to report, but we are conducting an investigation regarding his unattended passing,’’ Sgt. Wanda Miglio of the Orlando Police Department said Tuesday in an email to the Miami Herald.
TMZ Sports first reported the death on Tuesday morning.
Never miss a local story.
Kennedy was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2012 after playing 12 seasons with the Seattle Seahawks.
“He was like a big teddy bear,’’ said UM Sports Hall of Fame executive director John Routh. “He was always laughing, always had a smile on his face. When you were around him, he made you feel great. Just a wonderful person to be around.’’
A member of the UM Hall, the former defensive tackle was one of the greats selected for the UM Football Ring of Honor in 2008.
Kennedy was thrilled the day he learned he would be named to UM’s Ring.
“I couldn’t believe it,’’ Kennedy told the Miami Herald by phone that day. “I’m in the Seattle Seahawks’ Ring of Honor, and this has even more meaning to me. Just think of all the UM greatness that came before me and after me.’’
Kennedy was the MVP of the Hurricanes’ 1989 national championship team.
In 1988, his UM Sports Hall of Fame bio said, Cortez transferred to UM from North Mississippi Junior College.
“Kennedy’s tenacious defense helped lead UM to an 11-1 season, a victory in the Sugar Bowl over Alabama and the 1989 National Championship in College Football,’’ the bio said.
Kennedy was the third overall player selected in the 1990 NFL Draft. He retired after the 2000 season. In 167 games with Seattle, he recorded 668 tackles, 58 sacks, and made 3 interceptions.
Kennedy was voted NFL defensive player of the year for a 2-14 team in 1992, the same year he changed his 96 jersey number to 99 in honor of Jerome Brown, the late UM star who died in a car accident that year.
“I respect every player that came through the U, because we sacrificed so much on and off the field,’’ Kennedy told The Herald in 2008. “It was hard for me to even tell some of the former players that I was selected, because so many of them deserve to be in that ring.’’
Kennedy’s former UM coach, Jimmy Johnson, tweeted that he was “shocked’’ at the news. “1 of the most talented players I ever recruited or coached...a fun loving person a sad day...’’
Added current UM coach Mark Richt on Twitter: “So sorry to hear about my fellow football alum Cortez Kennedy. My prayers to his family. U Family!”
Said former UM Heisman Trophy winner Gino Torretta on social media: “RIP. One of the best teammates you could ever have!’’
Former UM coach and current UF defensive coordinator Randy Shannon used to talk about sleeping in front of Kennedy’s refrigerator, on which Shannon put a padlock, so the defensive tackle — well over 300 pounds in his college days — wouldn’t be able to eat in the middle of the night.
Kennedy registered 58 sacks and scored one touchdown on a fumble recovery in his 11-season career with the Seahawks. They retired his number 96 during a game against the New England Patriots on October 14, 2012.
Born in Osceola, Arkansas, Kennedy graduated from Rivercrest High School in Wilson, Arkansas.
He is survived by a daughter, Courtney, 22.
“The UM Sports Hall of Fame is devastated to learn of the passing of member Cortez Kennedy,’’ the Hall tweeted from its account, linking to the TMZ story.
Miami Herald sportswriter Manny Navarro contributed to this report.