Indianapolis finally puts blame on owner of Colts


October 06, 1991|By VITO STELLINO

At 4:30 a.m. Tuesday, ESPN presented the perfect cure for insomniacs -- the 1990 Indianapolis Colts highlight film.

As only NFL Films can do it, the film put the best face on the Colts' 7-9 season last year. It ended with coach Ron Meyer walking off the field with the announcer saying that "the proven leadership of Ron Meyer" was one of the reasons to anticipate 1991 and why 1990 had been 'a season to build on.' "

About three hours later, the Colts were doing without Meyer's proven leadership. He became the first coach in the NFL to be fired this year.

Not that it was a surprise. Owner Bob Irsay tried to do it after the opening-game loss to the New England Patriots, but his son, Jim, the general manager, talked him out of it. Irsay then called NBC during the telecast of the fourth game against the Los Angeles Raiders and wanted to fire Meyer on TV. Jim again talked him out of it.

But when Bob Irsay summoned Jim from the press box to his private box during the third quarter of the loss to the Seahawks last Sunday, Jim could no longer talk him out of it.

Meyer was fired Tuesday morning. Defensive coordinator Rick Venturi, who had a 1-31-1 record at Northwestern in his previous stint as a head coach, was named interim head coach.

Mike White, who left the University of Illinois amid allegations of recruiting violations and is now the Raiders quarterback coach, is the early favorite to get the job next year.

All this is quite familiar. Ten years ago the team went 2-14, fired Mike McCormack, hired Frank Kush, selected linebacker Johnie Cooks and quarterback Art Schlichter with the second and fourth picks of the draft and started the cycle all over again.

Next year, the team again figures to have two of the top four picks, because it owns the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' No. 1 pick. The Colts may have another Stupor Bowl, the way they did when they beat 2-13 New England in the 1981 finale. This year, they close against 0-5 Tampa Bay. They could even get the first two picks.

The difference, of course, is that Irsay is doing all this in Indianapolis, instead of Baltimore.

But even in Indianapolis, after eight years, they're figuring out that the coach isn't the problem.

Indianapolis Star columnist Robin Miller wrote last week: "The bottom line is that the Colts are weak at the top from babbling Bob, the out-of-town and out-of-touch owner, to his son, Jim, who received an NFL franchise as an early Christmas present, back in 1984. The Irsays are the main reason this franchise may forever be stuck in the muck of mediocrity."

Miller goes on to say Irsay "has run off competent coaches and players with dumb decisions and a barroom temper. He's thought of as embarrassment around the league."


He also wrote, "Young Irsay is a pleasant fellow who tries hard, but two years in the Colts' personnel department hardly qualifies you for competing with Bobby Beathard." He says the team "looks like a train wreck."

He ends the column by quoting Jim Irsay as saying, "Everyone here gets evaluated every year."

Miller replies, "Well, not everyone."

The Irsays don't have to worry, though. In another decade or two, they can always move their traveling road show to someplace like Jacksonville, Fla.


Now that Meyer has been fired, who's next? The San Diego Chargers' Dan Henning and Tampa Bay's Richard Williamson, both 0-5, are candidates.

There's already speculation in Tampa that defensive coordinator Floyd Peters will replace Williamson soon. And Bill Parcells is waiting in the wings for next year.

Williamson got the dreaded vote of confidence last week. "I have a strong feeling the ownership of this team is trying to develop continuity. I don't think you develop continuity by constantly changing," general manager Phil Krueger said.


The New York Giants, who went 6-6 in non-strike games as a defending champion in 1987, thought they learned their lesson last time. But they're 2-3, and things are even worse this year because new coach Ray Handley is getting roasted by the tabloids.

The New York Post ran a Page 1 headline calling Handley and Mets manager Bud Harrelson, who was fired last week, "Wimps." The paper also quoted an unidentified player as saying they would be 5-0 under Bill Parcells (he's forgotten 1987) and that the veterans want Phil Simms back at quarterback.

Perhaps Simms should be the quarterback, but Handley is reluctant to admit he made a mistake. He chewed out the players at a team meeting, and Lawrence Taylor called a players meeting to try to get the team focused.

On top of all that, cornerback Mark Collins walked out of a meeting, and Steve DeOssie was arrested on a drug charge in Dallas and revealed he's an alcoholic.

What a week.

Handley even got a vote of confidence from new co-owner Robert Tisch, who said, "Ray Handley will be one of the great coaches in the 1990s."

Meanwhile, the low-key Handley seems stunned by the firestorm. "There's no way anybody could have imagined the scrutiny to be as intense as it has been," he said.

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