Marchibroda recalled with respect, affection Former Colts support return of a 'nice guy'

February 15, 1996|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,SUN STAFF

Sept. 6, 1976, was one of the most memorable and bizarre days in the history of the Baltimore Colts.

The players and most of the assistant coaches at the training camp at St. Mary's Seminary in Catonsville were on strike, but the rebellion wasn't over salaries or playing conditions.

Instead, they were rallying in support of head coach Ted Marchibroda, who had resigned the previous day after losing a power struggle with owner Robert Irsay and general manager Joe Thomas.

"We were opening the season the next week at New England," recalled Bert Jones, the star quarterback who led the rebellion. "But the team was solidly behind Ted. Irsay was trying to make him replace some of his assistants just because we lost a couple of exhibition games.

"Irsay forgot we were coming off a 10-4 season and Teddy had HTC been voted Coach of the Year. I'm sure we wouldn't have played against the Patriots if Irsay hadn't given in to Teddy. I know I would have got sick real quick.

"In fact, I called [then NFL commissioner] Pete Rozelle and told him, 'Pete, you'd better get your rear end down here or you might have big trouble.' "

Ultimately, Irsay relented and Marchibroda returned to Baltimore and his team as a conquering hero.

These wild times were resurrected with word that, 20 years later, Marchibroda is expected to return to Baltimore as head coach of the expatriate Cleveland Browns.

"I think Marchibroda will be a good choice," said Lydell Mitchell, whose slashing runs were the key ingredient in the offense of the Colts from 1975 through 1977 when they compiled a 31-11

record.

"He had a love affair with the city and he was a winner while he was here. Art Modell must think he can rekindle the magic.

"The fans will pack the stadium regardless of who is coaching the team here the first few years. But Ted's offensive style should help turn the team around.

"People branded him too conservative. They used to chant, 'Hey, diddle, diddle, Lydell up the middle.' But heck, it worked. Those three big years, we controlled the clock, but we were always among the top three or four teams in scoring and offensive statistics."

Some critics have also accused the coach with the Charlie Brown face and teary eyes as being "too nice" to command respect of the modern-day players.

"Ted was very reserved," said Mitchell, "but when he said something, it had substance, and you listened."

Marchibroda has never been mistaken for a Vince Lombardi, Mike Ditka or Don Shula, full of fire and brimstone, but he chose his spots effectively.

"Ted is very humble and soft-spoken," said former Colts linebacker Stan White, now a sports talk-show host. "But I remember when we started his first season in 1975 at 1-4.

"He called the team together and told us we were too good to have that kind of record. He just made a lot of common sense, and we didn't lose again until the playoffs."

Ten years after Marchibroda left Baltimore, a reporter raised the issue of his good-guy image possibly being a negative character trait in the NFL.

"As long as I live, people will say I'm too nice a guy," he said. "But I remember my first year in Baltimore when guys were taking it easy in practice.

"My two sons were ball boys, and they heard me swear for the first time. I would have made a pool shark proud, but I got the players' attention."

Looking back on his five seasons in Baltimore before being fired in 1979 after going 5-11 for two straight years, Marchibroda said, "We gave the franchise some direction, but after 1975, winning got progressively tougher.

"There was constant chaos the whole time I was with the Colts. All I wanted to do was win, but they started telling me who to play and what to do.

"They wouldn't pay enough to keep [defensive end] John Dutton and Lydell Mitchell from leaving and wouldn't improve the team with trades. Even if I needed a piece of equipment, I had to go through Thomas. That's why I know I did the right thing resigning in 1976."

A career pro coach who spent 14 years as an assistant before being named a head coach for the first time in 1975 with the Colts, the unpretentious Marchibroda is not consumed by the game.

Former punter David Lee remembered the Colts putting on a lackluster performance in a preseason loss to the Redskins in 1975.

"We all felt terrible since Ted was new on the job," Lee said. "He tried to boost our spirits when his two teen-age boys walked in the locker room. I figured he'd tell them to come back later.

"But he talked quietly with each of them and forgot his own problems for a minute. It showed me what kind of a man he is."

Now Marchibroda is expected back in town, trying once again to disprove Leo Durocher's oft-stated theory that "nice guys finish last."

#

Marchibroda mark

Yr. Club ............... W .......... L ........ Pct.

Baltimore* ........ 10 ......... 4 ........ .714

Baltimore* ........ 11 ......... 3 ........ .786

Baltimore* ........ 10 ......... 4 ........ .714

Baltimore ......... 5 .......... 11 ....... .313

Baltimore ......... 5 .......... 11 ....... .313

Indianapolis ...... 9 .......... 7 ........ .563

Indianapolis ...... 4 .......... 12 ....... .250

Indianapolis ...... 8 .......... 8 ........ .500

Indianapolis ...... 9 .......... 7 ........ .563

Totals ................. 71 ......... 67 ....... .514

* -- AFC East title

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