Marchibroda is type of coach Modell could afford to select

February 16, 1996|By JOHN EISENBERG

Don Shula didn't want the job. Ted Marchibroda did. Who was next on Art Modell's list, Howard Schnellenberger? Weeb Ewbank?

Obviously, it hasn't taken Modell long to understand that the past sells in Baltimore. Hey, do you think Jim Speros clued him in before leaving for Quebec? Un moment, monsieur Art?

Not that Marchibroda's hiring is the kind of eye-popping stunner that will cause hundreds of fans to give in and plunk down that stinkin' PSL money. It is a conservative choice for a new head coach. A safe choice. More like treading water than taking a bold stroke.

Yet, it is a choice that promises that the new team in town will have competent and dignified leadership for three years, no small thing considering some of the bozos drawing and signing paychecks elsewhere in the NFL.

Marchibroda is a better choice than Shula.

A far better choice than the deposed Bill Belichick.

A better choice than Joe Bugel? Not so fast. Bugel, a Raiders assistant, was an intriguing candidate. He is a Joe Gibbs trainee who specializes in offensive-line play, two big pluses. He was building a playoff contender in Arizona a few years ago when Bill Bidwill foolishly fell in love with Buddy Ryan and fired Bugel. Major error.

Ah, but there really is little difference between a Bugel and a Marchibroda. They're basically clones -- competent, low-ego pros who will field competitive teams. You can't expect much more in the watered-down NFL.

The real choice for Modell was between those types and a higher-profile coach such as Shula, Jimmy Johnson or Northwestern's Gary Barnett, all of whom would have been splashier choices -- and bigger gambles.

It was wise for Modell to opt for more stability. His team is basically an expansion team right now, in disarray and in need of unification and focus. Modell could have done a lot worse than Marchibroda. In fact, he tried to do worse, however unintentionally, with his pursuit of Shula.

Not that Shula isn't a fine coach, one of the best ever. But the timing was wrong for him to return here. He has just escaped a crucible in South Florida that surely took a lot out of him. It was debatable whether, at 66, he would have had the patience and will to take on a job requiring as much overhauling as this one.

Besides, he hasn't won a Super Bowl in 22 years. His time has come and gone. It's a cruel thing to say, but no secret in the NFL.

Marchibroda is hardly a babe himself at 64, but his tires aren't nearly as worn as Shula's and his time clearly hasn't come and gone, as he proved with his overachieving Colts this year. They played with energy and purpose and basically made it to the Super Bowl except for a dropped interception.

Only the Colts could fire a coach after such a season. As if Lindy Infante, Marchibroda's successor in Indy, is some miracle worker.

Of course, it's not as if the Colts were firing another Vince Lombardi, either. Marchibroda had never won a playoff game until last month.

No, he isn't the eye-popping choice. But he is a slam-dunk better choice than Belichick, who got what he deserved after recording four losing seasons in five in Cleveland. That's enough of a chance, regardless of how difficult the franchise move made his job last season. This isn't high school ball. You have to win in the pros. He didn't. Goodbye.

As mad as fans in Cleveland are about losing the Browns, they're really mad that Baltimore isn't going to experience the joy of having Belichick as a head coach. This is what they'll tell you: He was so grim and his teams were so boring that it made being a fan a lot less fun.

Firing Belichick was absolutely the right thing to do. He was the wrong person with which to try to sell a team in a new town. Marchibroda, on the other hand, has a lot to recommend him. He is old-school approachable and professional, which works in Baltimore. And he has a history of turning around teams that looked as hopeless as the Browns did last season.

He took the Colts from 2-12 to 10-4 in 1975, winning a division title in the process. Seventeen years later, he took the same team, now in Indy, from 1-15 to 9-7.

"I am very excited about what he can do right away," Modell said.

This is the same owner who said last week that the franchise was going to "start from scratch." Where are we, Art, starting over or trying to win now?

Trying to win now, of course. Competing with the Orioles, Modell needs to start winning pretty soon. Whether Marchibroda can accomplish that is unknown, of course. But he does have possibilities.

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