Mr. Nice Guy Coach: Ted Marchibroda brings a positive, gentle approach to running a team. But that doesn't mean he lacks fire.

August 31, 1996|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

Ravens running back Earnest Hunter was sitting on some steps, awaiting the start of practice on a July morning. At least, that's where his body was. His mind was elsewhere.

His grandmother had been rushed to the hospital the night before, and someone had broken into his car earlier in the morning. Hunter was looking to talk with someone when he spotted coach Ted Marchibroda on the field.

They talked for about 10 minutes. Marchibroda said little, just nodding in sympathetic fashion. Hours later, Hunter was back at the hotel and feeling quite relieved.

"We all need someone to listen to our problems," said Hunter. "It may not have been a big deal for Ted, but it was for me. I really appreciated that. This is a lot different than we're used to in a head coach."

The Ravens are trying a new approach in an attempt to resurrect a one-time playoff team that fell apart last year in Cleveland, at the same time attempting to stir old passions in Baltimore, which lost its Colts 12 years ago.

Out went Bill Belichick, with his abrasive style, long practices and us-against-the-world mentality.

And in came Marchibroda, 65, one of pro football's nice guys.

He has the grandfatherly, positive approach. He is polite and sensitive, a conservative who still wears dark polyester pants and usually rides in a dark-colored American sedan.

He is not necessarily a throwback, because he has outlasted Tom Landry and Don Shula, both of whom had strained relationships with players before they retired.

How many coaches are called upon to bridge a communication gap at an age when most people are retiring? How many coaches walk through the locker room after preseason games shaking hands and thanking individual players for their efforts?

"I thought Bill was a good coach. He was focused and he enjoyed the ride as a coach, but sometimes he forgot to encourage the players who took him there," said Ravens safety Eric Turner. "People just got tired of getting beat on. His door was always open, but only a handful went in.

"With Ted, the biggest difference is that there is not as much of a dictatorship. There is no ranting, raving and cursing. A lot of the players feel comfortable with him. Players just want to play for Ted."

The Baltimore Colts liked playing for Marchibroda. In 1975, Marchibroda's first with the team, he took a 2-12 team to 10-4, the largest victory swing in NFL history and the first of three straight AFC East championships.

He returned to coach the Indianapolis Colts in 1992, finishing 9-7 with a team that had gone 1-15 the year before.

And then there was the "Let 'Er Rip" campaign of a year ago, when the Colts came within a Hail Mary pass of going to the Super Bowl, losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 20-16, in the AFC ++ championship game.

Marchibroda left the Indianapolis Colts after quarreling with general manager Bill Tobin over a two-year contract extension, but that hasn't dampened his competitive spirit.

Marchibroda's 1996 motto: "Why Not Us?"

"He is a very qualified and competent coach, and I know that one of his great attributes over the years has been his ability to turn a franchise around in short order," said Ravens owner Art Modell. "That tells me that players believe in him and want to play for him. Ted is a first-class gentleman, and nice guys do win."

This one has very little ego, too.

He doesn't do television commercials and had to be persuaded to do a coach's show this season. When the Ravens had a practice at Memorial Stadium this summer and areas were designated for signing autographs, Marchibroda wanted no part it.

After the Ravens routed the Buffalo Bills, 37-14, last week in the team's best preseason performance, Marchibroda emerged from the locker room eating from a small bag of potato chips.

L Of course, he politely offered to share them with the media.

"If you consider all the great quarterbacks he has coached and some of the championships he has been involved in, you would figure this guy would have a huge ego," said Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jim Harbaugh.

"But Ted is just cool. He's got kind of a swagger. If we played in Ted's era or if he was playing now, he'd be the kind of guy we'd want to hang out with."

Still, Marchibroda has a nondescript personality. Ask his son, Ted Jr., about his father's favorite book, and the son says, "playbook."

Ask him about what kind of music his father prefers, and Junior says, "car stereo."

His basic life is football.

"He loves to play golf, but you can never get him to totally relax," said Marchibroda's wife, Ann. "I almost got him to go to Bermuda last year. Fun for Ted is football. I don't know what else he would do. He hasn't invested in a business or played the stock market on the side. He's never done anything that would affect his concentration on game day.

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