By lifting finger, coach makes point

September 10, 1996|By John Eisenberg

Jimmy Johnson would have cut someone.

Mike Ditka would have ranted and raved and maybe thrown a chair.

Barry Switzer would have started cussing.

Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda is too nice for all that.

When he wanted to send an angry message to his players yesterday, he just raised a solitary index finger and uttered two words.

"One year," he said to a roomful of reporters at the Ravens' Owings Mills training complex.

It wasn't as loud as Ditka, as chilling as Johnson or as profane as Switzer, but it was all Marchibroda had to say to send a series of devastating messages to his players in the wake of their 31-17 loss to the Steelers on Sunday at Three Rivers Stadium.

Whether the players got those messages is another matter. Who can tell?

But either way, the Ravens' inaugural season will never be the same.

So much for the feel-good honeymoon.

The fans will still love the team after 12 years without one, but Marchibroda is spewing smoke.

After leading cheers ("Why Not Us?") from the moment he was hired seven months ago, he changed directions yesterday and blew away the players.

He gathered them for a pointed lecture before noon, then repeated it to reporters.

He was just trying to manipulate their psyches after a poor performance, but he was talking trash.

"How many years did they win in Cleveland?" he asked in an interview room gone silent with surprise at the coach's anger.

Up went that index finger.

"One year," he said.

It's true; other than their 11-5 season in 1994, the players composing the Ravens' nucleus were 28-52 in their last six seasons as the Browns.

"How many of them have won over a period of time?" Marchibroda asked. "Let's go back to those other years."

Let's not.

The lecture was Marchibroda's way of playing the bad cop after months of being the good cop; his way of telling the players that they hadn't accomplished anything.

That they didn't know how to win consistently.

That they really didn't even know how to practice.

Basically, it was his way of telling them that they weren't as good as they thought they were.

It was somewhat of a risk on Marchibroda's part; today's coddled players don't always respond to criticism.

But for all of his manipulative intentions, Marchibroda obviously was speaking from the heart.

"These players have to learn how to win," he said. "And not just how to win, but how to continue winning when people are injured and out. Look at Pittsburgh. They had all those guys out and still played a great game."

A sloppy practice last Wednesday first got Marchibroda going, but it was the trip to Pittsburgh that really steamed him.

Eight months earlier, he took an underdog Colts team in there for the AFC Championship and came within a play of winning.

Was that team better than the Ravens?

"No, not really," Marchibroda said. "But they had leadership and they knew how to win."

How did Marchibroda teach them?

"I don't know," he said. "You just do."

It's going to be harder to do with a team that lacks veteran leaders.

"We have veterans, but not veteran leadership," Marchibroda said. "We need guys to lead during the week, to set the tone in practice."

The Cowboys have Smith and Aikman, the 49ers have Young and Rice, the Steelers have Woodson and the Ravens have . . .

Any volunteers?

Apparently not, now that Pepper Johnson is gone.

Actually, rookie linebacker Ray Lewis is a leader out of the Johnson mold, but he's just 21 years old.

"[Free safety] Eric Turner is still the leader on defense," Marchibroda said.

But Turner didn't play like a leader Sunday.

Vinny Testaverde? He should be the offensive leader as the big-money quarterback, but, like Cal Ripken, he is stuck with an inward personality.

Was Jim Harbaugh a leader in Indy?

"A big leader down the stretch last year," Marchibroda said.

Shouldn't we expect the same from a veteran such as Testaverde?

"I don't want guys to be phony," Marchibroda said. "Some guys don't want to be leaders. Not everyone is a leader."

Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

In all, it was Marchibroda's version of the "Who is going to lead us?" speech Johnny Oates gave the Orioles in 1993.

The Orioles were still wrestling with the leadership issue three years later when Eddie Murray arrived in the clubhouse and provided a calming influence.

The Ravens need Eddie!

Or someone.

Because they do have a leadership void, it appears, just like the Orioles did.

It was far from clear yesterday whether the players had taken Marchibroda's criticism under advisement. It was as if they didn't really know what to think.

Marchibroda just wants them to remember who they are, to have a sharper week of practice, to give a better effort Sunday in Houston.

He wants them to remember the sight of his index finger in the air.

He wants them to understand that he wasn't saying, "We're No. 1."

Far from it.

Pub Date: 9/10/96

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