Throwing Marchibroda overboard won't save this ship

December 28, 1998|By JOHN EISENBERG

Ted Marchibroda will take the fall today for a lot of problems that weren't his fault.

When he becomes the Ravens' former coach today, he will take the fall for a lot of players who didn't deliver; for a flawed organization that lacks vision and walks a financial tightrope; and for an owner who has had one winning season in the '90s.

Basically, he will take the fall for a franchise that needs a scapegoat.

He's a terrific person, a quality football man, and he deserves better.

Not that the Ravens are wrong to replace him after three losing seasons. Clearly, there also were numerous problems that were very much his fault.

The Ravens' offensive woes, for instance. Marchibroda's signature is all over that situation.

There was his stubborn refusal to add the offensive coordinator he needed. There was the frustrating lack of daring in his play-calling. There were the constant alterations in his basic offensive design, resulting in three schemes in three years. Marchibroda was responsible for those problems.

He also was responsible for the lack of on-field discipline. A coach should find a way to limit the foolish mistakes that have become one of the Ravens' defining characteristics. Marchibroda never did. He never put fear in the hearts of players who erred.

He never adjusted to the reality that you motivate players in the '90s by threatening to take away their paychecks.

He also blundered by not limiting the great and unrealistic expectations for his team that arose in 1998. In some ways, that was his biggest mistake.

Remember when Ravens owner Art Modell said he was expecting a big step forward this season, maybe to the playoffs? The fans also expected a lot. Yet few observers outside Baltimore expected even a .500 season. Local expectations for the Ravens were overblown.

It's unclear whether Marchibroda didn't realize it or simply chose to say what Modell wanted to hear, but either way, he's paying the price today.

In the end, this was never a team that belonged in the playoffs.

Yet it's also a team that should have won more than six games, a team that should have at least contended into December for a wild-card spot.

A team with five Pro Bowl players, one more than the 49ers, should never fall out of contention by Halloween.

That's Marchibroda's fault, period. He coached outmanned teams solidly enough in 1996 and 1997, but there was no defending him this year. No defending an offensive specialist who couldn't build an offense. He had to do better than 6-10 if he wanted to keep his job.

But if you believe his departure is all the Ravens need to turn their losses into wins, you're wrong. Way wrong.

This is a franchise in desperate need of a new blueprint, an organization that lacks a clear chain of command and needs a general manager with vision.

For the Ravens, a coaching change without a new GM is just a Band-Aid, not a cure.

They also still have deep and serious flaws despite three years of talent upgrades. Their roster lacks character, selflessness, class and players who don't resort to whining or pointing fingers.

"There haven't been a lot of people in the organization saying, 'Yeah, I can do better,' " quarterback Jim Harbaugh said after yesterday's 19-10 victory over the Lions. "There's been people feeling sorry for themselves, people saying, 'I wasn't used right,' or 'I was in the wrong position.' Maybe there was a little bit too much of letting Ted take the heat."

There was way too much of letting Marchibroda take the heat.

"He's a wonderful person and a good coach," safety Stevon Moore said. "Things just didn't work out here. I feel sorry for him. But he's going to be in the game somewhere. He's been around for so long. He's a good person and I'd love to play for him anytime."

Moore and the others who were in Cleveland know the real score. This franchise was in total disarray when Marchibroda arrived in 1996. The team formerly known as the Browns had no name and no identity. The franchise was a national laughingstock. The locker room was full of players who didn't want to be in Baltimore. Marchibroda bailed out Modell. He gave the Ravens class and credibility when they had little of either.

He was the right hire, a coach who provided stability and a professional eye.

No, things didn't work out. That's obvious. And a shame. Sports would be a better place if Marchibroda's kind was the rule instead of the exception. There'd be no runaway egos, no greed, no gross lack of priorities. There wouldn't be such indecency on the sports page every day.

But hey, he didn't win. That's the story in the end, as simple as can be. He was paid to win. He didn't.

"I didn't get the job done," Marchibroda said yesterday.

He'll take the fall today as a result, for his own mistakes as much as for the numerous mistakes of many others in the organization. It's as fair as it is unfair. And hardly a cure-all.

Pub Date: 12/28/98

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