Ted Marchibroda is an NFL head coach again. There's one catch, though; he's getting a second dose of Bob Irsay.
Thirteen years after he was fired as coach of the Baltimore Colts by owner Irsay, Marchibroda yesterday accepted a four-year contract to revive the floundering franchise, now in Indianapolis.
"This was an opportunity," Marchibroda said. "As long as you're an assistant, you hope for a head coaching job in the NFL."
Colts general manager Jim Irsay pushed Marchibroda's candidacy with his father.
"Ted and I had a relationship that goes back to the mid-1970s and has continued since he left in 1979," Jim Irsay said. "We have remained close. In the back of my mind, I've always been excited about the possibility of him coming back here and finishing the job that he started.
"The last time we had a dominant team and consistently won over a period of time was when he was the head coach. From my family's perspective, the years he was there were great ones."
The naming of Marchibroda, 60, architect of the Buffalo Bills' no-huddle offense, marks the 12th coaching tenure under Irsay, who moved the team to Indianapolis in 1984. But Marchibroda is the only one of the previous 11 coaches who was able to win more than he lost.
His five-year record in Baltimore was 41-36, and he won three consecutive AFC East titles before back-to-back 5-11 seasons cost Marchibroda his job.
The circumstances that mark Marchibroda's arrival are similar to those when he first assumed control of the team. In 1975, the team was coming off a 2-12 season, but had a promising young quarterback in Bert Jones. Under Marchibroda, the Colts won the AFC East that season with a 10-4 record, becoming the first NFL team to go from last to first in its division.
In 1991, the Colts staggered through a 1-15 season, but have a promising young quarterback in Jeff George.
Jones applauded yesterday's move.
"My personal feelings are, I'm tickled to death," Jones said. "There are 28 NFL teams, which means there are 28 head football coaches, and Ted Marchibroda should be one of those."
Jones was in Minneapolis last week before Super Bowl XXVI, and while there, left a message for his old coach: "My wife and I will be watching, good luck and take the job."
The Bills needed more than luck in a 37-24 loss to the Washington Redskins, but Marchibroda heeded the advice.
Jones was a critical factor in Marchibroda's success in &r; Baltimore, not only as a quarterback, but also as a spokesman. When Jones was healthy, the Colts won three straight division titles. When he had shoulder injuries in 1978 and '79, the Colts won just five of 25 games without him. And when Marchibroda resigned from the team a week before the 1976 season in a power struggle with then-general manager Joe Thomas, Jones led a player revolt that helped get Marchibroda reinstated.
Marchibroda said last week that his problems in Baltimore were with Thomas, not Bob Irsay.
Other coaches, though, have had trouble dealing with Irsay, who has a history of meddling in football decisions. But Jones said Marchibroda is prepared to work for the owner.
"As crazy as it sounds, I think he will know how to work with the situation," Jones said. "I'd venture to say he's laid the ground rules that will only make his work relationship more defined. He's been there. He knows what he's going into."
Another ex-Colt who voiced support for Marchibroda was retired running back Joe Washington.
"I really thought one of the biggest mistakes the team made, more of a mistake than moving, was them firing Ted Marchibroda," Washington said. "It was more detrimental to the team. They haven't had stability in the coaching staff since then. I think if Ted stayed in Baltimore and was given a couple more years, the Colts' franchise would be in better shape."
In Indianapolis, Marchibroda inherits a team that established records for offensive futility in 1991. The Colts' 143 points set a league record for fewest in a 16-game schedule. They also set team records for fewest rushing touchdowns and fewest rushing yards in 16 games. Because of that performance, the team will have the first two picks in the next college draft.
As offensive coordinator in Buffalo, Marchibroda designed one of the NFL's most feared offenses. The Bills ranked first in total offense, first in rushing offense, second in points scored and fourth in passing offense this season.
Marchibroda said the Colts will use the no-huddle offense he made famous in Buffalo with quarterback Jim Kelly.
"I think Jeff George is as fine a passer as there is in the National Football League, as far as his arm is concerned," Marchibroda said during a news conference.
"One of the reasons I'm really excited about this is wherever I've been where we've had an outstanding quarterback, we've won . . . Roman Gabriel, Sonny Jurgensen, the three years with Bert in Baltimore and with Jim Kelly in Buffalo."
Baltimore and Indianapolis Colts coaches since Robert Irsay has owned the team (*-fired during season):
Year .. .. Coach .. .. .. .. .. .. .. W-L-T
'72. .. .. Don McCafferty .. .. .. .. 1-4-0*
'72. .. .. John Sandusky. .. .. .. .. 4-5-0
'73-74. .. H. Schnellenberger.. .. ..4-13-0*
'74. .. .. Joe Thomas. .. .. .. .. .. 2-9-0
,5'75-79.. Ted Marchibroda.. .. .. .41-36-0
'80-81. .. Mike McCormack .. .. .. ..9-23-0
.. Frank Kush. .. .. .. .. .11-28-1*
'84. .. .. Hal Hunter. .. .. .. .. .. . 0-1
'85-86. .. Rod Dowhower.. .. .. .. ..5-24-0*
.. Ron Meyer.. .. .. .. .. .36-36-0*
'91. .. .. Rick Venturi.. .. .. .. . 1-10-0