After nearly a month of speculation, Baltimore owner Art Modell fired head coach Bill Belichick yesterday, and is expected to begin this city's new professional football era with former Baltimore Colts coach Ted Marchibroda.
Mr. Belichick was dismissed after a phone conversation with Mr. Modell. The owner later began interviewing Nr, Marchibroda, 64, in a downtown hotel with several members of the team's staff. The meetings began yesterday afternoon and continued into the late evening.
"We've had some success with Bill, including an 11-5 playoff team in 1994. However, I believe to get to the next level, a change at head coach is necessary," Mr. Modell said.
"The move to Baltimore offers us a new beginning, a fresh start, and we want to do everything we can to get to a higher level of play as soon as we can," he said.
According to a source close to Mr. Modell, Mr. Marchibroda is the top candidate to replace Mr. Belichick, who had a 37-45 record in five years with the former Cleveland Browns. The source said Mr. Modell has not contacted any other candidates.
"The decision is not definite yet, but I certainly want the job," Mr. Marchibroda said from his hotel room during a break from the meetings. "I learned of Mr. Modell's interest this morning. Certainly, I want this job. I would love to return to Baltimore. But as of right now, it's strictly Art's decision."
Mr. Marchibroda became the favorite to replace Mr. Belichick on Monday, after Don Shula, the Colts coach from 1963 to 1969, turned down Mr. Modell's offer. Mr. Marchibroda coached the Baltimore Colts from 1975 to 1979, winning three American Football Conference titles in his first three years. He built his teams on the solid running of Lydell Mitchell and the strong arm of Bert Jones.
Mr. Marchibroda signed his first coaching contract with the Baltimore Colts 21 years ago today.
As an assistant coach, he helped design the hurry-up offense that led the Buffalo Bills to the Super Bowl in 1991 and 1992.
"I've always admired Ted Marchibroda and his work," Mr. Modell said earlier this week. "He is a class act and gentleman."
Mr. Marchibroda was dismissed by the Indianapolis Colts after the 1995 season, despite guiding them to a 9-7 record and a
berth in the AFC title game.
Mr. Belichick began his coaching career in 1975 with the Colts as a special assistant to Mr. Marchibroda.
Mr. Belichick's dismissal came as no surprise. Mr. Modell said on Nov. 6, the day he announced his team's shift from Cleveland, that Mr. Belichick would be his coach when the club moved to Baltimore, and repeated the promise several times during the rest of the season.
But the Browns lost six of seven games after the announcement, and Mr. Modell's confidence in his coach began to wane.
Sources said the owner became unhappy with Mr. Belichick's leadership after the announcement and considered him a public relations risk in Baltimore because of his moody personality.
Mr. Belichick said his conversation with the owner yesterday was brief. So were Mr. Belichick's departing words.
"He thanked me for my hard work and the years, but said he was moving in a different direction," Mr. Belichick said. "I thanked him for the opportunity. I guess the whole thing lasted a few minutes. This team has an excellent future, and I wish them well."
Mr. Belichick's only winning season was last year, when the Browns finished 11-5. Some preseason publications picked them to appear in the 1996 Super Bowl, but the Browns finished 5-11.
Mr. Belichick got rid of some popular veterans during his tenure with the Browns, including Webster Slaughter, Kevin Mack, Clay Matthews and Frank Minnifield. When he released quarterback Bernie Kosar in 1993, that was an unpardonable sin for many Browns fans.
"Bill wanted to do it his way," said wide receiver Keenan McCardell. "He had the kind of personality, though, that could make you dislike him, but he was hard working. I think because we moved to a different city, they decided to go with a different coach to match the different scenery."
Mr. Belichick, 43, is a graduate of Annapolis High. His father, Steve, coached at the Naval Academy for 33 years.
Mr. Belichick could get another job soon. He reportedly is in line to land assistant coaching posts with either the Miami Dolphins or New England Patriots.
Coaching tenure:Nine years
Playing career:A quarterback, he was the first draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1953. Left after one year to serve in the Army. Returned to play in 1955-56. Career ended with the Chicago Cardinals in 1957.
Coaching highlights:Owns two of the four eight-game seasonal improvements in NFL history, turning around the 1992 and 1975 Colts. His 71 career victories rank second in Colts history behind Don Shula (73).