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

THE BALTIMORE SUN

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.

"He always has this positive outlook," she said. "From Day One as a coach, he didn't dwell on the negative. He can look beyond that and understand why football people act the way they do. He has spent his life understanding these people."

But his family -- and occasionally his players -- has seen the darker side of Marchibroda.

"One thing that really agitates him is when guys don't work hard," Ted Jr. said. "That sets him off, because he really does have a short fuse."

He has erupted on the field. A couple of years ago, Marchibroda overturned a Gatorade table after a loss to the Washington Redskins. After a loss to the New York Jets, Marchibroda ripped his Indianapolis team so badly that Harbaugh said he never had seen anything like it. And Harbaugh played for Mike Ditka.

Then there was the tirade the first year he was with the Baltimore Colts.

"We weren't practicing hard," said Marchibroda, "and I knew if I didn't do something, I was going to lose this team. You know, I don't believe you have to be a tough guy 24 hours a day. One of the biggest mistakes in coaching is that coaches don't know when to keep quiet."

"There were a couple of times a year Ted would grab your attention," said ex-Colts quarterback Bert Jones. "There is a slight misconception about Ted being this nice guy. He has always maintained a gentlemanly approach, but he was always disciplined and demanding. It had nothing to do with your personalities. You worked hard or Ted would jump all over you."

"If your team is working hard and producing, you don't have to say anything," Marchibroda said. "I don't like to come down on players often, but when I do, there is a purpose and a reason. I can use that kind of language. I grew up in a pool hall."

Marchibroda actually grew up in Franklin, Pa., in the northwestern part of the state. His parents were Polish immigrants, and his father worked in a steel mill.

That's where Marchibroda inherited the work ethic.

"I remember, after we went 10-4 that first year in Baltimore, people asked me what I was going to do for an encore," said Marchibroda. "Nobody ever asked my parents what they were going to do for an encore. Whatever we've accomplished pales in comparison to what they did, especially the way my father worked."

Marchibroda's father is on a short list of those he admires. Some others: Abe Gibron and Bucko Kilroy, fellow assistant coaches when Marchibroda began coaching with the Redskins in 1961. He picked up the easygoing manner from Los Angeles Dodgers manager Walter Alston and learned the X's and O's from George Allen as an assistant under him with the Rams and Redskins.

"The Dodgers would win all those pennants, and you'd never know who the manager was," said Marchibroda. "Those fiery managers and coaches take away from the players.

"From George Allen, I learned organization and how to work and how to work on the right things. There is a difference."

There is never a wasted moment at Marchibroda's practices, which last about two hours. There is constant motion and always thorough teaching. Marchibroda never intrudes during position drills, but when it's time for the offense to come together, he runs the show.

"Ted is very organized, but practices are not overly structured," said Mike Sheppard, the team's receivers coach. "He is great at allowing all of us to have input, and it's rewarding when he allows you to coach. I think there is a great deal of respect for

him throughout the league."

Marchibroda's trademark is working with quarterbacks. A former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback, Marchibroda helped to develop Sonny Jurgenson, Roman Gabriel, Jim Kelly, Jones and Harbaugh.

Marchibroda's favorite quarterback?

"Jurgenson was the best pure passer, Roman Gabriel was the hardest-working quarterback and Bert Jones did more for his club than anybody else," said Marchibroda.

Marchibroda's next project is Vinny Testaverde, who, at the age of 32, should be in his prime.

"Ted, if nothing else, would coach quarterbacks. he recognized the quarterback as being paramount to the performance of the )) team," said Jones. "He is with you all the time; that's always the case. He always wants to know what you're thinking, and he wants you to know what he is thinking. He wants you on the same page."

Marchibroda also designed the Bills' no-huddle offense, which led Buffalo to Super Bowl appearances in 1990 and 1991. The Bills scored more than 400 points each season from 1989 through 1991, gaining 362 yards per game.

"Ted, as a contributor, I almost can't quantify," said Marv Levy, Marchibroda's former boss in Buffalo. "He's smart, levelheaded and tough-minded. He has experience and can take heat when necessary. His contributions here, well, there are no words for that."

And now, in an old home with a new team, Marchibroda is contributing once again.

Pub Date: 8/31/96

The Marchibroda file

Age: 65.

Coaching career: First coaching position was as a backfield coach with Washington Redskins in 1961. After five seasons with the Redskins and then five with Los Angeles Rams, he returned to Redskins in 1971 as offensive coordinator. In his four-year second tenure with Redskins, team went to Super Bowl VII in 1973 and Sonny Jurgensen was NFC passing leader in 1974. Became Baltimore Colts coach in 1975 and was named NFL Coach of Year for leading team to 10-4 record and AFC East title after 2-12 finish previous season. It was first time in NFL history team had gone from last place to first. Guided Colts to division titles in 1976 and 1977 before 5-11 finishes in 1978 and 1979. After serving as Chicago Bears quarterbacks coach in 1981, served as offensive coordinator for Detroit Lions (1982-83) and Philadelphia Eagles (1984-85). Went to Buffalo Bills in 1987, serving as a quarterback coach for two years before taking over as offensive coordinator for three seasons. His no-huddle attack helped Bills to 13-3 records in 1990 and 1991 with two Super Bowl appearances. Named Indianapolis Colts coach in 1992, leading team to 9-7 record after 1-15 finish previous season. Led Colts to a 9-7 record last season and came within one dropped touchdown pass of going to Super Bowl in a 20-16 loss to Pittsburgh Steelers in AFC championship game.

Playing career: All-state football selection at Franklin (Pa.) High School, where he also was baseball and basketball standout. Played quarterback at St. Bonaventure College in 1950-51. Transferred to University of Detroit and led nation in total offense in 1952. First pick of Pittsburgh Steelers in 1953, played one season before joining Army. Returned to play two more years with Steelers (1955-56) before ending career with Chicago Cardinals in 1957. Had best season in 1956, completing 124 of 275 passes for 1,585 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Personal: Born March 15, 1931, in Franklin, Pa. He and wife Ann have four children -- daughters Jodi and Lonni and sons Ted Jr. and Robert.

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