Ted Marchibroda, coach of Colts, Ravens, dead at 84

Ted Marchibroda, the only man to be head coach of both NFL franchises in Baltimore — the Colts and Ravens — died Saturday of natural causes at his home in Weems, Va. He was 84.

Marchibroda was the first Ravens' head coach in 1996 when an NFL team returned to the city and went 14-31-1 in the first three seasons before being replaced by Brian Billick. He also coached the Baltimore Colts from 1975-79. Then, the soft-spoken Marchibroda took a once-proud franchise that had hit bottom (2-12) the year before and, in one season, won a division title. Then a second. And a third.

“Ted completed our team,” said Bert Jones, the Colts’ All Pro quarterback. “He made us a cohesive unit. We weren't the most talented football players in the league but, as a unit, we could play with anybody. Ted taught us how to win together.”

As an NFL head coach, Marchibroda had an 87-98-1 career record. He was 2-4 in postseason play. Marchibroda and Don Shula have the second-most total victories (73) in Colts franchise history after Tony Dungy's 92 wins. In an odd twist, Marchibroda also coached the Colts in Indianapolis from 1992-95, going 30-34. The next year, he returned to Baltimore and left his footprint on yet another team.

“Ted is a founding father of the Ravens. He was a tough man with a gentle soul,” Ozzie Newsome, Ravens general manager and executive vice president, said in a statement released by the team. “In a way, he set the Ravens’ path. He wanted players who owned what he called ‘a football temperament.’ Those are players who love all aspects of the game — the mental part, lifting weights, practice and the physicality. That eventually became what we now call 'Playing Like a Raven.' “

Baltimore players from two generations praised Marchibroda's football acumen and character. Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, one of two first-round picks by team in 1996, said Marchibroda was a “staple in my life,” and that he still practices things the coach taught him, one being, “Finish what you start, no matter the circumstances.”

“Ted was a truly awesome individual. From the moment I walked into Baltimore in 1996, he wanted to make us better men before anything else; football was the backstory,” Lewis, who retired after the 2012 season, said in a statement released by the team. “He was tough on us, and once you figured out why, you really started to respect him on every level. He will be missed, but never forgotten. I, along with many others, will help carry on his legacy.”

Roger Carr, the Colts Pro Bowl receiver in the 1970s, called Marchibroda a constant on a young team that, before his arrival, had been through four head coaches in 2-1/2 years.

“Stability is the word that comes to mind,” Carr said. “He had a plan, stuck with it and developed us as a team. Ted wasn't a curser or hollering type, he was very down to earth. He knew how to touch you and help you grow.”

Born in Franklin, Pa., the son of Polish immigrants, Marchibroda starred at quarterback at St. Bonaventure and Detroit Mercy and was drafted No. 1 by Pittsburgh in 1953. After an Army hitch in 1954, he returned to the Steelers in 1955 and beat out a rookie, Johnny Unitas, who was cut by the team and signed by the Colts. Marchibroda finished his career with the Steelers and Chicago Cardinals, for whom he played in 1957.

He turned to coaching in 1961 with Washington as an assistant, then moved to the Los Angeles Rams in 1966 before returning to the Redskins in 1971. On Jan. 15, 1975, the Colts named Marchibroda head coach for a franchise with a meddling owner (Robert Irsay) and ego-driven general manager (Joe Thomas).

Marchibroda seemed nonplussed.

“I want to give Baltimore fans a winner,” he told the media. “The ability is here.”

He was right. The Colts went from 2-12 to 10-4 and won three straight AFC East titles, though losing in the first round of the playoffs each year.

“He was the first coach in my career that told us winning is a part of your life,” said Bruce Laird, then a Colts defensive back. “We'd start with (the goal of) getting to the playoffs. Then each and every week he told us to know our opponents. He told us it was a matter of chess, that being a good athlete was just not good enough. He'd say, 'See it, believe it and go play it.' I'd go through a wall for that man.”

Marchibroda "brought championship-level football back to the Colts," said Ken Mendenhall, Baltimore's center from 1971-80. "I'll tell you how bright he was. Each week we'd tweak plays and add a few wrinkles for the next opponent. Well, Ted would save some of that strategy for the second half so teams couldn't adapt to it at halftime. I'd never known a coach to do that."

In 1976, following a power struggle with Thomas, Marchibroda resigned but was rehired two days later and given some of the general manager's duties. The rift between them continued and, in 1977, when players backed the coach, Thomas was fired.

In 1979, following successive 5-11 seasons, Marchibroda was let go.

For a decade, he kicked around the NFL as an offensive coordinator until hired by Indianapolis in 1992. Then the Ravens came calling.

"Ted was the guy when I first arrived coming in as a rookie. He was a really good coach, very offensive-minded and he could put points on the board," said linebacker Peter Boulware, who played with the Ravens from 1997-2005 and is a member of the team's Ring of Honor. "Ted was a gentleman on and off the field. I never once heard him say anything demeaning to a player regardless of the situation.

"He was a great diplomat for the NFL."

Wally Williams, a Ravens guard for their first three years, said Marchibroda deserved more plaudits than he got.

"Ted never got the credit he deserved for being one of the offensive genuises in pro football,"Williams said. "It was simplistic, but the no-huddle (offense) he used was built on skill set, not just about scheme. He may have had the greatest offensive mind in the game."

Marchibroda is survived by his wife, Ann, their four children – two daughters, Jodi and Lonni, and two sons, Ted Jr. and Robert – and six grandchildren. Services are pending.

Staff columnist Mike Preston contributed to this article.