Ted Marchibroda was so positive, professional and gracious, and maybe that's why his achievements as a coach and his impact on the NFL's return to Baltimore often are overlooked.
Marchibroda, 84, died Saturday at his home in Weems, Va., and the accolades have poured in from across the country. Two tributes from current NFL head coaches, the New England Patriots' Bill Belichick and Cincinnati Bengals' Marvin Lewis, speak volumes about Marchibroda, who coached twice here in Baltimore, the last time from 1996-98.
"Because Buffalo didn't win those four Super Bowls and they had Jim Kelly and Andre Reed, people forget that [offense] was designed by Ted," said Lewis, who was the defensive coordinator under Marchibroda with the Ravens. "Sam Wyche and Ted were the first to run those no-huddles, and Ted had tremendous success. Ted put big numbers in Baltimore as well, but we were thin on talent and players. Ted never complained publicly, not once."
Belichick spoke just as highly of Marchibroda after the Patriots defeated the Kansas City Chiefs, 27-20, in their AFC divisional-round playoff game Saturday. It was Marchibroda who gave Belichick his first coaching job, hiring him as a 22-year-old assistant out of Wesleyan.
More than 40 years later, the man who might be the NFL's best-ever coach paid homage to his mentor.
"I learned so much from him," Belichick said after the game, showing rare signs of emotion. "A lot of X's and O's, but it really wasn't the X's and O's. It was a lot more about just being a football coach, being a professional coach, preparation, work ethic, dependability, what goes into having a good football team. Ted's one of the most positive people I've ever been around."
Marchibroda never acted like the stereotypical football coach. He didn't swear a lot and chew tobacco. There were no fancy fedoras or cold, stone faces. Marchibroda was more comfortable eating soft vanilla ice cream (which he did every day before the start of the second practice of two-a-days) than being in front of cameras.
And that's why he became the first coach of the Ravens. Owner Art Modell knew he couldn't sell Belichick's gruff personality in Baltimore, so he brought in the affable Marchibroda to bridge the gap between the past and the future.
It wasn't easy at first, because Baltimoreans gave the Browns a lukewarm reception, and rightly so. They remembered what it was like when the Colts left here for Indianapolis in 1984. Marchibroda was the perfect choice after leading the old Colts to three straight AFC East titles in the mid-1970s.
"Ted Marchibroda was a true NFL lifer," former Ravens defensive end Rob Burnett said. "He had tremendous success both as a family man and as a true pioneer in our game. He inherited a tough move of a legendary franchise owned by the late, great Mr. Modell. He did the best he could under tough circumstances in an ever-evolving game. He made all of us true professionals who were better players and, most importantly, better men."
Marchibroda went 14-31-1 in his last three years in Baltimore, but those seasons only attest to his greatness as a coach and a person. Back then, the Ravens didn't have enough money to fill out a developmental roster, much less sign big-name free agents. Current general manager Ozzie Newsome was a rookie at running a team back then.
Vince Lombardi couldn't have won consistently with those teams, but Marchibroda never complained. All he ever did was hunker down and grind. Maybe Marchibroda should be put in the Ravens Ring of Honor.
"I always pay great respect to Ted," former Ravens guard Wally Williams said. "We had virtually no defense, and those teams weren't going to win many games. But Ted had a great offensive mind, and when they talk about Bill Walsh and Sid Gillman as great offensive minds, I don't know why Ted isn't mentioned with those guys. He could put together a game plan."
Marchibroda was the architect of the Bills' K-Gun offense when Buffalo went to four straight Super Bowls in the early 1990s. That offense was so rapid in getting off plays that the NFL had to impose a rule that allowed defenses to make substitutions if the offense did.
The Ravens put up big numbers in their opening years in Baltimore, too, with the no-huddle. It simply was called: blue formation, no huddle. Derrick Alexander and Michael Jackson would be the outside receivers, with Jermaine Lewis in the slot, Eric Green at tight end and Bam Morris as the lone running back.
When Brian Billick replaced Marchibroda after the 1998 season, he told a Ravens scout that his offenses would be much better than Marchibroda's. That never happened. Marchibroda could call plays with the best of them.
"We would make teams tap out because they couldn't keep up," Williams said. "Every time we went to the line of scrimmage, we had the option of running four running plays or four passing plays. Ted made it a simple game of taking advantage of his players and their skill sets. Coming from Cleveland under Belichick, where everything was overmanaged, it was easier to play for Ted."
Belichick was so impressed with Marchibroda's system that he used it as the base for his own no-huddle offense in New England with quarterback Tom Brady in 2012. Belichick also borrowed Marchibroda's tough-guy approach.
Players today couldn't handle Marchibroda's two-a-day practices and training camps. Even reporters suffered from heat exhaustion watching the Ravens practice twice a day for as many as five hours in full gear.
With Marchibroda, it was all about preparation: knowing down, distance and personnel.
"If you could survive Ted's camp, you could play for any team in the NFL," former Ravens defensive end Michael McCrary said.
Marchibroda actually conceived the Ravens' "Play like a Raven" mantra. The greatest advice he ever gave Newsome was to draft players who had a passion and love for the game. It's no coincidence that Ravens took offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden and linebacker Ray Lewis with the first two picks in team history in 1996.
Marchibroda wanted tough guys because he was one. On occasion, in private, he would share how he grew up in Franklin, Pa., the son of Polish immigrants. He talked about how he put cardboard in the bottom of his shoes to cover up holes, and how he never could grasp how players could complain about contracts.
Marchibroda was a very secure man in what he stood for and believed. At about 7 on some mornings in training camp, he would allow me or fellow Baltimore Sun reporter Gary Lambrecht to come into his room for interviews or to just talk football.
Marchibroda never chided reporters. A lot of coaches claim they don't read newspapers, but most of them do. I don't think Marchibroda did.
On the morning before he was fired in 1998, I had written that he probably was about to coach his last game for the Ravens. On the way out of the locker room after beating the Detroit Lions, 19-10, he stopped and asked me: How did I know that, and was it true?
I nodded yes.
The next morning, I saw Modell leaving Marchibroda's office in tears. Modell often compared Marchibroda to Blanton Collier, one of his favorite coaches. It was awkward going into Marchibroda's office. I chatted with him for awhile, then asked whether he ever thought he had a chance of winning in Baltimore.
Marchibroda never lied to me. If he didn't want to speak, he would shake his head yes or no, and that would be the end of the conversation.
Marchibroda slowly shook his head no, and didn't say another word. If he had, it would have been out of character, because Marchibroda was a professional. Loyalty to him was more than just a word.
"Ted Marchibroda was an excellent coach; success followed him wherever he coached. He was one of the most competitive men I've ever encountered. But mostly, Ted was a good man — spiritually intact, kind and full of grace. What an honor to have served with him even for so short a period of time," former Ravens president David Modell said.
And he never will be forgotten.