'Innovator' Ted Marchibroda dies at age 84

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Saturday, February 20, 2016

INDIANAPOLIS -- Former NFL coach Ted Marchibroda charmed players with his soft-spoken personality and innovative concepts.

Fans appreciated his down-to-earth descriptions and ability to win games.

On Saturday, the NFL lost one of its great innovators. After confirming the death with his family, the Indianapolis Colts announced that Marchibroda died at age 84.

He coached the Colts twice, for five years in Baltimore and four years in Indianapolis, and is the only man to have coached both Baltimore franchises, the Colts and Ravens. He was probably one of the few who could have been accepted by both communities after the Colts' move from Baltimore.

"Ted was as humble as they come, and he represented the Colts and our community with class both off the field and on," Colts owner Jim Irsay said in a statement. "He was beloved by many, and will be sorely missed."

Marchibroda was a masterful coach.

He accepted the Baltimore Colts job in 1975 and immediately led them to three consecutive AFC East titles. He lost that job after the 1979 season, but his career was still taking off.

Marchibroda bounced around the NFL for almost a decade as an assistant with the Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions and Philadelphia Eagles. In 1987, he was hired by Marv Levy in Buffalo, which is where Marchibroda introduced the groundbreaking K-Gun offense. The Bills used that version of the no-huddle offense to win four straight AFC championships, and the principles are still used in today's more modern offenses.

In 1992, the Colts, now in Indy, gave Marchibroda a second chance, and he again had instant success. The Colts went 9-7 in his first season, after going 1-15 in 1991. In 1995, Marchibroda almost pulled off a seemingly impossible run through the playoffs by leading the Colts to wins at San Diego and Kansas City before losing at Pittsburgh after Jim Harbaugh's Hail Mary pass fell incomplete on the game's final play.

Marchibroda went 71-58 in nine seasons with the Colts and 2-4 in the playoffs. He was the first head coach inducted into Indy's Ring of Honor.

In 1996, Marchibroda returned to Baltimore, this time to lead the Ravens, becoming their first head coach.

There, he was not as successful, going 14-31-1 in three seasons, but he was just as appreciated by those in the locker room and around the organization.

"Ted is a founding father of the Ravens," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a statement. "He was a tremendous competitor and a tough man with a gentle soul. 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."

Marchibroda returned to Indianapolis in 1999 and spent the next seven seasons working the Colts' radio broadcasts, where he became a fan favorite.

Marchibroda's legacy goes far deeper than wins and losses. In 1975, he hired Bill Belichick as an assistant for $25 per week.

"It's with a real heavy heart that I stand here," the New England Patriots coach said after a 27-20 playoff victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. "I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Ted Marchibroda. He gave me a great opportunity. I learned so much from him, a lot of X's and O's, but it really isn't about the X's and O's."

In 1953, Marchibroda was Pittsburgh's first-round draft pick, No. 5 overall. The promising young quarterback served in the Army in 1954, and when he returned in 1955, he had to beat out Johnny Unitas for a roster spot.

Marchibroda won that battle but never played another down after 1957.

Still, his short playing career led to another career that would keep him in football for decades -- coaching.

Marchibroda started out as a backfield coach with Washington from 1961 to 1965. He joined George Allen's staff with the Los Angeles Rams in 1966 and moved with Allen to the Redskins in 1971.

After spending four seasons as the offensive coordinator, Marchibroda got the Colts job.

"The guys like me who played for Ted here in Baltimore will always be tied together," former running back Lydell Mitchell said. "Whenever we got together, we had a great time as teammates, and Ted was a big part of that. We will sorely miss him."

Marchibroda played college football at St. Bonaventure and the University of Detroit and led the nation in total offense in 1952 with Detroit.

He finished his NFL playing career by completing 172 of 385 passes for 2,169 yards with 16 touchdowns and 29 interceptions with the Steelers and Chicago Cardinals.

He is survived by his wife, Ann; daughters Jodi and Lonni; and sons Ted Jr. and Robert.

"He had a proud history not just with the Colts, but also as a player, coach and broadcaster for over half a century with the NFL," Irsay said. "Ted was an innovator."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.