I never met Ted Marchibroda.
I don’t have any special insight into his coaching ability or personality that you haven’t already seen or heard about the man who received his first head-coaching gig with the Baltimore Colts in 1975 and finished his career as the first head coach of the Ravens from 1996-1998.
Praised for his innovative “K-Gun” offense in Buffalo but also criticized for being too conservative as Colts fans used to lament, “Hey, diddle, diddle; it’s Lydell up the middle,” Marchibroda led Baltimore to three straight AFC East titles from 1975-1977, but his Colts were eliminated in the first round in each of those seasons. He wouldn’t win his first playoff game as a head coach until he guided Indianapolis all the way to the 1995 AFC championship game when he was 64 years old.
His Ravens teams weren’t very good and lacked the talent to be a real factor in the AFC Central, but Marchibroda was the man who bridged the gap from the old Colts to the new Ravens. For young Baltimoreans who had never enjoyed their own NFL team, he provided living, breathing context to the stories our fathers and grandfathers told of Bert Jones, Lydell Mitchell, and the Sack Pack.
It was great seeing legendary Colts such as Johnny Unitas and Lenny Moore hanging out on the sideline during Ravens games, but their playing days had long since ended. There was something special about Marchibroda serving in the same capacity with the Ravens as he had with the Colts 20 years earlier. And, yes, part of that experience even included complaining about an explosive Ravens offense in 1996 being too conservative in the second half of games in a way not terribly different from the gripes of Baltimore fans 20 years before.
Any coach would tell you that’s just life in the NFL.
Hearing the reactions of many former players — Colts and Ravens — upon learning of his death on Saturday, it was evident that Marchibroda’s impeccable character eclipsed a good coaching career that spanned nearly four decades. He wasn’t the greatest coach in the history of either Baltimore franchise, but Marchibroda was a man the city was lucky to have at two pivotal times. He led the Colts in their final glory days in Baltimore and later helped us remember what it was like to have the NFL.
“In a way, he set the Ravens’ path,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said. “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.'”
The Ravens have thrived with that mindset to the tune of two Super Bowl championships, four division titles, and 10 playoff appearances in the 17 seasons since he departed Baltimore.
Marchibroda deserves a special place in Baltimore football lore.
I never met Ted Marchibroda.