Former Indianapolis Colts head coach Ron Meyer deserves credit for starting the franchise’s winning tradition in the Hoosier State.
Before Meyer arrived in Indiana in 1986, the Colts were a lost cause that averaged barely five wins per season.
Meyer promptly righted the ship and guided Indy to a 9-7 win-loss record and its first postseason appearance since relocating from Baltimore, MD in the spring of 1984.
Despite Meyer’s checkered past with the SMU Mustangs and New England Patriots, Robert and Jim Irsay took a chance on him, and it paid off.
This is Ron Meyer’s story.
Early Life and College Days with the Purdue Boilermakers
Ronald Shaw “Ron” Meyer was born to parents George and Mary in Columbus, OH on February 17, 1941.
Meyer, his brother Victor, and sisters Trish and Karen Sue spent their formative years in Westerville, OH.
Ron attended Westerville Central High School. Meyer, who served as class president, received an Eagle Scout award during his high school days.
Meyer excelled in football, basketball, and baseball for the Westerville Central Warhawks.
Sorry to hear of passing of former @BoilerFootball player and coach Ron Meyer. Had great teams at SMU. Word had it that he was slated to coach Purdue after Leon Burtnett was fired after 1986 season but Colts swooped in and hired Meyer. Purdue got Fred Akers.
— Tom Dienhart (@TomDienhart1) December 6, 2017
Ron Meyer attended Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN from 1960 to 1963. He suited up as a quarterback and defensive back for the Purdue Boilermakers from 1961 to 1962.
The Boilermakers averaged five wins per season under head football coach Jack Mollenkopf during those two years.
Meyer earned several accolades during his college days at Purdue. He earned Academic All-Big Ten honors and the Noble E. Kizer Award in 1962. Meyer received the Big Ten Medal of Honor the following year.
After Ron Meyer earned his bachelor’s degree from Purdue in 1963, he embarked on a coaching career in the high school, college, and professional ranks that spanned nearly four decades.
Football Coaching Career
Ron Meyer broke into the high school football coaching ranks in 1964. He became the head football coach of the Penn Kingsmen, a high school team from Mishawaka, IN, that year.
Meyer returned to his alma mater, Purdue University, in 1965. He served as one of Boilermakers head football coach Jack Mollenkopf’s assistants.
Meyer told Rivals.com’s Alan Karpick in the spring of 2005 that he took a pay cut to join Mollenkopf’s staff.
He earned an annual salary of $7,200 as the Kingsmen’s head football coach in 1964. Although the Boilermakers paid $200 less, Meyer could not pass up on the opportunity.
Meyer received his masters of education degree from Purdue in his first year on the Boilermakers’ sideline. He coached the wide receivers in his first five seasons at Purdue from 1965 to 1969.
Meyer exceeded expectations as a Purdue assistant. Former Purdue Alumni Association executive director Joe Rudolph told Karpick that Mollenkopf often sang Meyer’s praises during their time together on the Boilermakers’ coaching staff.
Meyer’s personality also stood out with the coaches and players.
“When Ron Meyer came into a room, he lit it up,” Rudolph told Rivals.com in 2005. “There are few guys who had his personality.”
One of the secrets behind Meyer’s success was his ability to relate to the players. Meyer was only 24 years old when he took the Purdue job, so he related well with them.
Meyer also put his stunning blue Chevrolet Corvette to good use at Purdue.
Boilermakers offensive lineman Rich Ostriker told Rivals.com in 2005 that Meyer allowed the players to use his car to show recruits around campus.
That tradition came to an abrupt end when Purdue defensive tackle Bronco Keser drove Meyer’s car one day.
Meyer instructed Keser to drive a prospect to Indianapolis International Airport so he could catch his flight.
After Keser dropped the prospect off at the airport, he drove the Corvette back to West Lafayette, IN. Unfortunately, the car slid on an ice patch, slid down an embankment, and crashed.
Ostriker recalled the car was so damaged that nobody could determine its color.
Sorry to learn of former football coach at Penn High School @The_Pennant and the NFL’s @Patriots (of course also SMU & others) Ron Meyer’s passing. Coach Meyer coached Penn after graduating from Purdue. Led #Patriots from 2-14 in ‘81 to playoffs in ‘82.
— Jim Kubinski 🇺🇦 (@JamesKubinski) December 6, 2017
Behind quarterback Bob Griese’s 1,749 passing yards and 12 touchdown passes, Purdue won nine of eleven games in 1966.
The Boilermakers eventually beat the USC Trojans in the 1966 Rose Bowl, 14-13.
Purdue continued its winning ways over the next three seasons. The Boilermakers won eight games every season from 1967 to 1969. Unfortunately, they did not play in a bowl game as the Mollenkopf era wound down.
After Mollenkopf left the program following the 1970 NCAA season, Meyer coached the Boilermakers’ defensive backs for one year.
Purdue regressed in new head football coach Bob DeMoss’s first year at the helm in 1970. The Boilermakers won just four games that year. It was their worst showing since the 1962 NCAA campaign when they had won the same number of games.
After six seasons of coaching in the college ranks, Meyer became a scout for the Dallas Cowboys in 1971.
Meyer joined the Cowboys during an exciting time in franchise history. With Roger Staubach, Duane Thomas, Lance Alworth, Bob Lilly, Herb Adderley, and Mel Renfro leading the way, Dallas won its first Super Bowl in 1971.
The Cowboys, who won eleven games in the regular season, beat the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XI, 24-3.
Although Dallas won ten games in 1972, the team lost to the Washington Redskins in the NFC Championship Game in lopsided fashion, 26-3.
Meyer returned to the college ranks and became the head football coach of the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels in 1973.
Under Meyer’s leadership, UNLV won all eleven of its regular-season games and advanced to the NCAA Division II semifinals in 1974.
Unfortunately, UNLV lost to the Delaware Hens in the 1974 Grantland Rice Bowl, 49-11. Meyer left the program following the 1975 NCAA season.
One of the highlights of Ron Meyer’s football coaching career was taking over the reins of the SMU Mustangs prior to the 1976 NCAA campaign.
Meyer struggled with a combined 11-21-1 record in his first three seasons as Mustangs’ head football coach from 1976 to 1978.
— Old Time Football 🏈 (@Ol_TimeFootball) April 5, 2020
When Meyer convinced highly-touted running backs Eric Dickerson and Craig James to commit to SMU in 1979, the Mustangs’ fortunes changed dramatically at the turn of the 1980s decade.
The “Pony Express” duo of Dickerson and Craig helped the Mustangs average nine wins per season in Meyer’s last two years as their head football coach from 1980 to 1981.
Meyer helped the Mustangs win the SWC title and added another feather to his cap after SMU beat the BYU Cougars in the 1980 Holiday Bowl, 46-45.
To nobody’s surprise, Ron Meyer earned 1981 SWC Coach of the Year honors.
Meyer left the SMU program after the 1981 NCAA campaign. His most recent contract with SMU paid him $80,000 annually.
Although Meyer helped the Mustangs become a winning football program as the 1980s began, his tenure at SMU was mired in controversy.
Meyer’s assistant Steve Endicott remembered SMU offering tight end Mark Lewis $20,000 in exchange for his commitment.
Lewis eventually committed to the Texas A&M Aggies, the program Dickerson initially wanted to play for.
When Dickerson arrived at the SMU campus in the fall of 1979, onlookers saw him drive around in a new Pontiac TransAm.
According to Endicott, the Aggies assisted Dickerson with the downpayment. The Mustangs helped him settle the remaining amount when he played for them from 1979 to 1982.
Dickerson, one of the best running backs of all time, claimed he later sold his car to his SMU teammate Charles Drayton.
Dickerson downplayed the scandal surrounding his vehicle four decades later.
“Is that such a scandal? That the best player for one of the best teams in the country got a nice car? I don’t think so,” Dickerson wrote in his 2022 memoir (via The Eagle’s Alex Miller). “I think I deserved that car – and a lot more than that.”
As for Meyer, he flew to various high schools across Texas on a private jet and reportedly pinned his business card and a $100 bill to the most prominent bulletin boards on campuses.
To make matters worse, the NCAA flagged his SMU football program with 29 recruiting violations following the 1980 season.
Former SMU Teammates @SMU_Football From 1977 -1982 Mark Gibson @Mark_gibson9 Eric Dickerson @EricDickerson SMU football coach Ron Meyer and Mike Ford @SMU _Football Hall of Fame. pic.twitter.com/G2kBJVCRMr
— Mark Gibson (@mark_gibson9) May 21, 2018
The NCAA eventually placed the program on probation in 1981 and 1982. The Mustangs also could not play in bowl games or appear on television in 1981.
Alleged recruiting violations during the Ron Meyer era at SMU ultimately resulted in the infamous “Death Penalty” the NCAA laid out on the Mustangs’ football program several years later.
The NCAA came down hard and canceled SMU’s 1987 NCAA season. The cancelation eventually extended for another season in 1988. Meyer was coaching the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts at the time.
The “Death Penalty” took a massive toll on the SMU football program. The Mustangs mustered just one winning season from 1989 to 2008.
Ron Meyer made his NFL head coaching debut with the New England Patriots in the 1982 season. He replaced his namesake Ron Erhardt, who the Patriots fired after a dismal 2-14 showing in 1981.
Meyer promptly guided New England to a respectable 5-4 win-loss record during the strike-shortened 1982 NFL season.
Meyer made headlines after the Patriots beat the Miami Dolphins in the famous “Snowplow Game” at Schaefer Stadium in Foxborough, MA on December 12, 1982.
The two teams played in snowy field conditions. Meyer called a timeout so stadium employee Mark Henderson could remove some snow from the field.
“Get out there and do something,” Meyer told Henderson (via Yahoo! Sports).
Henderson obliged and position his tractor near the Dolphins’ 23-yard line. He cleared some snow to help pave the way for Patriots kicker John Smith’s game-winning field goal.
Prior to kickoff, the Patriots dangled $10 and a free ticket to fans who would help remove snow from the football field.
The Patriots won a low-scoring affair, 3-0. A furious Don Shula and the Dolphins would get their revenge in the postseason several weeks later.
“I wanted to go out there and punch him out,” Shula said (via The Associated Press and Los Angeles Times). “In retrospect, I should have laid down in front of the snowplow.”
The Patriots also ended a three-year postseason drought in 1982. Unfortunately, they lost to the Dolphins in the 1982 AFC Wild Card Game, 28-13.
Despite the loss, Meyer earned 1982 AFC Coach of the Year honors for turning the Patriots’ fortunes around.
Meyer could not take New England to the next level in his second year as Patriots head coach in 1983. The Patriots won eight games and missed the postseason for the fourth time in the past five seasons.
Despite Meyer’s respectable 5-3 win-loss record, the Patriots fired Meyer in the fall of 1984.
According to Sports Illustrated’s Paul Zimmerman, Meyer dug his own grave after he dismissed defensive coordinator Rod Rust without notifying general manager Pat Sullivan.
OTD 1982#Patriots coach Ron Meyer sends Mark Henderson out on the field to clear a spot for kicker John Smith.
Smith made the kick and the #GoPats won the game 3-0.
Joe Robbie and Don Shula were not happy pic.twitter.com/7cfFTueeZX
— Old Time Football 🏈 (@Ol_TimeFootball) December 12, 2020
Meyer previously wanted to trade Patriots players John Hannah, Tony Collins, Julius Adams, Rick Sanford, Robert Weathers, and Mosi Tatupu during the offseason. Unfortunately, Sullivan gave Meyer’s plan the thumbs down.
Sullivan told Sports Illustrated Meyer’s plan of starting from scratch did not resonate with him. Although the Patriots had a mediocre 8-8 win-loss record in 1983, Sullivan felt blowing up the team’s nucleus was not the answer.
Meyer wanted to trade disgruntled Patriots wide receiver Stanley Morgan prior to the October 9, 1984 trade deadline. However, Sullivan and Patriots director of player development Dick Steinberg disapproved of it.
Sullivan met with the players for 45 minutes several days before. The Patriots spent 15 minutes telling their general manager about their issues with their head coach.
Hall of Fame Baltimore Colts wide receiver Raymond Berry, the Patriots’ wide receivers coach from 1978 to 1981, replaced Meyer. Berry also rehired Rust as New England’s defensive coordinator.
Meyer went on a two-year hiatus from the NFL coaching ranks after his dismissal from New England in the fall of 1984.
During Meyer’s time away from the gridiron, he almost became the head football coach of the Purdue Boilermakers.
The school dismissed Leon Burtnett after a disastrous 3-8 showing in 1986. Meyer and John Mackovic were the frontrunners to replace Burtnett, per Rivals.com.
The Boilermakers decided to hire Meyer. They made the announcement several days before Thanksgiving Day 1986.
NFL Legal Tampering Day begins…
I recall something Coach Ron Meyer said about the 1987 Colts. "Catch lightning in a bottle, this is gonna be fun"! Let's have a day today @Colts @JimIrsay
#ForTheShoe ALL IN!! pic.twitter.com/HcjUTwjFHw
— Colts Cave Man (@RickStevens63) March 14, 2022
However, Purdue had not finished drafting Meyer’s contract when Robert Irsay’s Indianapolis Colts reached out and expressed interest in hiring him.
“As I look back at it, I might have been better off to take the Purdue job,” Meyer told Karpick via a telephone conversation in June 2005. “But as fate would have it, the Colts called and I hadn’t yet worked out my contract with Purdue.”
The Colts hired Ron Meyer to replace Rod Dowhower as their head coach in December 1986.
The Colts had an abysmal 0-13 win-loss record prior to Meyer’s hiring. He became the franchise’s third head coach since relocating to Indianapolis from Baltimore in the spring of 1984.
Several executives thought Meyer’s hiring was questionable at best. One general manager told Sports Illustrated that people around the NFL were aghast at the move.
Those individuals never forgot Meyer’s past track record. He had once made the NCAA put the SMU Mustangs under probation when he coached in the college football ranks.
Meyer also detached himself from New England Patriots players and management in a manner that still had them seething years after he left the team.
Patriots guard John Hannah once called Meyer “the sorriest excuse for a football coach I’ve ever seen,” per Sports Illustrated’s E.M. Swift.
The father and son tandem of Robert and Jim Irsay paid no attention to the naysayers.
Jim, the Colts’ general manager, told Swift that Meyer was their top choice. He felt Meyer knew how to win and get the Colts back on the right track.
— Colts Cave Man (@RickStevens63) September 10, 2022
Irsay’s hunch was correct. Meyer would lead the Colts to their first winning record and postseason berth in franchise history in 1987.
“He literally turned us around in 1986,” Colts chief operating officer Pete Ward told IndyStar’s Dakota Crawford in December 2017. “We were going nowhere, spiraling downward.”
Ward also remembered Meyer as a funny and kind individual. Meyer rarely lost his cool at any of his Colts players. Whenever he got angry, he always apologized.
Indy’s acquisition of future Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson played a major role in its resurgence.
Meyer was reunited with Dickerson, who played for him with the NCAA’s SMU Mustangs from 1979 to 1981. The two represented the Horseshoe six years after they last worked together.
Meyer was so enamored with Dickerson that he canceled practice whenever the latter sustained a minor injury, per former Colts defensive tackle Tony Siragusa’s 2012 autobiography, Goose: The Outrageous Life and Times of a Football Guy.
With Meyer at the helm, the Colts won nine games in the 1987 NFL campaign. It was the most they had won since leaving Baltimore, MD in March 1984.
Unfortunately, Meyer and Co. lost to the Cleveland Browns in the 1987 AFC Divisional Round, 38-21. It was the Colts’ first postseason game since moving to Indianapolis.
The Colts averaged eight wins per season in Meyer’s next three years on the job. Regrettably, Indy never made the postseason from 1988 to 1990.
Meyer’s tenure in the Circle City reached rock bottom in the 1991 NFL season. The Colts fired him after they got off to a winless 0-5 start that year.
Meyer knew his days as head coach were numbered when general manager Jim Irsay walked into his office at 7 a.m. on October 1, 1991.
“General managers don’t come to coaches’ offices at that hour on Tuesday morning unless they have something to say,” Meyer said back then (via IndyStar).
Unfortunately, Meyer’s hunch was correct. He was out as Colts head coach.
The Colts promoted defensive coordinator Rick Venturi on an interim basis. Venturi did not fare any better. The Colts finished with a dreadful 1-15 win-loss record in 1991.
Meyer’s stint with the Colts was his last coaching job in the National Football League. He finished his eight-year NFL head coaching career with a 54-50 (.519) win-loss record.
Former college and NFL coach Ron Meyer has passed away at the age of 76 Meyer played QB and DB at @BoilerFootball from 1961-62 and was an assistant coach on the team from 1965-70. Meyer coached the @Colts from 1986-91 (Photo Credit: Real Clear Sports) pic.twitter.com/PEr71ynVU6
— Davenport Sports (@Davenport_SN) December 6, 2017
Meyer went on to coach the CFL’s Las Vegas Posse in 1994 and the XFL’s Chicago Enforcers in 2001.
Meyer had a 5-13 (.278) win-loss record with the Posse. He won five of eleven games with the Enforcers seven years later.
Meyer worked as a football analyst on CNN in between coaching jobs.
When reporters asked Meyer in 2014 whether he preferred coaching in the college or pro football ranks, he chose the latter.
Meyer liked the freedom that went with being an NFL coach. When he coached the Patriots and Colts, management gave him plenty of leeway.
Meyer also did not have to think about selling tickets as an NFL coach because his players earned their salaries.
Working as a college football coach had its disadvantages. For one, coaches had to constantly concern themselves with their players’ grades, attendance, and graduation rates.
Injuries were more of a concern in college football than in the NFL. If a student-athlete gets injured, the coach did not have a Plan B.
In contrast, NFL coaches could sign a player from the practice squad or sign an undrafted free agent to offset the injury.
Post-Football Life and Death
According to Karpick, Ron Meyer worked as a consultant for the sports betting company WinningEdge after his last football coaching job with the Chicago Enforcers in 2001.
Meyer also worked as a consultant in Texas’ expanding oil and gas industries in the early 2000s.
Meyer later served as a pro football analyst on the Canadian Sports Channel.
Devastated to hear the passing of my coach and great friend Ron Meyer. My mom and I loved Coach Meyer. He was a great man. Coach and his family are in my thoughts and prayers. God bless Coach Meyer! pic.twitter.com/qg5hPtq3bd
— Eric Dickerson (@EricDickerson) December 6, 2017
Meyer’s hobbies included playing golf and cards as well as swimming. He was an avid history lover who particularly enjoyed learning about the Armed Forces.
Even during retirement, Ron “Slick” Meyer was a staunch sports fanatic. He watched sports games ranging from Little League Baseball to NFL football after church with his wife every Sunday.
Sadly, Ron Meyer passed away on December 7, 2017. He was 76 years old.
According to a statement from Meyer’s family (via The Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times), he collapsed and succumbed to an aortic aneurysm on a golf course in Austin, TX.
Meyer is survived by his wife Cindy, sons Ron and Ralph, daughters Elizabeth and Kathryn, and several grandchildren.