Back in the day, Ted Marchibroda defied the norm of the typical, fiery NFL head coach.
Marchibroda was the complete opposite – he was a gentleman on and off the gridiron during his memorable 38-year pro football coaching career.
Marchibroda’s genius on the sidelines helped the Los Angeles Rams, Washington Redskins, Buffalo Bills, and Indianapolis Colts reach unprecedented heights during his multiple coaching stints from 1961 to 1998.
Marchibroda was an important figure and innovator in pro football history.
He gave Bill Belichick his first NFL job in 1975 and developed the Bills’ vaunted no-huddle “K-Gun” offense during their memorable Super Bowl runs in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Marchibroda also helped develop hundreds of football players, most notably quarterbacks Billy Kilmer and Jim Kelly.
Ted Marchibroda’s contributions to the National Football League will live on forever.
Early Life And Pro Football Career
Theodore Joseph “Ted” Marchibroda was born in Franklin, PA on March 15, 1931.
Marchibroda split his college football career between Saint Bonaventure University and the University of Detroit. His 1,813 passing yards were the most in the country in 1952.
The Pittsburgh Steelers made former St. Bonaventure Brown Indians and Detroit Titans quarterback Ted Marchibroda the fifth overall selection of the 1953 NFL Draft.
Marchibroda went on a year-long hiatus to serve in the Army in 1954. When he returned to the Steelers a year later, he got Pittsburgh’s final quarterback spot – a turn of events that ultimately led to Johnny Unitas’ release before the 1955 NFL campaign.
Marchibroda had his best statistical season in 1956. He had 1,585 passing yards, 12 touchdowns, and 19 interceptions in twelve games for the Steelers that year.
65 years ago this week
Steelers 1st ever win in Cleveland
Ted Marchibroda leads a Pittsburgh comeback from a 13-0 deficit to beat the Browns in Cleveland. The Steelers had been 0-6 in Cleveland vs the Browns and 0-1-1 vs the Rams.
— Steel City Star (@steelcitystar) October 29, 2021
He became the first Pittsburgh quarterback to beat Cleveland in its home stadium. Marchibroda’s two touchdown passes helped the Steelers prevail over the Browns 24-16 in 1956.
With Marchibroda under center, Pittsburgh had a 5-7 win-loss record in Walt Kiesling’s final year as Steelers head coach in 1956. The squad also missed the postseason for the 23rd time since they entered the National Football League twenty-four years earlier.
Ted Marchibroda signed with the Chicago Cardinals prior to the 1957 NFL season. He backed up starting quarterback Lamar McHan and recorded 238 passing yards, one touchdown pass, and five interceptions in five games for Chicago.
Twenty-six-year-old Ted Marchibroda retired from the National Football League following the 1957 NFL campaign.
He finished his four-year pro football career with 2,169 passing yards, 16 touchdown passes, and 29 interceptions.
Although Ted Marchibroda’s stint on the pro gridiron only lasted all of four years, he took on a higher calling – he embarked on a legendary 38-year coaching career in the National Football League.
Football Coaching Career
First-year Washington Redskins head coach and general manager Bill McPeak hired Ted Marchibroda as one of his assistants for the 1961 NFL season.
McPeak took over the reins from Mike Nixon, who mustered a combined four wins as Washington’s head coach from 1959 to 1960.
McPeak tapped Marchibroda despite the latter not having any professional football coaching experience.
Nonetheless, 30-year-old Ted Marchibroda had found his calling – he remained in the NFL coaching ranks for the next thirty-eight years.
Washington team owner George Preston Marshall told Marchibroda to go to South Bend, IN in November 1961.
His mission: tell 1961 Heisman Trophy-winning running back Ernie Davis of the Syracuse Orangemen the Redskins might select him in the 1962 NFL Draft.
Marchibroda spoke with Davis after the Orangemen’s game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Not only did Washington select Davis, but they also made him the No. 1 overall selection of the draft.
Unfortunately, Davis didn’t want to play for the Redskins and requested they trade him. The Redskins eventually dealt him to the Cleveland Browns for Bobby Mitchell and Leroy Jackson.
Ernie Davis never played a single down in the National Football League. The 23-year-old sensation passed away due to leukemia in May 1963.
The Redskins weren’t much better during the McPeak era than they had been under Mike Nixon – they averaged four wins per year from 1961 to 1965
After McPeak left the Redskins organization following the 1965 NFL season, Marchibroda joined George Allen’s staff as an assistant with the Los Angeles Rams.
Marchibroda was on Allen’s staff for the entirety of the latter’s head coaching career with the Rams from 1966 to 1970.
Under Allen’s guidance, the Rams averaged ten wins per year and won two division titles during that time frame. However, they never made it past the Divisional Round in Marchibroda’s five years with the squad.
Throwback Photo – 1969 Los Angeles Rams Coaching Staff. A very young Dick Vermeil, Ted Marchibroda, Howard Schnellenberger, and legendary Head Coach George Allen. Quite a Staff!! #NFL100 pic.twitter.com/J6Z0Cicwu3
— Detroit Blues (@detroitblu3s) November 24, 2019
When the Redskins hired Allen as their head coach before the 1971 NFL season, Marchibroda joined him. It was the latter’s second tour of duty in the nation’s capital.
Marchibroda served as Allen’s offensive coordinator for four years from 1971 to 1974. The former had been learning the head coaching ropes from Allen for a combined nine years at the end of the 1974 NFL campaign.
The Redskins were a world away from the team they were during the Bill McPeak era just seven years earlier.
With the Allen and Marchibroda tandem and stalwarts such as quarterback Billy Kilmer, running back Larry Brown, and wide receivers Charley Taylor and Roy Jefferson, and tight end Jerry Smith, Washington averaged ten wins per year from 1971 to 1974.
Not only did the Redskins end their 25-year postseason drought, but they also made four postseason appearances with Allen and Marchibroda prowling the sidelines.
The duo led the Redskins to their first Super Bowl appearance against the Miami Dolphins on January 14, 1973. Unfortunately, they lost to Larry Csonka and Co. in Super Bowl VII, 14-7.
Kilmer, the quarterback who orchestrated Marchibroda’s offense in Washington, felt his offensive coordinator didn’t show his full potential with the Redskins.
Allen put a premium on defense. He wanted Marchibroda to simplify the Redskins’ offense by relying mainly on Brown’s running game and keeping turnovers and penalties to an absolute minimum.
That system eventually undermined Marchibroda’s abilities as an offensive coordinator.
“Ted was definitely hindered in Washington,” Kilmer told The Washington Post’s Leonard Shapiro in a telephone interview in January 2016. “We could have done a lot of things we didn’t do. But that wasn’t Ted. That was the head coach.”
Nevertheless, Kilmer credited his rise as an NFL quarterback to Marchibroda.
Kilmer admitted to Shapiro he lacked discipline when he arrived in Washington in 1971 – the same year Marchibroda began his second tour of duty with the Redskins.
Kilmer was more of a single-wing tailback when he played for the UCLA Bruins during his college days. As New Orleans Saints quarterback from 1967 to 1970, he lacked the fundamentals of dropback passing.
Ted Marchibroda intervened in Kilmer’s pro football career at the perfect time – the former taught Kilmer various fundamentals during Redskins practice.
Marchibroda also watched film relentlessly for hours on end. His voracious film habits helped him predict when a defense was going to switch to a blitz package or zone coverage, per The Washington Post.
Marchibroda’s instincts quickly rubbed off on Kilmer, who did the rest on the football field.
The results were astounding – Kilmer led Washington in passing yardage for seven straight seasons from 1971 to 1977. Moreover, Kilmer continued picking defenses apart two years after Marchibroda embarked on a head coaching career with Baltimore.
Clearly, that was the Ted Marchibroda difference.
Leonard Shapiro, a sports reporter for The Washington Times, called Marchibroda “a world-class gentleman.”
When Shapiro covered the Redskins beat full-time in 1973, head coach George Allen put an invisible wall between the team and the media.
In that regard, Ted Marchibroda was completely different from Allen – the former was a soft-spoken personality who always provided Shapiro with the information he needed.
However, Marchibroda knew when to withhold information such as who will start as quarterback for the Redskins on Sunday.
Whether it was Billy Kilmer or Sonny Jurgensen, Marchibroda only let Shapiro and the rest of the media know why that quarterback started after the final whistle.
"I'm not going to get involved in the draft. I haven't seen a college game in 10 years."
— Baltimore Colts coach Ted Marchibroda, who months later in 1976 gave a kid name Bill Belichick his first NFL job.
He got paid $25 a week as an assistant & driver. pic.twitter.com/2Xv9jatMFt
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) February 5, 2018
Marchibroda earned his first head coaching job with the Baltimore Colts in the 1975 NFL season.
Marchibroda also appointed future New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick as a special assistant that year for $25 per week, per ESPN.
It was Belichick’s first job in the National Football League – a career that has spanned 47 years.
The Colts had won just two games the year before under head coach Thomas Schnellenberger. It was the team’s worst finish since it entered the NFL in 1953.
Marchibroda promptly turned Baltimore’s fortunes around. The Colts averaged ten wins per year in his first three years on the job. Unfortunately, they never made it past the Divisional Round from 1975 to 1977.
Nonetheless, Ted Marchibroda proved he belonged in the NFL coaching ranks – he earned NFL Coach of the Year honors in his first year on the job in 1975.
With Marchibroda calling the shots for the Colts, quarterback Bert Jones racked up 3,104 passing yards and won 1976 NFL MVP honors.
Ironically, Marchibroda’s head coaching tenure in the National Football league almost ended as soon as it began.
Marchibroda abruptly resigned as the Colts’ head coach on September 5, 1976. His resignation stemmed from locker room issues with his owner.
According to The New York Times’ William N. Wallace, Marchibroda stood up for his players after Irsay went on a tirade in the locker room following the Colts’ preseason loss to the Detroit Lions at the Pontiac Silverdome.
When an irate Irsay berated All-Pro offensive tackle George Kunz after the game, Marchibroda told the Colts owner to hire a new coach.
“I can’t have locker room scenes like this every week,” Marchibroda told Wallace in the fall of 1976.
Colts running back Lydell Mitchell told The New York Times that Irsay was oblivious to what Marchibroda and the coaching staff were doing – they benched half of their offensive starters to preserve them for the regular-season grind.
After the locker room fiasco in Detroit, Irsay boarded his yacht in Chicago and went on a cruise. Colts general manager Joe Thomas set up a meeting with Irsay and Marchibroda on board the yacht in Milwaukee.
The three men discussed who had the prerogative to sign and waive players between Marchibroda and Thomas. The Colts’ general manager ultimately prevailed with Irsay’s support.
Despite a six-game turnaround in Marchibroda’s first year at the helm in 1975, Thomas released five veterans including former All-Pro linebacker Mike Curtis and backup quarterback Marty Domres.
Ted Marchibroda, the only man to coach both NFL franchises in Baltimore (Colts, Ravens), died Saturday at 84. pic.twitter.com/V6ohjnZIqp
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 16, 2016
Marchiborda wanted to retain Domres as a backup to Bert Jones, who led the Colts with 2,483 passing yards in 1975.
Marchibroda also tendered his resignation from the Colts a second time on board Irsay’s yacht, per Wallace. The Colts owner accepted his resignation.
Jones released a statement on behalf of his teammates following Marchibroda’s departure.
Part of it reads the Colts owner and general manager “have completely destroyed the team by forcing Ted out the week of the first league game,” per The New York Times.
Jones also wrote that Marchibroda didn’t have to tolerate abuse at the hands of Irsay and Thomas, which he claimed he had witnessed.
Ted Marchibroda’s departure from the Colts was short-lived. Irsay and Thomas asked him to reconsider after offensive coordinator Whitey Dovell and defensive coordinator Maxie Baughan threatened to resign as well.
To make matters worse for Irsay and Thomas, Colts players also considered boycotting practice to support Marchibroda. However, that plan never materialized.
Baltimore ultimately re-hired Ted Marchibroda on September 8, 1976. After the Colts re-hired him he told The New York Times that he had the ultimate say in football-related matters.
Irsay told Wallace in a telephone conversation that he gave Marchibroda the power to sign and release both players and coaches.
The Colts regressed considerably in 1978 and 1979. Baltimore won an average of just five games those two seasons and fell out of postseason contention.
The Colts’ fall from grace started a 10-year postseason drought. They never made the postseason again until 1987 when they were already known as the “Indianapolis Colts.”
Colts owner Robert Irsay fired Marchibroda following the 1979 NFL campaign. Little did Marchibroda know Irsay would rehire him some thirteen years later in Indianapolis.
Marchibroda spent the next five seasons as the Chicago Bears’ quarterbacks coach (1981), the Detroit Lions’ offensive coordinator (1982 to 1983), and the Philadelphia Eagles’ offensive coordinator (1984 to 1985).
The entire Bills organization mourns the passing of Ted Marchibroda, a beloved coach and man. pic.twitter.com/S2AHjzhdgK
— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) January 16, 2016
Ted Marchibroda was one of the architects behind the Buffalo Bills’ resurgence in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Since the Bills joined the National Football League in 1970, they made the postseason just three times in eighteen years.
The Buffalos’ fortunes changed dramatically when Ted Marchibroda joined Marv Levy’s staff as the Bills’ quarterbacks coach in 1987.
Marchibroda was the mastermind behind the Bills’ famous “K-Gun” system – a no-huddle offense that revolved around quarterback Jim Kelly.
Marchibroda helped Kelly earn four Pro Bowl nods from 1987 to 1991. It was a throwback to the former’s days with the Washington Redskiins when he helped developed Billy Kilmer.
In the bigger scheme of things, Marchibroda’s presence on the sidelines helped Levy and Co. become perennial Super Bowl contenders.
The Bills promoted Marchibroda to offensive coordinator prior to the 1989 NFL season. He eventually helped them reach the Super Bowl in both 1990 and 1991.
Buffalo made an incredible four consecutive Super Bowl appearances from 1990 to 1993 – the latter two occurring when Marchibroda was in his second tenure as Colts head coach.
Billy Kilmer, the Redskins quarterback Marchibroda developed two decades earlier, enjoyed watching his former offensive coordinator turn the Bills into a powerhouse, per The Washington Post.
Robert Irsay rehired Marchibroda to coach the Indianapolis Colts in 1992. The latter noted that Irsay’s improved financial situation allowed him to sign the players the Colts needed.
“In Indianapolis he gave me pretty much everything I needed to win,” Marchibroda told The Baltimore Sun. “He spent money and gave the coach everything to win. I think it was easier for him in Indianapolis.”
Marchibroda had a daunting task – the woebegone Colts won just one game all season long in 1991. He also had to manage volatile third-year quarterback Jeff George, the first overall selection of the 1990 NFL Draft who wasn’t meeting expectations.
After averaging barely seven wins in 1992 and 1993, the Colts jettisoned a disgruntled George to the Atlanta Falcons prior to the 1994 NFL campaign. They signed former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim Harbaugh several weeks later.
Indianapolis averaged nine wins per year in Ted Marchibroda’s last two years at the helm from 1994 to 1995.
Marchibroda helped the Colts reach the 1995 AFC Championship Game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Regrettably, Indianapolis lost 20-16 after wide receiver Aaron Bailey dropped Harbaugh’s desperation Hail Mary in the waning moments of the game.
That turned out to be Ted Marchibroda’s final game with the Colts.
One Colts player whom Marchibroda endeared himself to was defensive tackle, Tony Siragusa. The latter loathed Indianapolis director of football operations Bill Tobin for rejecting Marchibroda’s demand for a two-year contract extension.
Consequently, Marchibroda left the Colts on February 9, 1996. He didn’t have to wait long, though – the Baltimore Ravens named him their first-ever head coach just six days later.
Marchibroda had come full circle – he returned to the Charm City exactly twenty-one years and one month after Jim Irsay hired him to become the Baltimore Colts head coach in 1975, per Garrett Downing of BaltimoreRavens.com.
The then Ravens executive vice president for player personnel Ozzie Newsome considered Marchibroda the team’s founding father.
Siragusa joined his former coach with the Colts in the 1997 NFL season. The former considered Marchibroda an important father figure.
“He was like a father to me,” Siragusa told Downing in January 2016. “He made me believe in myself and extended my career with his coaching.”
With Marchibroda calling the shots, the Ravens averaged five wins per year during their first three years of existence from 1996 to 1998.
Ted Marchibroda retired from the pro football coaching profession following the 1997 NFL campaign.
Marchibroda had a combined 87-98-1 record as Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts and Baltimore Ravens head coach over a twelve-year span from 1975 to 1979 and 1992 to 1998.
Post-Football Life And Death
Ted Marchibroda and his wife Ann have four children: daughters Jodi and Lonni and sons Ted Jr. and Robert.
Marchibroda was an Indianapolis Colts radio color commentator together with Bob Lamey from 1999 to 2006.
The team made him the first coach inducted into the Indianapolis Colts Ring of Honor in 2000.
Sadly, Ted Marchibroda passed away on January 17, 2016. He was 84 years old.
Former Washington Post sports columnist Leonard Shapiro ran into Marchibroda several times over the years.
Shapiro’s son and Marchibroda’s grandson were teammates on the Woodberry Forest football team in 2006. The two men, who had gone a long way back since 1973, used the kids’ games as opportunities to catch up.
Colts owner Jim Irsay remembered Marchibroda as a classy and down-to-earth individual during his tenure with the organization.
“Ted was as humble as they come, and he represented the Colts and our community with class both off the field and on,” Irsay told ESPN in the aftermath of Marchibroda’s passing in 2016. “He was beloved by many, and will be sorely missed.”
Shapiro’s assessment of Marchibroda is consistent with Irsay’s.
Shapiro described Marchibroda as “one of the finest human beings in the history of the professional game.”
That, in a nutshell, was Ted Marchibroda.