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Offensive innovator Ted Marchibroda dies at 84

Ted Marchibroda

14 Jan 1996: Indianapolis Colts head coach Ted Marchibroda looks on during a playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Steelers won the game, 20-16.

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Ted Marchibroda, a quarterback and coach who was one of the league’s most innovative thinkers, has died at the age of 84.

All of today’s up-tempo, pass-first offenses owe something to Marchibroda, who was decades ahead of his time in his approach to offensive football. At a time when most coaches thought ball control and time of possession were of paramount importance, Marchibroda ran hurry-up, no-huddle offenses that kept opposing defenses on their heels.

A good college quarterback at St. Bonaventure and the University of Detroit, Marchibroda set a college football record with 390 passing yards in one game, and he was the fifth overall pick in the 1953 NFL draft. But after his rookie year with the Steelers, Marchibroda left to serve in the Army, and although he would return to the NFL and play two seasons with the Steelers and one with the Chicago Cardinals, he didn’t have much of a playing career.

But Marchibroda had a phenomenal coaching career. In 1961 he got his first NFL caoching job, as an assistant in Washington, and he remained there five years. He then spent five more seasons on the staff of the Los Angeles Rams before returning to Washington to serve as George Allen’s offensive coordinator. After four years there, Marchibroda became head coach of the Baltimore Colts.

Taking over a team that had gone 2-12 the year before, Marchibroda installed an innovative offense and took the NFL by storm, going 10-4 and taking the Colts to the playoffs. How big an impact did Marchibroda’s offense make? Despite making few major personnel changes, the Colts went from scoring 190 points in 1974 to scoring 395 points in 1975. In 1976 the Colts’ offense got even better, leading the league in both yards and points as quarterback Bert Jones was named the league MVP.

Marchibroda was fired as head coach after the 1979 season but had success as an offensive coordinator in Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia and especially Buffalo, where he was the mastermind behind the K-Gun offense that helped the Bills win four straight AFC Championship Games.

After his success in Buffalo, the Colts hired Marchibroda back as head coach, and he once again made an immediate impact, taking over a team that went 1-15 and going 9-7 in his first year. Marchibroda finished his coaching career as head coach of the Ravens from 1996 to 1998.

Among the many coaches who were influenced by Marchibroda was Bill Belichick, who got his first coaching job when Marchibroda hired him with the Colts in 1975. In 2012, as the Patriots began to use the no-huddle offense more often, Belichick credited Marchibroda as the coach who taught him how to speed up an offense. Marchibroda is now gone, but his influence on the NFL remains.