It was the 1998 season.
Ted Marchibroda was our head coach, and we owned a 3-7 record in mid-November, on our way to finishing 6-10. The Modells, Art and team president David, had made the decision that Ted would be let go after the season ended.
What complicated the issue is that, rightfully so, we wanted to start our search about whom should replace the respected Coach Marchibroda, who was buried yesterday after passing last Saturday morning.
God love Art Modell, he often made decisions on a quick study. And, obviously, he made a lot of right decisions in what, hopefully, will one day be recognized as a Hall of Fame career. Heck, he hired Bill Belichick as the head coach of the Browns after spending a few hours with him on a January evening in 1991. And, he didn't look at the entire field when he asked Ozzie Newsome to lead the Ravens' football operations in early 1996. Some pretty good hires.
Some of us, headed by Art's son David, wanted to make sure we did a thorough study of the candidates. David formed a committee that included Newsome as his co-chair, Pro Personnel Director James Harris and his assistant John Wooten, Pat Moriarty (VP of football administration), Jim Bailey, who was our executive VP at the time, Phil Savage (director of college scouting) and me.
We still had six games to play, and back then, we worked in a small building that previously was the training site for Baltimore City police.
Out of respect to Ted, we decided we should not meet in that facility. That would be too obvious. David hosted the sessions at his home. We met once a week, sometimes twice, usually in the late afternoons.
Remembering Ted Marchibroda, the first head coach in Ravens franchise history.
Our absence was conspicuous, including to Ted. My office was next to his, and we talked often. He regularly walked down the hall to meet with Ozzie and Harris. A few weeks into our study, Ted said to me: "Bunch of you guys seem to be leaving early these days." And, he smiled. He didn't have a question, just a knowing look that he knew something was up.
We all felt terrible about these "secret meetings." We loved Ted. Art and David may have loved him the most. Replacing him was unfair in many ways. Our defense wasn't there yet, but was starting to come together. Within two years, it became great. Ted was not going to be there for that maturation.
At that time, it was about business. Fans and sponsors had grown restless, and they weren't, we believed, going to continue to "buy" the status quo.
Ted, this kind man with such grace, who knew more football than any of us and was a tough competitor, was the sacrificial lamb.
The meetings were terrific in the sense of the research we were doing. We were confident we would find an outstanding coach. And, we did. We hired Brian Billick, who led us to the Super Bowl XXXV championship after the 2000 season, and, in 2006, the best regular-season record in our history (13-3).
However, there was not much joy at those meetings. That was out of respect to Ted. He was still our coach, and we were fighting to win as many games as we could during the remainder of the '98 campaign. Marchibroda remained devoted to the task at hand – winning the next game.
Ted's Last Game
Our last game that season was a 19-10 victory over the Lions at our new home, now called M&T Bank Stadium. Rumors both locally and on national pre-game TV shows indicated Ted would be fired. The post-game interview that day could have been awful, but Marchibroda's dignity saved the moment.
Vito Stellino, a then-reporter for The Baltimore Sun whose tone often seemed mean-spirited, peppered Ted about being fired.
"Do you think that was your last game as the Ravens' head coach?"
"Do you expect to have a job with the Ravens tomorrow?"
Marchibroda never lost his cool. He calmly answered each question, without rancor and without being testy.
"We'll see what tomorrow will bring. I'd like to continue coaching the Ravens," Ted repeated in a number of different ways.
Stellino was relentless and tried one more: "Do you have a meeting scheduled with Art Modell, either tonight or tomorrow?"
With that, Ted smiled and looked over at me and answered. "Not that I'm aware, but Kevin may know."
I felt so guilty. He was my friend, and we remained friends through the years.
No Guile With Marchibroda
When you see an NFL coach at a press conference, or a celebrity, a presidential candidate – the President for that matter, they usually have a sheet with "talking points" on it. These are lists prepared by dweebs like me that suggest what subjects should be addressed by the speaker, possible answers and questions likely to be asked.
Dutifully, I prepared these lists for Coach Marchibroda through 1996 and halfway through the 1997 season. (Ted had not been given these earlier in his career.)
These lists aren't that sophisticated. For a head coach, it might have things like:
• INJURY UPDATE
• SALUTE STANDOUT PLAYERS FROM YESTERDAY'S GAME
• MIGHT WANT TO GIVE A SHOUTOUT TO COORDINATOR
• STAY AWAY FROM QUESTIONS ABOUT VONTAZE BURFICT
You get the idea.
After a 14-13 loss at San Diego in '97 (Nov. 15), I came to get Ted for his Monday press conference. I handed him the usual "talking points" list, and he said: "You know, I do appreciate these, but you don't have to do them for me. You have enough to do with everything else."
I explained to Ted that it was no issue for me and that it "was part of my job." He smiled his grandfather grin and said, "I'll be OK. I'll answer the ones I want, and I'll always give an honest answer to the ones I will answer." We laughed.
I thought of that conversation during Ted's funeral service yesterday and assembled my last list for the Ravens' first head coach. Ted, here's a final "talking points" of how many of us saw you:
- HIGHLY COMPETITIVE
- THE BEST OF THE NFL
- WE'RE ALL BETTER FOR KNOWING YOU
- THANK YOU AND REST IN PEACE
Talk with all of you soon,
P.S. While Coach Marchibroda was a tough guy, he was most gracious. He didn't talk behind anyone's back, but he had a great saying that a number of us stole from him. If I said "so and so is an idiot," Ted would smile and say: "He doesn't know what he doesn't know." I think of that phrase today and smile while remembering Ted.