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Ted Marchibroda passes away at 84: 'The man upstairs got a good coordinator'

Ted Marchibroda, a driving force behind the "K-Gun" offense in Buffalo, died at his Virginia home Saturday at the age of 84. The Buffalo Bills confirmed the former coach's death.

"The man upstairs got a good coordinator," said Bills receiver Andre Reed.

A coordinator that was decades ahead of his time.

Marchibroda was the Bills' quarterbacks coach 1987– '88 and the offensive coordinator 1989– '91, a mastermind behind the team's legendary "K-Gun" offense that reached four straight Super Bowls. He also was the head coach of the Baltimore Colts (1975- '79), Indianapolis Colts (1992- '95) and Baltimore Ravens (1996- '98), compiling a 87-98-1 career record. His true mark on the game can be seen weekly.

All up-tempo offenses today are, in large part, rooted in Marchibroda's innovative offense here in Buffalo.

“Ted had a vision," Reed said, "and the vision was he wanted to have a fast-paced offense and we just happened to have the right players in the right places. We were innovators and Ted was a big innovator of that offense."

The "K-Gun" offense was first unleashed in a 1989 playoff loss to the Cleveland Browns. Kicker Scott Norwood had a pulled muscle and couldn’t kick off that game. So every time the Bills scored, Cleveland struck right back. Marchibroda and the Bills decided to exclusively run a two-minute offense and the results were devastating. Despite losing, 34-30, Jim Kelly had thrown for 405 yards, four touchdowns... and the no-huddle stuck.

That plane ride back, general manager Bill Polian, head coach Marv Levy and Marchibroda realized they had something special in the works.

Into that first Super Bowl season, 1990, Marchibroda started to extensively rely on the no-huddle the 13th game of the season against Buddy Ryan's Philadelphia Eagles. Buffalo took a 24-0 lead in the first 13 minutes of the game with Marchibroda giving Kelly control at the line of scrimmage.

Under Marchibroda, Buffalo's offense improved from 12th in the NFL to fifth in 1989 and then ranked in the top six for the next six seasons. The Bills won four straight AFC Championships and send four players from that offense (Kelly, Reed, Lofton and Thurman Thomas) into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. As Reed explained, the Cincinnati Bengals ran a hurry-up offense of their own with Boomer Esiason in the 1980's but Marchibroda took it to a different level in eliminating the huddle entirely.

"A lot of hand signals, a lot of head gestures, a lot of things Jim did we got accustomed to and it became second nature," Reed said. "And that was all because of Ted Marchibroda. Not only was he a good coach — letting us be the players we wanted to be — he was really an outstanding person. ... You could always talk to Ted about anything. I got to know him, not only as a coach, but as a friend. He was a reason why I’m in the Hall of Fame, too, because of that offense.”

The way Lofton explains it, Marchibroda took what would've been a good offense and made it great, historic.

"With what he concocted offensively," Lofton said, "he made us a lot better than what we would've been. We still would've scored some points but we wouldn't have been anything prolific like what he dreamed up."

The key was simplicity. Whereas most offenses called very long plays to detail who was doing what, Marchibroda made very complicated concepts easily digestible on the fly.

"The verbiage was spit out really quickly," Lofton said. "At the time, everybody was into the long verbiage and he simplified it so much so that you could say '891' and that was the entire play --- the route, blocking, protection, formation. It was kind of like creating the Internet. That's how innovative he was."

Born just outside of Pittsburgh, in Franklin, Pa., Marchibroda also played quarterback in college at St. Bonaventure University in 1950 and 1951 and was later inducted into the Bonnies' Hall of Fame. Drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers, he'd serve in the Army and play four seasons for the Steelers and Chicago Cardinals, starting his coaching career as an assistant in 1961 with the Washington Redskins. Marchibroda also had coaching stops with the Los Angeles Rams, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions and Philadelphia Eagles.

With the Baltimore Colts in 1975, Marchibroda turned a 2-12 team that scored 190 points into a 10-4 club that reached the playoffs and scored 395 points. And in 1976, his Colts led the NFL in yards, points and quarterback Bert Jones was the league MVP. Future Hall of Famer Bill Belichick actually got his first coaching job when Marchibroda hired him in 1975 with the Colts.

When the New England Patriots' fast-paced offense took off in 2012, Belichick was quick to credit Marchibroda for teaching him how to streamline play-calling.

Now, as Reed said, there's a coordinator "upstairs."

"We didn’t go to four straight Super Bowls by accident," Reed said. "There were a lot of different things that had to go on for that to work. Ted Marchibroda was a big part of it. Without the K-Gun, who knows if I’d be in the Hall of Fame? It just so happened I was in the right place.

“You never forget those people. Those people transcend time."


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