clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Throwback Thursday: Colts 1980s Coaches

Continuing in our look at the Colts coaches by decade, Throwback Thursday turns toward the 1980s. Another decade that saw numerous coaches and not a lot of winning. Much like the 1970s, the Colts longest tenured coach came at the end of the period.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Last week, Throwback Thursday looked at the Colts coaches of the 1970s. It was a decade in which the Colts won a Super Bowl, but also had five different head coaches in five years, with a total of six in the decade. It could have been more had Robert Irsay not sided with Ted Marchibroda over former GM Joe Thomas.

This week, we'll delve into the 1980s, a decade in which the Colts had five head coaches, and again saw most of their success in the latter part of the decade.

To replace the departed Marchibroda, the Colts turned to former Cleveland Brown tackle Mike McCormack.

As a player, McCormack won two NFL titles, and was named to the Pro Bowl four times. Paul Brown would go on to call McCormack the finest offensive tackle to play football. McCormack would be named to the NFL Hall of Fame as a player.

After retiring, McCormack spent some years as an assistant in Washington before being hired by the Eagles to be the head coach. After compiling a 16-25-1 record, he was fired as the Eagles coach. After spending five more years as an assistant in Cincinnati, McCormack was hired by the Colts in 1980.

He lasted only two disappointing seasons in Baltimore. In his two seasons with the Colts, McCormick compiled a 9-20 record as the head coach and was fired.

He would later become General Manager of the Seattle Seahawks, and eventually president of the expansion Carolina Panthers, where we worked alongside our friend Bill Polian.

The Colts turned to former Arizona State head coach Frank Kush. While at ASU, Kush compiled an impressive resume, with only one losing season as well as an undefeated campaign. He would be fired from ASU, though, in large part due to a lawsuit filed by one of his former players, and the investigation that followed.

After a year coaching the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the CFL, Kush was hired as the Colts head coach. His first season turned out to be the strike-shortened season, where teams only played nine games. The Colts won none, finishing with a 0-8-1 record.

Despite not winning a game, Kush remained the head coach, leading the Colts to a 7-9 record in his second season.

Then, before his third (and final) season as the Colts coach, the team moved to Indianapolis, although Kush apparently lobbied for a Phoenix relocation. After one year in Indianapolis Kush resigned to become head coach of the Arizona Outlaws of the USFL.

In the ESPN documentary "Elway to Marino" it is heavily implied that Kush's presence on the Colts' sideline played a role in John Elway electing to not play for the Colts.

As it happens, Kush actually quit with one game to go on the Colts schedule. This meant that assistant Hal Hunter became the third Colts head coach of the 1980s. For one game. Which he lost.

To start the 1985 campaign, the Colts turned to Rod Dowhower to be the next head man.

Before being hired as the Colts coach, Dowhower had a wide variety of coaching experience on the offensive side of the ball, although most of it was in the collegiate ranks. He did serve as the head man at Stanford for one season in which the Cardinal went 5-5-1.

Five years after his .500 campaign at Stanford, Dowhower was hired by the Colts. In 1985 the Colts won five games, surprisingly that was an improvement over some recent seasons.

In 1986, though, the Colts went in reverse. Dowhower's team got the season off to a 0-13 start. After dropping the first 13 games, Dowhower was fired. He would revert back to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coaching in the subsequent years before being hired as the head coach at Vanderbilt. Here, Dowhower went 4-18 in his two seasons before again being fired.

The Colts finally made a good decision, though, in Dowhower's replacement.

To replace Dowhower, the Colts hired former UNLV, SMU, and New England Patriots coach Ron Meyer.

Meyer won his first three games with the Colts, closing out the 1986 season with a 3-13 record. In his second year, the Colts saw a huge turnaround.

Helped primarily by the addition of Eric Dickerson, the Colts vaulted to the top of the AFC East and into the playoffs, where they were knocked back out by the Cleveland Browns. For the turnaround, Meyer was named AFC Coach of the Year.

However, the Colts failed to reach the playoffs in 1988 or 1989, and saw their record drop by one win in each of those two seasons.

Next week, we'll jump ahead to the 1990s where we'll finish talking about Ron Meyer, revisit a former head coach, and look at a turning point in the franchise.