Ron Meyer, the football coach who in 1987 led the Indianapolis Colts to their first division title and playoff appearance, has died. He was 76.
Meyer died Tuesday after collapsing with an aortic aneurism while playing golf in the Austin, Texas suburb of Lakeway, his family said in a written statement.
Meyer coaching career in Indiana spanned high school, college and professional football. He coached the Colts from 1986 to 1991, compiling a 36-35 record overall.
Born in Westerville, Ohio, on Feb. 17, 1941, Meyer was a walk-on player at Purdue University who became a two-year starter in the Boilermaker defensive backfield for Coach Jack Mollenkopf in 1961 and 1962. He graduated with honors in 1963 after winning the Big Ten Medal of Honor for academic and athletic proficiency.
He spent the 1964 season as the head coach at Penn High School in Mishwaka, then returned to Purdue as an assistant coach from 1965 to 1970, where he built a reputation as a successful recruiter.
Meyer won 27 games in three seasons as head coach at UNLV before taking the head job at Southern Methodist University in 1976. He turned a middling program into a Southwest Conference champion. His "Pony Express" powerhouse teams were led by running backs Eric Dickerson and Craig James.
"Devastated to hear the passing of my coach and great friend Ron Meyer. My mom and I loved Coach Meyer. He was a great man," tweeted former NFL star Eric Dickerson, who played for Meyer at SMU from 1979-1981 and later the Colts.
After early struggles, the SMU program—which had already been sanctioned by the NCAA for infractions before Meyer arrived—took off as wealthy boosters, fueled by the region's economic boom of the late 1970s and early 1980s, got caught up in a payment scheme designed to bring in top players. The cheating survived long after Meyer left for the NFL and eventually led the NCAA to first put the program on probation in 1985, then shut it down in 1987.
Meyer left SMU before the harshest sanctions hit, taking over the NFL's New England Patriots in 1982. He would spend parts of nine seasons in the NFL, but his first one produced perhaps his most memorable moment, when he called for a snowplow to clear a spot so the Patriots could kick the winning field goal against the Miami Dolphins.
Meyer was named AFC coach of the year in the strike-shortened 1982 season when led the Patriots to a 5-4 record and the playoffs with the key victory over the Dolphins in a December snowstorm in New England. Before the game, the Patriots offered $10 and a free ticket to anyone who would help shovel snow out of the seats. The conditions didn't let up, making it difficult for field crews just to clear the yard markers.
The game was 0-0 and both teams had already missed field goals when Meyer called time out late in the fourth quarter and sent a stadium worker named Mark Henderson out to clear the Miami 23-yard line for John Smith's 33-yard attempt.
"(Meyer) said, 'Get out there and do something.' I knew exactly what he meant, so I jumped on the tractor," Henderson told the Boston Globe in 2010.
With clear turf, Smith easily made the kick as Dolphins coach Don Shula furiously looked on from the opposite sideline. The final score was 3-0.
"I wanted to go out there and punch him out," Shula said years later. "In retrospect, I should have laid down in front of the snowplow."
The snowplow wasn't really a snowplow. The green John Deere tractor with a brush rigged onto the front is still on display in the Patriots' hall of fame.
Meyer spent two and a half seasons with the Patriots, then coached the Colts from 1986 to 1991.
The Colts were 0-13 in the 1986 season when Meyer was hired. The franchise had won only nine games in 45 tries since moving from Baltimore to Indianapolis when Meyer took over. He promptly led them to three straight victories to end the season and then a 9-6 record and AFC title the next.
But the Colts missed the playoffs by one game in each of the next three seasons. Meyer was fired after the team started the 1991 season 0-5.
"It's no accident that at every stop he coached downtrodden teams to great heights. He gave them hope. They believed in him. And he showed them the way," the Meyer family said.
Meyer's career coaching record in college was 61-40-1. He was 54-50 in the NFL.
"I am sad to hear of Ron Meyer's passing," said Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft. "He was a colorful head coach who was very entertaining for fans during his tenure."
A memorial service is planned for Saturday at Tarrytown United Methodist Church. He is survived by wife Cindy, four children and grandchildren.