Ex-coach a Rick of all trades

NOBLESVILLE — Former Indianapolis Colts coach Rick Venturi is not about short answers.

Ask the 69-year-old Noblesville resident a question — any question — relating to football, and four decades of coaching experience come pouring out.

Venturi can’t help it. It’s who he is and will always be.

Since his final coaching stint — defensive coordinator and assistant head coach for the St. Louis Rams in 2008 — Venturi has worked as a trusted media voice for all things NFL.

He did it for a time in St. Louis and now does so locally, his focus being the Colts.

Whether it’s a radio spot or providing color commentary for televised Colts preseason games alongside Greenwood resident Don Fischer, Venturi breaks down the game the way few of his colleagues can.

Venturi’s knack for simplifying the complicated has him spreading himself thinly with the Colts’ regular-season opener at Buffalo only four days away.

The man who spent 13 seasons coaching on Indiana soil — four at Purdue (1973-76) and nine with the Colts (1984-93) sat down with the Daily Journal for a Q&A.

Q: From a media standpoint, exactly how many hats are you wearing these days?

What it’s come down to is I have a contract with (WFNI) 1070 AM (The Fan) that I work during the season from Aug. 1 until the Super Bowl, and we do three shows a week. I’m part of the Colts’ pregame show, and then I am also responsible for the draft show. Then this winter the Colts came to me and offered me the TV part of the package, which was to work with Don for the preseason games and starting Sunday having my own TV show. It’s a combination of TV and radio.

Q: You turn 70 in February, but if your phone rang today are you confident in your ability to work as an assistant coach for an NFL franchise or Division I program?

A: (Laughing) It’s amazing, when you need a job in your 40s or 50s and you’re on the street you can’t find one, and now all of a sudden it seems the older you get somebody likes your wisdom. It would have to be exactly the right situation. I really enjoy the second career challenge. Even though it’s an extension of my coaching career, I really got the thirst for the business itself. The advertising aspects, the timing aspects. I really enjoy it.

Q: Your ability to explain the game to an audience without talking down to it is refreshingly rare. Where does this come from?

A: I was always a teacher first. I love teaching the game. And remember when you’re in an NFL room, you have great diversity. You have guys with very high test scores and guys with test scores as low as you can get. I always thought the magic of coaching and teaching was to be able to take the very complex and make it very understandable without talking down to people. When I view the audience today, I view them as my players in the meeting room.

Q: After 25 years as a coach for NFL teams, do you have a favorite season?

A: My favorite season on many levels was 1994. After I got fired in Indianapolis, that was devastating. The next year I went to the Cleveland Browns with (head coach) Bill Belichick and Nick Saban on one of the greatest staffs ever. They hadn’t won yet, and all of a sudden we went 11-5 and won our first wild-card game. It was just a great football experience. They allowed me to have input. A lot of how I view things today were actually from that year.

Q: You were linebackers coach for the Baltimore Colts when the franchise moved to Indianapolis in 1984. As someone still trying to make a name for himself in the coaching fraternity, describe the stress of that point in your career.

A: It wasn’t as stressful as you might think. I was so thrilled to be in the National Football League that I was just open-minded about everything. When I went to Baltimore we understood that that could be a short-term thing. The issue was in doubt for several years, and I think people knew that. It wasn’t a big surprise. I enjoyed Baltimore, but you have to remember I’m a Midwestern kid, so moving back here was really bringing me back to my roots. I still remember Jim (Irsay) calling us in, and he says, ‘Hey, we’re going to Indianapolis, and we’re going tonight.’

Q: What requires more preparation, coaching football or having your own pregame TV and radio shows?

A: I approach it very similar. The thing that’s time-consuming with me is that I still watch 12 to 15 hours of tape a week. I center on the Colts and the opponent. I approach it exactly like coaching. Monday and Tuesday you can’t talk to me because I’m breaking down tape. My goal is that when I go on the air I’m going to give you the advantage of somebody that’s seen this for a long time and studied current football day after day after day. How a coach game-plans both sides of the ball, how he looks at it emotionally and all those other things.

Q: Announcing all four Colts games this preseason taught you what about this team?

A: For me they tell me a lot. It’s a bit of a projection, but this is how I see this team: It can be very successful, but it has to do the right things. This team perimeter-side on offense is as good as there is in the league. The acquisitions, the combination of old and new, the elite quarterback, you will not find a composite of receivers that’s better. The offensive line is problematic. It’s a line that I think can successfully block the run. It’s a line you’re going to have to help in pass protection, but I think (offensive coordinator) Pep Hamilton gets that. Defensively, it’s interesting. I think it’s incrementally improved with (Kendall) Langford, I think (Dwight) Lowery is a good addition. If the corners stay healthy and (Greg) Toler brings his ‘A’ game you’re still going to be pretty good out there. The biggest problems that I see about this defense is can they handle the weak-side running game and plays that are out in space between the numbers? If and when Robert Mathis comes back he changes the game because he is a transformational player. Now you can use four- and three-man rushes because you’ll always have to have a gameplan for Mathis, which does not exist now.

Q: Can you defend your record as head coach at Northwestern and with the Colts? It seems you weren’t put in the most ideal situations.

A: It is what it is. I’m not going to make excuses. The only regret that I would have is that I don’t believe I ever had a head coaching job where there was a level playing field. There certainly wasn’t at Northwestern in those days. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. My two interim jobs … you don’t get an interim job in the NFL unless there’s a disaster. But the greatest thing about Northwestern is I really grew up through hard times. It made a better man out of me. I think it made a better coach out of me. It humbled a very arrogant coach.

Rick Venturi pullout


Name: Rick Venturi

Age: 69

Born: Taylorville, IL

Family: Wife, Cheri; daughter, Marin, 44; son, Jason, 41; three grandchildren

High school: Pekin (IL) H.S. – 1964

College: Northwestern University – 1968

Majors: History/Education

Mike Beas is a sports writer for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at mbeas@dailyjournal.net.