Ron Meyer, a coach who built SMU into a national power before a 10-year NFL career with two teams, died Tuesday at the age of 76.
Meyer was born in Columbus, Ohio. He played quarterback and defensive back at Purdue before embarking on his coaching career.
Meyer spent two years coaching high school until he returned to his alma mater as an assistant. His first NFL job was as a scout for the Dallas Cowboys. Meyer’s first head coaching job was at UNLV from 1973-75. In 1974, he led the school to an undefeated season and an appearance in the NCAA Division II Playoffs. Meyer became head coach at SMU in 1976. His tenure with the Mustangs was highlighted by the Pony Express backfield of Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson and Craig James.
The Mustangs suffered an ignominious defeat at the hands of BYU and quarterback Jim McMahon in the 1980 Holiday Bowl. They came back to win the Southwest Conference title in 1981. Meyer was 61-40-1 as a college head coach, which made his leaving the Mustangs for the New England Patriots in all the more surprising.
To this day, speculation is that Meyer left SMU for the NFL because of an NCAA investigation into recruiting practices.
The NCAA found that SMU had massive and repeat violations, the most egregious of which was a “slush fund” used to pay players and their families as well as serve as an enticement to prospective student/athletes. SMU’s football program was suspended for the 1987 season, the result of NCAA rules changes regarding multiple violations by an individual school nicknamed the “death penalty”. SMU also self-imposed a penalty of not playing during the 1988 season.
Meyer’s Patriots tenure began in the strike shortened 1982 season. He is perhaps best remembered to Pats fans for his actions during the Snowplow Game against the Miami Dolphins on December 12, 1982. With 4:45 remaining in a snowy game at Foxboro Stadium, Meyer called upon a stadium worker to drive his snowplow on the field to clear a path for a field goal attempt.
Meyer led the Patriots to the playoffs in his first season but was fired midway through the 1984 season despite having a 5-3 record. After spending a year out of coaching, Meyer was hired by the Indianapolis Colts for the final three games of the 1986 season. The Colts won those final three games and kept the momentum going into 1987, winning the AFC East title for the first time in 10 years.
Meyer was helped by the presence of his college running back Eric Dickerson, who had been acquired by the Colts in a three-team, 10-player trade midway through the 1987 season.
Unfortunately, the Colts were not able to replicate their 1987 success. Under Meyer, they reached the playoffs only once in his six years with the team. Meyer was widely criticized for trading up to select quarterback Jeff George first overall in the 1990 NFL Draft and signing him to the richest rookie contract at NFL history at the time. He was fired by the Colts after beginning the 1991 season with five consecutive losses.
Meyer’s NFL record was 54-50 with the Patriots and Colts, 0-2 in the postseason. After leaving the Colts, he served as an NFL analyst for CNN. Meyer also coached the Canadian Football League’s Las Vegas Posse and the Xtreme Football League’s Chicago Enforcers.