INDIANAPOLIS – Rick Venturi served with the Colts from 1982-93 as linebackers coach, defensive coordinator and interim head coach.
With a 27-year NFL career, Venturi is known as a solid coach. Venturi is in Indianapolis this week covering Super Bowl XLVI for a St. Louis radio station. His career ended in St. Louis after the 2008 season, but family ties bring him to Indianapolis twice a month.
Indianapolis is a city Venturi loves, and he is very fond of the team that brought him into the league in 1982. During the 1991 season, he succeeded Ron Meyer as head coach for the final 11 games.
That period served as the highest post Venturi gained in his career. It also put him in closer working proximity to Jim Irsay, then the club's general manager. Venturi holds a deep personal and professional regard for Irsay, and it is something he touched on this week.
"I loved working for Jim (Irsay)," said Venturi. "When I was the head coach in 1991, I absolutely loved working with him on a daily basis. He basically was running the team day-in and day-out.
"Jim, to me, is the best. I thought so before. I think that now. The thing people forget about Jim is that football is his life. He's eclectic in the sense that he has a lot of interests. I consider myself eclectic, a guy who can enjoy life and can do it outside of football.
"Jim was raised in this business. He did everything from the ground up, from public relations to scouting, to football, to coaching. When you deal with Jim, you're not dealing with someone who made money outside then all of the sudden gets a football team thrown to him. When you deal with Jim straight up, you're dealing with a guy who understands the game, how it's played and how it's managed. That's rare. Most owners are guys who have done it someplace else, then had a team thrust on them. When you deal with those guys, they don't know what you're talking about. With Jim, you can deal straight across the board on football issues, financial issues. He not only made his bones there, he's grown up in the operation."
Venturi lasted for two seasons after being the interim head coach. He left the club and worked with Cleveland (1994-95), New Orleans (1996-05) and St. Louis (2006-08). He succeeded Jim Mora as Saints interim head coach in 1996, leading New Orleans for the last eight games. He and Mora are the only two head coaches with Indianapolis and the Saints, and Venturi remembers when he left the Colts after 12 years.
"I remember when it was over here, it was one of the saddest days of my life," said Venturi. "It was one of those things where maybe you thought you would be there forever, but it didn't work out. I went on to a lot of good things. I went on to Cleveland with (Bill) Belichick, then on to New Orleans. New Orleans ended up being really fun for me, then I finished in St. Louis, a total of 27 years.
"Indianapolis, the Colts, the horseshoes, they were my baptism. They were my entrée into pro football."
Venturi stays fond of Indianapolis, and he feels Colts fans have grown with the team.
"The fans here have gone through a great Colts decade," said Venturi. "When the Colts came (in 1984), it was a basketball town. It's been transformed into a pro football town. I probably did not envision this becoming a football town. I grew up in Illinois, and you always though of Indiana as basketball on all levels.
"To see the city get a world championship in its belt and go on to host a Super Bowl is great. I had to pinch myself as I was driving downtown this week, I'll have to be honest with you. I saw that big Super Bowl trophy embossed on the Marriott, it blew my mind, just the reality of it."
Venturi is happy in his current role. That he is thriving is no surprise, through the trade in which he is surprises some.
"My last year in coaching was 2008 in St. Louis," said Venturi. "I was prepared to retire to Florida. Then I was asked to do pro football work for the ESPN station in St. Louis. Little by little, I have my own show, and it's been successful. I write one column a week. Some of my buddies say I've gone to the dark side, but I'm enjoying it. It lets me stay in the game."