Ron Meyer, former coach of SMU, Patriots, Colts dies

Ron Meyer, who coached Southern Methodist onto the national stage in college and later coached the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts in the NFL, has died.

He was 76.

Meyer began his head-coaching career at UNLV in 1973 and led the Runnin' Rebels to an 11-0 record and the Division II playoffs. He moved to SMU in 1976 and brought the Mustangs to national prominence, helped by the exploits of 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 Dickerson, who played for Meyer at SMU from 1979 to 1981.

In 1981, his last season at the school, Meyer led SMU to a 10-1 record and the Southwest Conference title.

But the NCAA would later discover that the success was partially built on a system that paid recruits. Boosters and assistant coaches were paying players, and coaches knew about it, as did high-placed administrators. On Feb. 6, 1987, five years after Meyer left the school, SMU was given the "death penalty," the harshest penalty ever levied against a major college football program, for violations that occurred partly under his watch. It included a complete one-year ban on competition, followed by a partial ban in year two.

Meyer left SMU for the NFL in 1982, taking over as coach of the Patriots. In his first season, he led the Patriots to a 5-4 record in that strike-shortened campaign and earned AFC Coach of the Year honors. He might be best known for the infamous Snowplow Game that season.

On Dec. 12, the Patriots were hosting the Miami Dolphins in frigid conditions. The teams were in a scoreless game with just less than five minutes remaining. The Patriots had the ball at the Dolphins' 16-yard line and Meyer called for kicker John Smith to attempt a 33-yard field goal. But first, he called on Mark Henderson, who was operating the John Deere tractor as part of a work-release program at a local prison, to sweep a clean spot for Smith to make the kick and send the Patriots to victory.

"[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 John Deere tractor is now part of the Patriots Hall of Fame.

In 1984, Meyer was abruptly fired midseason, with the Patriots 5-3.

He took over the 0-13 Indianapolis Colts late in 1986, and the Colts went on to win their final three games. Indianapolis went 9-6 the next season, winning the AFC East, and Meyer was again named AFC Coach of the Year. The Colts never reached the playoffs again in Meyer's tenure, and he was fired after five games in the 1991 season.,

His overall record in the NFL was 54-50.

Meyer later worked in television and coached the Las Vegas Posse of the Canadian Football League and the Chicago Enforcers of the XFL.

"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."

Meyer was born in Westerville, Ohio, on Feb. 17, 1941, and he was a walk-on football player at Purdue.

Rev. Bobbi Kaye Jones of Tarrytown United Methodist Church in Austin, Texas, said a memorial service is planned for Saturday. Details on survivors were incomplete.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.