I was pretty shocked to get the phone call this morning that Lindy Infante had died. His wife, Stephanie, confirmed that Lind passed away in St. Augustine after a lengthy illness at 75 years old. While he gained a national identity as the head coach of the Packers and Colts in the NFL, I got to know Lindy when he was the head coach of the Jacksonville Bulls, an expansion franchise in the fledgling USFL.
Former Bulls running backs coach Buddy Geis called me early with the news, and coincidentally, I was with Matt Robinson, the first big free agent signing for Lindy and the Bulls.
“He had the best offense ever,” Matt said shaking his head in disbelief. “Somebody was always open,” the Bulls first quarterback remembered.
While a lot of coaches have designed offenses to take advantage of whatever the defense was giving them, Infante had a whole different idea. He put the power in the quarterback and the wide receiver’s hands, letting them read what was going on in the play as it happened. It’s pretty routine now, but in 1984, it was considered revolutionary.
“Whatever the defense was doing before the snap of the ball and as you dropped back, if the quarterback and wide receiver saw the same thing, the defense had no chance,” Matt explained. “If they played inside technique, two deep, press coverage, it didn’t matter, you knew somebody would be open.”
Infante was the offensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals before he came to Jacksonville as the head coach of the Bulls. At the time he was one of the “hot” names in coaching. After the league folded, Lindy joined the Cleveland Browns as their offensive coordinator, helping create the “Cardiac Kids” with Bernie Kosar at quarterback and Infante calling the plays. Kosar was the only QB Lindy seemed to have any luck with.
Most of his career was marred by bad timing and injured signal callers.
With the Bulls, Infante found exactly what he was looking for in Robinson. A smart, talented thrower who had some experience. Matt had played for the Jets, Broncos and Bills in the NFL but was lured to Jacksonville and the USFL by Lindy’s offense. But after a couple games, Robinson injured his foot against the Tampa Bay Bandits and the Bulls were forced to go with backup Robby Mafouz. That year it was never the same.
The following year, the Bulls thought they had pulled off a coup, signing Brian Sipe from the Browns as their prized free agent. They traded Robinson to Portland and installed Sipe, another smart thrower from the NFL, as the starter. And again, after a couple of games, Sipe was blasted to the turf, tearing up his shoulder and collarbone. He, and the Bulls, were never the same, going through quarterbacks like Ben Bennett, Ed Luther and Buck Belue looking for somebody who could run Lindy’s offense. (BTW, that team started Archie Griffin and Mike Rozier in the backfield, three Heisman’s among them). The USFL folded that year.
After the stint with the Browns where he was again the hot coach in the league, the Green Bay Packers hired him as their head coach. His bad quarterback luck returned. Don Majkowski was the toast of the NFL after a Pro Bowl season and 16 starts in Green Bay, leading the Packers to a 10-6 record. Infante was the NFL’s Coach of the Year. But Majkowski held out the next season, played in 9 games and the Packers were headed downhill.
Lindy once told me that the Packers were prepared to get the first pick in the 1989 draft after a 4-12 season and were planning on rebuilding around Troy Aikman. But in the last game of the year, the Packers slipped to the #2 pick through a couple of fluke results and Aikman went to the Cowboys. The Packers drafted Michigan State’s Tony Mandarich, who was later exposed as a steroid fraud. When Infante lost his job as head coach of the Packers after the ’91 season, the team acquired Brett Favre the next year from Atlanta. His quarterback luck continued at his next head-coaching stop in Indianapolis. After two losing seasons and a 3-13 record in 1997, the Colts fired Infante. They drafted Peyton Manning that year.
I hosted Lindy’s show called “Bulls Sidelines” for the two years he and the Bulls were in town and got to know him pretty well. We shared a builder for both of our first houses in Mandarin. We played some golf together and talked a lot of football.
I last saw him at the Florida/Georgia Hall of Fame induction two years ago. I mentioned that we should get together and play some golf again. “Call me, I’m in the book,” he said in his post-football casual manner.