INDIANAPOLIS -- It would seem that Ron Meyer's coaching life has been something of an evening newscast: Triumphs. Scandal. Controversy. Film at 11.
There was Meyer flashing his toothy grin and showing his Super Bowl ring, which he collected as a member of the Dallas Cowboys' staff in 1971. And there was assistant coach Meyer exulting with the 1967 Rose Bowl champion Purdue team, just a few years after he was earning a football scholarship at Purdue as a walk-on and eventually being named to the Big 10 all-academic team.
And there's Meyer again, just two years after taking over a 1-10 team at Nevada-Las Vegas, a football program that was about to come up craps, and beating enough opponents to finish 12-1 and runner-up to the Division II national champions.
Then there's the dapper Meyer back lifting Southern Methodist from 4-7 to 18-4 and No. 6 national ranking in his last two seasons, although his six years there -- plus other regimes -- helped fill enough NCAA files to eventually lead to the elimination of SMU football.
And then he was coaching the New England Patriots, purging veterans at the football equivalent of the Titanic. He revived a 2-14 team and took it to the playoffs his first season but was fired two years later after a team mutiny.
So here's Meyer now, coach of the Indianapolis Colts, who are 10-6 (before yesterday's game) since he took over last Dec. 1, an impressive rebuilding job.
"I don't look back, I don't relish the past," he says. "Tomorrow is what's important."
So maybe Meyer, 46, is being consistent when he is asked about the highlight of his career.
"It's being here, in Indianapolis," he says, those intense blue eyes challenging anyone to doubt him. He's working for Bob Irsay, who treats football coaches like holiday turkeys. He's in a city that proudly calls itself the amateur sports capital of the world. That often fits for the Colts.
"I remember that first day, walking out in the cold, crisp air, back in the NFL. It was a second chance, a chance I never thought I'd get," says Meyer, who became a player agent following his 1984 dismissal in New England. "Was I blackballed, indirectly? I will say no one ever called to talk to me about coaching in the NFL again. I was devastated.
"So there I was, back again, and I almost had to pinch myself. I'm coaching football again. I remember walking out to meet the team and thinking to myself, 'Ron, now don't screw this one up, whatever you do.' "
Meyer has, he admits, screwed up. At New England, mostly.
He got rid of more than 25 players his first season, including several longtime veterans, and tried to trade others. He had crazy rules. Players couldn't raise their fingers in No. 1 salutes, although they greeted Meyer similarly on other occasions. They couldn't sit on their helmets or eat ice cream on the road. They had dress codes. They didn't like it.
"I know I was viewed as a disciplinarian, some kind of Lash LaRue character," Meyer says. "But the Patriots were a veteran-dominated old team. It was a country club, and the owner wanted something done about it.
"Now, I know this might sound strange, but I think my big problem was that I tried to be too nice a guy. I tried to please this guy and that, the owner, the media, player personnel. I was just so enamored with the idea of being an NFL coach that I tried to do what everybody wanted. I never really got to be Ron Meyer. When I came here, I decided, 'What you see is what you get. No veneer. This is Ron Meyer.' "
But just what that is remains unclear to many.
John Smith, a place kicker Meyer cut at New England, said he knew: "Ron Meyer's no more than a good used-car salesman."
Well, he is the son of a used-car salesman. "Slick" is a word many use to describe the charming Meyer, who grew up in central Ohio worshipping Paul Brown more than Jim Brown. Is he a miracle worker, flim-flam man, motivator, scoundrel or genius?
Colts General Manager Jim Irsay, who was responsible for bringing Meyer to the Colts when Meyer last fall appeared ready to replace Leon Burtnett at Purdue, found "opportunist" fit.
Irsay was a walk-on linebacker at SMU under Meyer. "I was not an important part of the team, but he was always helpful and understanding," Irsay says. "Of course, he knew my father owned an NFL team and maybe someday, who knows?"
That someday came when Rod Dowhower was fired after losing 13 straight, a move that, nevertheless, didn't please many players.
Until Meyer's first meeting with the team. "I'm a different coach. I made mistakes," Meyer admitted to the Colts. "But I'm more patient now. Give me at least the test of time. Don't judge me until you know me."
The first test came soon, when the issue of spatting -- wrapping shoes in white tape -- arose. It was banned by Dowhower, and several players accepted weekly fines rather than comply.
"He told us we could tape a part of our anatomy shut," Colts linebacker Barry Krauss remembers Meyer saying, "but as long as we came to play and played hard, that's all he asked. It made an impression. Also, he kept some continuity for a change. He didn't fire the assistants when he came, and he's been positive. It used to be we'd hear about what we'd have to do or get cut. He tells us how we're going to win."
So far, it has worked pretty well for everyone. The Colts, despite losing to Buffalo two weeks ago, were tied for first in the AFC East before yesterday's game and had the conference's second-best record since Meyer was hired. A victory yesterday or this Sunday gets Meyer a two-year extension on his three-year $825,000 deal.
This is what he told his team last week: "It's not a crime to be beaten. The crime is to stay beaten."