TAMPA, JAN. 25 -- Ted Marchibroda was in the midst of a sabbatical of sorts from professional football in 1986, "watching a lot of television and resting," when old friend Marv Levy called and asked him to shuffle up to the Buffalo Bills as an assistant coach.

Marchibroda had been an assistant with the Philadelphia Eagles before the staff was fired after the 1985 season, to be replaced by Buddy Ryan. Marchibroda still had a year on his contract, and was more than willing to take a paid respite at the Northern Virginia home he'd owned since he joined George Allen and the Washington Redskins in 1971.

But when Levy called there was no hesitation about accepting. "All I had to do was look at the quarterback position," Marchibroda said. "Jim Kelly was there. I thought they had the makings of a pretty good football team. It was not hard to go."

Within two years, Marchibroda was offensive coordinator. His full-time implementation of the Bills' no-huddle offense late this season is being described as a significant trend for the 1990s.

The Bills are not the first to use the no-huddle. It's basically the two-minute drill usually run at the ends of the second and fourth quarters. The Bengals began using it in their regular offense two years ago, mostly to keep opposing defenses from making situation substitutions and to force penalties for too many men on the field.

Levy, in fact, complained so bitterly about the Bengals attack that the NFL adapted a rule last year that allowed teams "reasonable time" to make changes, but only if the offense made substitutions. The Bills simply like the pace of the no-huddle and believe it plays to the strengths of Kelly, the man Marchibroda describes as "a Michael Jordan, a Larry Bird, a Magic Johnson -- he wants the ball in his hands when the game is on the line."

And Marchibroda is the man who is giving it to him, allowing Kelly to call his own plays, the only quarterback in the National Football League with that freedom.

That is hardly a new concept for Marchibroda. He coached Roman Gabriel in Los Angeles, had Billy Kilmer and Sonny Jurgensen in Washington, and Bert Jones in his five years as head coach of the Baltimore Colts in the mid-1970s, before two 5-11 seasons cost him his job. All four called their own plays.

"I've always believed in letting the quarterback call his own plays," Marchibroda said. "Tom Landry helped start the trend the other way. He had such a complicated offense, all the motion and movement, he felt the coaches were better prepared to do that than the players, and a lot of people went along. When I was with George Allen {1971-74}, we played Dallas nine times, won five and lost four and the point differential in all those games was something like 10, 15 points. The way I look at it, he had success doing it his way, and we had success doing it our way. They're both sound philosophies, and there's plenty of room in the game for both."

The Buffalo staff dabbled with the no-huddle last season, and talked about using it more often in 1990. In the first game against Philadelphia "we used it on our opening drive and went 70 yards for a field goal," Marchibroda said. "Then we built up an early lead and we liked what we saw." The Bills went to it full-time in December in a victory over Indianapolis and are expected to continue the trend Sunday against the Giants.

Buffalo's offense has been spectacular all season, leading the NFL in scoring. In the playoffs, it's averaging 47.5 points a game and more than seven yards a play in destructions of the Dolphins and Raiders. Still, Marchibroda knows the Giants live by defense and "I'm sure they're working on something to slow us down," he said. "But we are very confident with this scheme. It's been great for us."

Marchibroda has helped mold Kelly into a star. "The best quarterbacks I've had are Gabriel, Jurgensen and Jones, and he's in that category right now," Marchibroda said. "He's got the competitiveness all those guys had. He wants the ball and we give it to him. . . . He knows what to do and, just as important, he knows what not to do."

Marchibroda, who took the Colts to three straight playoffs then suffered when Jones deteriorated physically in his last two years, may be a hot commodity again. He insists he doesn't think about being a head coach. "If it happens, fine. If it doesn't that's fine too. I'm happy doing what I'm doing. . . . Life is too short to worry about it."