Irsay, apparently inebriated, according to several team sources, stormed into the dressing room after the game—the team's third straight defeat—and announced to the players that Schnellenberger was fired and that Thomas would be their new coach. The team almost lynched him. In the coach's office, Schnellenberger asked Ernie Accorsi, the Colts public relations director, what the ruckus was about. "I think he just fired you," Accorsi replied. Irsay charged in and confirmed it. Then he left in his limo. Thomas, meanwhile, couldn't get into the dressing room; he was held at bay by a security guard who was under orders not to open the room to the press. "There's a guy named Thomas demanding to get in," the guard told Accorsi.
Thomas was right behind him. "What's going on in here?"
"Irsay just fired Howard."
"That's not the worst news. He named you as head coach."
"You're no head coach, for god's sake," Mike Curtis said.
"You shut up."
It was true, though. Thomas didn't even know the team's playbook. And for the rest of the season—the Colts ended at 2-12—Thomas would ask startling things like "Do we have a halfback option pass?" in third-or fourth-down situations. To which someone would answer, "Yes, Coach, we have three of them."
Ted Marchibroda took over as coach the next year, and the team, with Jones at quarterback, went from 2-12 to 10-4 and won the first of three straight division titles. These were the Irsay glory years, but they were nonetheless turbulent. Before the opening game of the 1976 season, for instance, Marchibroda resigned subsequent to an Irsayian locker-room tantrum after an exhibition game loss in Detroit. Irsay dressed down the team with such malice that 16-year-old Jimmy climbed on the team bus afterward to apologize. Curiously, Marchibroda held Thomas responsible for the tirade, and he told Irsay in a meeting aboard Irsay's yacht—named, humbly, The Mighty I—that either Thomas had to go, or he would. Irsay sided with Thomas. When the news of Marchibroda's resignation reached the players, there was such a furor that Irsay told Thomas to ask Marchibroda back. Marchibroda returned, the Colts won their division again, and after the season it was Thomas who was fired.