A little over two weeks ago Colts owner Jim Irsay began moving his team in a new direction, parting ways with the Polians, former vice chairman Bill Polian and former GM Chris Polian, after 14 mostly successful years with the organization. Irsay and new GM Ryan Grigson on Tuesday continued down a new path, one that will be led by a coach other than Jim Caldwell, who was relieved of his duties after three seasons in control.
Caldwell tasted success early, leading the Colts to a 24-8 regular-season record, a pair of division titles and one Super Bowl appearance in his first two years. But in his third season, in 2011, the Colts' train completely derailed without its engineer, QB Peyton Manning, and now Caldwell is out after a disappointing 2-14 finish.
The PFW spin
Colts fans — some of whom threatened not to renew their season tickets if Caldwell returned — are likely rejoicing over Irsay and Grigson's decision to jettison Caldwell, whose stubbornness and lack of emotion often rubbed fans the wrong way. As recently as 24 hours ago, signs pointed toward Caldwell surviving the 2-14 wreckage and returning for a fourth season. However, the Colts are clearly changing the way they operate — pretty uncharacteristic for news of Caldwell's ouster to be broken on the team's website, eh? — and decided they needed a clean and complete break from the '11 meltdown.
We think Caldwell is a good football coach who will land on his feet quickly. The job he did in '10, leading his troops to the postseason despite a roster decimated by injuries, shouldn't be discounted. Nor should the effort from his players this season. Remember, other than a few games — most notably the 62-7 dismembering by the Saints — the Colts were in most contests. His players continued to fight, even when there was little to fight for, which is a true sign of the respect he had in the locker room.
Still, going 2-14 often leads to turnover, and this was no exception. Not having Manning wasn't the only problem; Caldwell was to blame for plenty. He was simply too slow to react on a number of important issues, including waiting too long to demote QB Curtis Painter, who everyone but Caldwell — and Bill Polian — could see was not progressing. It took until halfway through the season for Caldwell to adjust the team's offensive philosophy, although it was apparent the day Manning went down that it didn't have the proper pieces in place to be a passing offense.
Caldwell took accountability for a pair of poor hires, defensive coordinator Larry Coyer and special-teams coordinator Ray Rychleski, both of whom were fired. Yet, Coyer was never the right guy to run Indianapolis' preferred Tampa-2 scheme, and, the special teams, a systemic problem for the Colts predating Caldwell, only got worse on his watch. With wholesale changes on the horizon, the Colts' brass likely decided Caldwell's poor hires didn't bode well for the even bigger decisions that are forthcoming.
On top of that, Caldwell was never a great in-game coach. His poor clock management and timeout usage, particularly in a last-second defeat to the Jaguars in '10 and the wild-card defeat to the Jets last postseason, still linger. In fairness, Caldwell showed improvement in those areas this season, but it made little difference for a two-win team.
We could spend all day picking apart the highs and lows of the Caldwell tenure, but it will be avoiding the real reason the Colts fired him: He simply wasn't the guy they want grooming the quarterback of the future, Andrew Luck. Oftentimes, when a new QB comes in, he does so along with a whole new regime. Franchise QBs like Luck don't come around often, and the Colts aren't very often in a position to wipe the slate clean, either. For a guy who believes in continuity as much as Irsay, there is something to be said for marrying Luck with a new head coach and his staff from Day One. At the end of the day, the Colts seized that opportunity.
What does today's news mean for Manning?
Well, we doubt he is thrilled by the firing. No creature of habit likes disturbances to its routine, particularly a soon-to-be 36-year-old QB who has played in one offense for his entire career. But just as Manning wasn't given a vote on the hiring of Grigson, he likely wasn't asked for input on Caldwell's fate, either.
Grigson surely had a major say in Caldwell's firing, which is significant. He will lead the new head-coaching search, likely to include candidates from his former stomping grounds in Philadelphia. But Irsay is still this team's de facto GM, especially when it comes to making the call on Manning, which Irsay will make alone. The owner is on record as saying Manning will be back if he is healthy, and that is unlikely to change. Trading Manning is not an option, and one can take it to the bank that the Colts aren't letting him walk without compensation.
The biggest takeaway from today is that this decision wasn't based on the league's only four-time MVP. Now, more than at any other point in the past 14 years, the Colts are preparing for life after Manning — whenever that may be.