Colts Future Is Now! Polian Out! Caldwell Next?
Jim Irsay might not be blowing up the Indianapolis Colts. But extreme makeover is in session.
It’s radical and necessary.
Irsay has seen the future of the Colts and he’s not sure if it includes Peyton Manning or Jim Caldwell. He knows it doesn’t include Bill or Chris Polian.
On Monday, with the Colts’ 2-14 season in the rear-view mirror, Irsay fired the Polians, placed coach Caldwell in perpetual limbo and said he doesn’t know when or if Manning will play again. In fact, it sounds suspiciously like he’s prepping for Manning’s departure sooner rather than later.
Irsay talked of the end of one era, the start of a new one and the desire to ensure Colts greatness in the years ahead.
It sounded to me that, whether Manning can play next year or not again, Irsay has come to the conclusion that a huge chunk of the Colts history has been completed. He’s not going to wait around to see if he can squeeze out a couple more playoff berths before moving forward.
"You never know how an era ends or how they begin," Irsay said. "You can’t say exactly what constitutes an era beginning or ending.
"Clearly, we are in a rebuilding stage," Irsay said. "There’s no sugar coating the fact we have areas of talent that we need. We have decisions coming up that are crucial."
Irsay used the word rebuilding. He called those decisions ahead — starting with the need for a new general manager, possibly a coach and the selection of the No.1 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft — "massive."
To make those massive decisions, Irsay wanted new ideas. New energy. So vice chairman Bill Polian and his 14 years with the franchise, was fired. Polian’s handpicked successor as general manager, who happens to be his son Chris, was also fired.
Caldwell, installed as Tony Dungy’s successor for continuity, is still the coach. For now. Caldwell could be replaced if the new GM decides he wants a different coach or Irsay decides someone better is available. That might have been the oddest part of the Irsay’s news conference, putting Caldwell’s status on hold. It seemed like Irsay wants to keep his options open in case, say, Bill Cowher suddenly tires of television work.
"Jim Caldwell could very well be back next year," Irsay said. "It’s not outside the realm of possibility."
If you’re looking for vote of confidence, that’s probably not it. But Irsay later called Caldwell one of the finest men he’s ever met. So who knows where this goes.
Irsay called his decision to replace the Polians "intuitive."
Polian had the magic touch for years with the Colts, starting with his decision, along with Irsay, to draft Manning instead of Ryan Leaf in 1998. From there he made a number of great moves, some of them unpopular, such as replacing Marshall Faulk with Edgerrin James and, later, ditching James.
Other quality moves included the drafting of Reggie Wayne, Dwight Freeney, Dallas Clark, Bob Sanders and Pierre Garcon. The result was one of the most consistently successful franchises in history, with seven straight seasons of 12 or more wins and a Super Bowl title.
Polian began to lose his mojo with failed picks such as Tony Ugoh and Jerry Hughes and the decision – which many pegged on Polian – by the Colts to pull their starters during the 2009 game against the Jets, effectively giving up on a shot at an undefeated season.
A rift also appeared to have developed between Polian and Manning, although Manning praised Polian on Monday in an ESPN interview. Caldwell didn’t lose his players, but Polian probably did.
Irsay fired Polian in a meeting Monday, then said they later met again for "tears and a hug." It wasn’t an easy decision for the owner. But eventually the time for change arrives. Irsay saw it.
"I have spent time in 2012," Irsay said. "Not in a time machine, but in trying to run scenarios through my mind where the franchise is going to be and how you transcend into different eras."
Irsay pointed to other teams and their transitions, naming Dallas, Denver and Green Bay. That sounds like the end of eras largely associated with quarterbacks (Troy Aikman, John Elway and Brett Favre).
"Ideally, you’d like to see a slower transition; you don’t like to see such a fall out, those types of things," Irsay said. "You’d rather have a smoother transition, but that’s not the way it works. There’s only certain things you can control.
"I feel really excited about the possibilities of our future," Irsay said. "Like I said, I’m not interested in a popularity contest in terms of our decision, but I’m interested in getting it right, and getting it right for a long period of time."
Irsay has seen the future of the Colts.
Caldwell’s limbo and Manning’s health aside, the future is now.