It was only three years ago that the sports world witnessed the development of arguably the worst football team to ever grace the grid iron. The 2008 Detroit Lions would inadvertently ensure that the football Gods wouldn’t soon forget their name. They did so by achieving the unthinkable.
They lost sixteen games and won zero.
But now, in the middle of another December in this crazy league that we call the NFL, another team was threatening to reset the standard for ultimate failure in the most prestigious league in all of professional sports. But this team would not go away. They looked defeat square in the eye and said, "I will win." And so they did.
That team is your Indianapolis Colts.
As fans, we should all be very proud of the effort our team displayed on Sunday. Sitting at 0-13, the Colts always found a way to lose game, after game, after game. They competed along the way, missing their first win by the narrowest of margins, but it was never enough. Finally, it was enough and they likely ended a division rival's playoff hopes to boot.
The bad? Jim Caldwell has also suddenly been granted a new life, if we're to believe the powers that be.
The question now is: Should one win really be enough?
Days ago, a report leaked to the media that delivered a simple guarantee to ears of Jim Caldwell: Go winless and you’re gone.
According to this report, Caldwell was also seemingly guaranteed that he would be totally absolved of every foul or misfortune he’s been responsible for, as long as he avoided utter failure, which he did on Sunday. Not many men get a shot at redemption after losing 14 straight games in the NFL (I haven’t forgotten about the mishap versus the Jets last January), but Jim Caldwell has gotten just that. This is a man that would come out dry on the other side of the street during a torrential downpour, despite never even having the shelter of a single umbrella.
So what are to think of this report? Well, in my opinion, I’d like to think this is just simple posturing for the inevitable. That inevitable being the end of the Jim Caldwell era in Indianapolis, one win, two wins, or even three wins. For evidence of so, I try look for wisdom in the words of Bill Polian (don’t laugh). Week after week, despite all of the blatant miscues of Caldwell and his staff during this dreadful season, Polian has been so unequivocally positive and encouraging about the job Caldwell has done, that it seemed obvious that he was using his words as an endorsement for the future of Caldwell, elsewhere.
If you’re going to fire a guy, do you kick him while he’s down? Or do you pat him on the back, make him feel good about himself, and then graciously send him on his way? I think the latter is exactly what Jim Irsay and Polian could be doing.
There’s also the chance that I could be totally wrong and maybe Caldwell's career in Indy really was spared for one measly victory, as Peter King suggested on Sunday night. If Caldwell wills this team to three straight wins to finish this season, then maybe he really does deserve to stay in some in the eyes of some people. Maybe the constant praise that Polian showers on Caldwell is an attempt to show that he’s responsible for the fall of this team, not Caldwell. Maybe Bill and his son will be the ones who are excused at the end of this season, because after all, they are the ones who ultimately failed to supply a backup that could make this team consistently semi-competitive without its elite quarterback. And maybe Jim Irsay is content with just one win and blaming the other fifteen losses on the absence of said elite quarterback.
In justifying such a decision to actually retain Caldwell, I believe the front office tends to have trouble overlooking what good he has done during his tenure as head coach. Many people were calling for Caldwell’s job after the playoff game last season, but Irsay and crew didn’t hesitate to stick their neck out for Caldwell, praising his track record and resilience throughout the tough season. In his inaugural year, he "led" this team to a Super Bowl appearance. Last season, he saw his team reel off four straight wins and take home another AFC South title, even with a landslide of injuries. Those accomplishments considered, many coaches have been retained for far less. On paper, Caldwell’s record from the last two seasons (26-9, includes playoffs) actually looks pretty solid. Factor in the 13 losses from this season and he’s still above .500.
Those defenses considered, does he really deserve another shot?
In my opinion, no way.
Let me just clarify that I'm still in heaven after seeing Donald Brown reverse field and break off an 80-yard TD run to clinch our first win. However, when the euphoria wears off tomorrow, or the next day, we still have to face the music of this season in many different forms.
After our final game against the Jaguars, I believe the front office should recognize that Caldwell’s calling as a head coach ends right where his lack of fortitude begins. Please, please forget the wins and the pity.
While head coach, Caldwell has presided over an abundance of mindless mistakes riddled with hesitancy/pacifism that torment any success he’s enjoyed like the bubonic plague. Every coach has issues, but game management is essentially the single most important characteristic for a head coach and over the last three years, Caldwell has done nothing to show that he has an ounce of these required skills. Whether it’s using a timeout at an inappropriate time, failing to adjust the game plan to cater to our strengths, or hesitating to go for it on 4th and short in obvious do-or-die situations -- all of these blunders go directly back to the personality of a coach.
Coaching scared is the definition of everything Caldwell. Tack on a so far 1-13 season, and that’s where the line should be drawn. Not at 0-16.
And this is where my dilemma lies in plain sight.
I know you all have enough to worry about with the constant Manning v. Luck mumbo jumbo (one more win and your worries may be gone). But what if the only way to rid this team of everything Caldwell really was decided this Sunday? What are we to do, as fans? Should we continue to act as the "model fan", support this team, and give Caldwell the benefit of doubt, again? Or should we cheer for our once mighty Colts to take the field for two more weeks and stumble off into the 2012 off-season with a bad taste in the mouth of the front office, now that we have gotten that win and avoided infamy?
Personally, I’ve really had to do my absolute best to keep away from these types of thoughts. Even with the news of 0-16 meaning Caldwell would definitely be gone, I still screamed and cheered this team on Sunday. For the life of me, I just can’t bring myself down to a level that would allow me to root against my Colts on the field. I even spent $350 on some great tickets for the Thursday night game and you know damn well I'll be going crazy to support our Colts. No matter the potential outcome of this situation, whether it be the fate of the #1 pick or the fate of Caldwell, my heart tells me that I just want them to win and win big.
But, when I look to the flip side of my morality coin, my brain tells me that I could be betraying my team if I support this coach for another season. If the Colts win, it makes Caldwell look good. Winning can only further increase his chance to stay in 2012. So why root for this team to do well in an already hopeless season?
If you cheer for your team to fail in one area, so they can ultimately improve in another, what does that make you? While it's quite obvious that a true fan should always cheer for their team to win, I also believe that the definition of "winning" lies purely in the eye of the beholder.
So I have to ask: What will you cheer for?