Jim Irsay's commitment to success could ultimately come in the form of a new head coach in Indianapolis. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
‘Black Monday’ turned the NFL world upside down, once again. Offices were vacated, old faces that had grown to be so familiar, solemnly waved goodbye and teams will take on a completely new face as a result.
The glaring difference from this year's version? The are at the forefront of it all.
Jim Caldwell has seemingly been pushed into a waiting game that commenced yesterday. If conventional wisdom has taught us anything, it's that new General Managers want their own guy. Jim Irsay’s choice to fill the newly vacated title will be the deciding factor in the story of everything Caldwell.
The story will likely conclude with Caldwell's exit after three long years.
Irsay made it clear that the future of Indianapolis would revolve around 'one voice' and that 'great unity' is a must. Whether Caldwell will be included in that unity, remains to be seen. It certainly cannot be ruled out. Especially after today's surprise.
In the event that Caldwell is put out of his misery, as expected, I decided that we should begin to take a look at our hypothetical search for a new coach. It hasn’t been easy, to say the least, but still exciting to a degree.
There really isn’t a right or wrong answer and that's the beauty of an opinion. We can preach about who we’d like to see on the sidelines next year, all we'd like. That's our right as fans. However, a coach must ultimately align with the developmental plans of this organization and its envisioned direction. To put it simply, the coach has to fit the Colts new mold. As of today, we have no idea what that mold will entail.
Until that day comes, we can talk about what could be. Brace yourself, as I can assure you that these names won't be the 'sexiest' you've heard.
Let's get to it.
Up first is Rob Chudzinski (OC, Carolina). This could be the perfect man for the job. With the rapid development of Cam Newton, who had the greatest rookie QB season of all time, Chudz has again proven that he can be influential in developing young talent, much like he helped the Philip Rivers to Antonio Gates connection as Gate's position coach. Not so long ago, Newton was regarded as a raw skill prospect that would endure a problematic future when converting to the next level. To put it lightly, that turned out to be a very incorrect assessment. Newton’s success this year may speak more to his own abilities (Or Warren Moon's teaching methods.) than Chudz. But with a rookie quarterback, the Carolina offense finished the season at a telling seventh overall and fifth in points. Considering that Andrew Luck is the perfect prospect in almost every facet of the term, imagine the possibilities with Chudz at the helm.
Now, even if Manning were to come back with a vengeance next season, the point of Chudz would still be development for the future. If Caldwell is out, Christensen will almost certainly go with him to make room for the new coach's staff. If that coach is Chudz, Christensen would definitely be hitting the road. Chudz existence would just serve as a compliment to Manning's continued excellence.
Not foaming at the mouth over a possible ‘Chudzfense’? What about the possibility of hiring a defensive guru instead? There's certainly not a shortage of worthy candidates in this area.
Bill Cowher is clearly the largest name on the defensive market. Chuck Pagano (DC, Baltimore), Perry Fewell (DC, NYG) and Gregg Williams (DC, New Orleans) are some of the other top candidates. Mike Zimmer (DC, Cincinnati) could be the best defensive mind on the market though. This offseason, Zimmer was faced with the obstacle of replacing one of his best players, Jonathan Joseph, who decided to jump ship and sign with Houston. However, the move had little effect on Zimmer’s ability to adapt and re-craft a perennially tough defense in a very tough AFC North. Nate Clements was signed and the Bengals climbed back into the playoffs, largely due to the will of their top-ranked defense. Many players have credited Zimmer for their exceptional development, with Joseph being one of them. Zimmer’s ability to get the best out of his players would certainly help speed along the development and proper utilization of fledgling underachievers like Chris Rucker and David Caldwell. Zimmer also essentially runs a 'hybrid' version of the Tampa 2 in Cincinnati, allowing for a smooth and familiar transition.
If we switch back to the offensive market for a moment, Chudz isn't the only low-profile name with potential. Mike Mularkey (OC, Atlanta) has put together a resume that will surely land him back in the seat of head coach. While his first stint with the Bills didn't last long, Mularkey has rejuvenated the Falcons with a high-flying offense through the development of a young Matt Ryan. Although Ryan hasn't broken into elite status, he's steadily progressed into a quarterback that has the talent to be a threat for years to come. This is a testament to Mularkey's ability to hone young talent, if anything.
Not impressed with these guys? Don't worry. The list goes on and on.
Most of us can immediately recognize the resume of coaching stars like Jeff Fisher, Jon Gruden, Bill Cowher and Brian Billick, whom will surely capture the attention of every searching team. Sure, they are popular names and all of them have earned a Super Bowl ring, or at least appearance in one. However, along with their name, there likely comes an insistence on a greater span of control to be thoroughly satisfied. Low-profile candidates like Chudz and Zimmer not only deserve equal consideration, in my opinion, but they could also be kept on a relatively short leash during their first stint as the head honcho.
Depending on the next GM, this could be a requirement, ruling out guys looking for ultimate power.
But since we're talking about the 'golden boys' of the coaching market, who would be the ultimate catch, in my opinion? Jeff Fisher. Let me preface my thoughts by saying that my fondness for Fisher comes more from his reputation as a man than his coaching stats. I noticed that's true for a lot of Fisher fans, naturally. Sure, it may sound a little stupid, but he is a guy that projects total class and is well-respected (co-chair, NFL Competition Committee) throughout the league for a reason. He also loves and would kill to have an opportunity to start fresh with a hot, young prospect like Luck.
Fisher’s career record of 142-120 isn’t the most satisfying and his teams have admittedly been mediocre. However, some would make the argument that he worked miracles with the limitations that come from coaching a Bud Adams-owned team. Fisher undoubtedly brings experience to deal with uncertainty and adversity. Remember the Vince Young situation? Yeah, me too. Fisher has been through his battles. He was also a half-yard short of winning a Super Bowl ring.
Not too shabby, if you ask me.
The combination of these factors are the reason that Fisher looks to be the most sought after candidate out there. He already has interviews with the Rams and Dolphins lined up, so the window to capture Fisher for Indianapolis could be quickly closing.
Fisher considered, I get why big names are appealing. I really do. However, this decision is going to require a lot more than some celebrity status. With Irsay making the bold and tough decision to move on from Bill and Chris Polian, I have no doubt in my mind that he will come through in the clutch to deliver a worthy candidate at head coach. Big name, or not.
In the end, the only thing that will matter is winning. Flash isn't required, nor does it matter. Just winning. If the new guy fails to win, no matter what his reputation may be, the Colts will be pushed right back into the same situation. That's precisely what makes rare decisions like these all the more crucial.
We, as fans, must now patiently await the next move as we grasp onto the edge of our seats.
Here's to an exciting future, friends.
'It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.'