There isn't anybody I'd rather have running my favorite team than Jim Irsay. I'm a big Irsay fan, but (and as you've realized if you've been reading this site for any length of time) we're also not just going to give him a pass whenever he does something stupid. And this is one of those times.
Yesterday, the Colts owner took to his personal twitter account to apologize to fans for the Colts' blowout loss to the Billsin the first preseason game of the year:
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p>Many starters played briefly or were nursing little injuries,but it was a crap performance,my apologies/My commanders got n earful from me!</p>— Jim Irsay (@JimIrsay) <a href="https://twitter.com/JimIrsay/statuses/366981606768001027">August 12, 2013</a></blockquote>
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There's nothing wrong with apologizing to fans for the loss. None whatsoever. There's nothing wrong with calling it a "crap performance" and not creating excuses, either. But basically, what Irsay did with the last part of that tweet was publicly call out his coaching staff for the loss.
And I think that is absolutely unfair, unwise, and uncalled for.
Criticizing a coaching staff after the first preseason game is just dumb and something that at the very least doesn't need to be done publicly. There's a good possibility that Irsay just wanted to send a message to his staff that he expects much more out of this team than what they showed Sunday, and not just from the starters. This team came out flat and their physicality was suspect. They were bad defensively, bad special teams wise, and bad offensively for much of the game. I don't think that Irsay is upset about the team losing but rather the way they lost. They were outplayed, outworked, and outcoached on Sunday. I agree completely that it is unacceptable. But to give your coaches an "earful" and say it publicly? After the very first preseason game? Please, Jim. Stop it. This is a man who has had his share of tweets that never should have been sent, and this one is right up there.
I mean, after all, this was the first preseason game. The whole point of preseason is making sure that your team is fine tuned and that you have the right guys to enter the regular season with the best chance of winning as possible. If Chuck Pagano's team looked flat, if they didn't play physical, if they weren't coached as well - now is the time to work on it. That's why we can't place much emphasis on the team looking good now, because it's all about getting the team ready to look good in a month. Especially in the first game when it's the first time to see this squad on the field for everybody - coaches, analysts, and fans alike - the thing that is most important is to work on what went wrong to make sure the same thing doesn't happen on September 8th when the Colts open the 2013 regular season against the Raiders.
And before the team even reported back to Anderson to begin working on the newfound issues, Jim Irsay publicly criticized Pagano and the coaching staff. It's not right of Irsay to do period, and it's also unfair to this coaching staff to do after just one stinking game.
Tony Dungy, a man who is eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame next year and whose name is permanently displayed in Lucas Oil Stadium's Ring of Honor, compiled a winning percentage of just .333 in his 6 preseasons in Indianapolis. Jim Caldwell, his successor, was even worse with a .167 winning percentage in 3 years of preseason football. And last year, Chuck Pagano's squad went 2-2 in preseason action. Even with the loss this year, he's at a .400 winning percentage.
You wanna say it's not about the result but about how they looked? Ok, fine. But also don't forget that Dungy had his share of bad losses too - 31-7 to the Jets in 2004, 38-0 to the Bengals in 2005, and 20-3 to the Bengals in 2006, just to name a few. Caldwell suffered several bad losses too - 38-7 to the Bengals in 2009, 59-24 to the Packers in 2010, and 33-10 to the Rams and 16-3 to the Redskins, both in 2011. Yet you never saw Irsay publicly criticize them after a loss, at least not to my knowledge.
Perhaps it's because Irsay expects a lot from Pagano's defense this year, and rightly so. Perhaps it's because Irsay dished out well over $100 million this offseason to sign free agents. Perhaps it's because Irsay wanted to send a message, or perhaps it's a combination of all three of those. But that doesn't make it any more acceptable.
This is a team that has been tremendously well run for well over a decade. This is a team that has truly embraced the notion of family for a long time. Linebacker Kelvin Sheppard told George Bremer last week that "It's a family here. I mean, it takes me back to my LSU days. You walk in that locker room, it's not like you're going to work. It's like you're going home to your family." Almost every player you ask would tell you the exact same thing. Irsay has built an organization that is completely unified and supportive, and that has always started at the top.
And yet yesterday, Irsay broke the cardinal rule that we live by in the preseason: don't overreact. Irsay overreacted and in that moment, he hit the "send" button. It's so easy to do and takes just seconds, but it's so important to think before doing so - especially if you are a billionaire owner of a major, major sports franchise.
The bottom line is this: it was a very poor and ill-advised tweet from Irsay. I'm not even talking about him giving his coaches an "earful," which I think is unfair in and of itself. I'm just talking about doing so publicly. That's totally uncalled for.
Chuck Pagano is a very good coach and a great leader. He is going to get this team together and this team will win quite a few games this year. Consider the fact that just two years ago, this squad went 2-14. The last thing to come with a rebuild is depth, and so of course it would make absolute sense for this team to struggle a lot in preseason. And who cares, as long as they use it to get ready for the regular season. Think anybody cares how their team fares in spring training in baseball? What about preseason for basketball? Nope. All they want to know is how their team is going to be in the regular season, and anybody criticizing a team - whether it's baseball, basketball, or in this case football - for their preseason performance is just wrong. Even when it's that team's owner.
Jim Irsay owes Chuck Pagano an apology. Pagano is working with a roster of 90 players - a large percentage of whom are new and a large percentage of whom are inexperienced. Pagano just had his first chance to see this squad in real game action. And Pagano has yet to have a single practice to begin working on what he saw. He doesn't deserve the owner's criticism, not at all.
Heck, I don't even think it would be warranted had this been the first week of the regular season, but at least I would have understood the concern and would have understood the message. But the first week of the preseason? I'm sorry, but it's completely uncalled for and it's completely unfair to Chuck Pagano.
Jim Irsay is a tremendous owner, but he needs to learn to control his mouth (or thumbs) better. And I sincerely hope that the next "earful" he gives Chuck Pagano is that of an apology. Better yet, why not do so publicly?