Thirteen years ago today, the Indianapolis Colts made a decision which (I would argue) would define the franchise for the next 10 years.
At the conclusion of a 6-10 season in 2001, the Colts made the decision to fire head coach Jim Mora. In four years under Mora, the Colts had reached the playoff twice, but had not won a playoff game yet. In 2001, the team fell woefully short of its postseason aspirations, and Mora was gone.
It had been an overall tumultuous season in Indianapolis. The most high profile problem stemmed from Mora declaring that he wished the Colts could just win a game, let alone make the playoffs. This became a public feud, if you will, when Manning responded with a series of comments to CBS sports soon after.
There were some rumors that the injured James was beginning to become unhappy in Indianapolis. And, what season wouldn't be a complete with a (largely forgotten) Bill Polian radio rant.
Despite these problems, the Colts head coaching job was certainly an attractive one. The team had Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, and Edgerrin James all entering their prime years. The defense left a little to be desired, though.
Who the Colts would hire, though remained a question. One name that jumped to the top of the list was none other than Nick Saban. Polian had interviewed Saban in 1998 for the head coaching position. Saban had just won a SEC with LSU, and was certainly a hot name.
The swiftest move happened when the Redskins fired Marty Schottenheimer and almost immediately replaced him with Steve Spurrier. On that same day, another head coaching position opened up in Tampa Bay, after the Buccaneers fired Tony Dungy following a second straight playoff loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
The next team to make a move on the coaching carousel would be the Houston Texans, hiring former Jacksonville Jaguars Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers.
Then, 13 years ago today, only eight days after being fired, Tony Dungy was hired to be the next head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts beat out the Carolina Panthers in a bidding war for Dungy.
The Panthers would end up hiring former Giants defensive coordinator John Fox, and the Chargers would hire the recently fired Schottenheimer as their next coach.
Of course, that left the Bucs as the only remaining team without a head coach. First, they were turned down by Bill Parcells. Then the team turned their attention toward Jon Gruden, who informed the team he was going to remain in Oakland. The plan was then to go after Ravens' assistant Marvin Lewis, but the Bucs ownership turned down that idea.
With other hot names being hired, the Bucs turned their attention toward trading for a coach. They contacted the 49ers and Steve Mariucci about the possibility of a trade. The Bucs offer to the 49ers was a first and third round pick in 2002, and a second and third round pick in 2003.
However, Mariucci wasn't interested in leaving San Francisco, but it didn't matter. By the time he returned the Bucs' call, they had hired a coach. Tampa would end up trading their first and second round picks in 2002, first round pick in 2003, and a 2004 second rounder to the Raiders for Gruden.
The Raiders would end up promoting Bill Callahan to replace Gruden.
But back to Dungy and the Colts.
Dungy's first season yielded a return to the playoffs, but featured the team's worst playoff performance to date, a 41-0 loss to the Jets. The next year, the Colts would turn the corner in a big way. For the first time since 1995, the team reached the AFC Title Game, only to be knocked out by the Patriots.
The Colts would qualify for the playoffs every year under Dungy, and would win a Super Bowl in 2006. Dungy's legacy in Indianapolis would continue, as he was replaced by his assistant, Jim Caldwell, who would guide the Colts to another Super Bowl appearance.
How did the other coaches hired in 2002 fare in the NFL? Capers would only last three seasons in Houston before being replaced by Gary Kubiak. Schottenheimer would be fired after a 2006 season which saw the Chargers go 14-2, but go one and done in the playoffs. Simply put, Spurrier was a disaster in Washington.
Gruden would go on to win the Super Bowl in his first year with Tampa Bay, defeating Callahan and the Raiders. The next year, Fox would reach the Super Bowl, only to lose to the Patriots. Dungy and Gruden remain the only coaches to win a Super Bowl, as a head coach, out of this group.
The Colts acted swiftly in hiring Dungy, and it paid off in many, many wins and a Super Bowl title.
It has been a remarkable run for the Colts, though, with only three losing seasons since 1998. Sure the numerous playoff losses, mainly one-and-done losses, have been a bit deflating (sorry), but it is still a phenomenal run of success that continues to this day.