We're approaching the final stretch of looking back at all of the coaches in Colts history in the latest Throwback Thursday series. This week, we take a look at one of the most successful decades in team history: the 2000s.
Back when I first began this coaching series, I was prepared to say that the 2000s was the most stable decade, in terms of different head coaches, in team history. Not so. While very consistent, the team still had three different coaches in the decade. It looks like the 1960s will be the lowest total, as the Colts only had two coaches that decade.
But back to the 2000s. When we left off, the Colts had just completed one of the greatest turnarounds in NFL history, and hosted a playoff game for the first time since the 1970s.
We pick up the story of the Colts and Jim Mora in 2000. The Colts finished 10-6, but did not win the AFC East. The team still qualified for the playoffs, though, as a Wild Card team. They would travel to Miami to face the division champion Dolphins.
For whatever reason, this is one of those Colts games I vividly remember watching. Jay Fiedler had the injured hand, the Colts blew a 14-0 lead, Mike Vanderjagt missed a clutch kick, and Lamar Smith crushed all of our dreams in overtime.
That game would be the last playoff game Mora would ever coach, and it dropped his total playoff record to 0-6. As an odd twist, Mora's former team, the Saints, would win their first ever playoff game later in the day.
In 2001, the Colts took a huge step back. The team finished a dismal 6-10, but Mora did produce one of the most memorable press conferences in history. You all know of what I speak, but I'll elaborate a bit anyway.
After a crushing loss to the San Francisco 49ers (who happened to have Jim Mora Jr. as their defensive coordinator) sent the Colts to 4-6, Mora was asked about his team's chances of making the playoffs that season. This is what followed.
After the season, Mora was fired, in part (allegedly) due to the fact that he refused to fire Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio. Mora would be the first coach since Ron Meyer to not finish with a losing record (Mora finished his career in Indianapolis with a 32-32 mark).
In the 2002 off-season, the Colts addressed defense in almost every way. The team drafted Dwight Freeney, but more importantly hired former Tampa Bay head man, Tony Dungy.
Dungy had played college ball as a quarterback at the University of Minnesota before converting to safety as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. A quick fun fact: Dungy is the last NFL player to throw an interception and intercept a pass in the same game.
After he retired, Dungy returned to Minnesota as an assistant coach for the Golden Gophers. After only one year in the college ranks, Dungy returned to Pittsburgh as a defensive backs coach for the Steelers. Dungy would become the team's Defensive Coordinator before leaving in 1989 to become the defensive backs coach in Kansas City.
In 1992 Dungy was hired as the DC for the Minnesota Vikings under head coach Dennis Green.
Due to his consistent success in Minnesota, Dungy was hired by the worst (statistically) franchise in football, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in 1996. With the help of some impressive drafts and Dungy's Tampa-2 defense, the Bucs were quickly turned into contenders.
The Colts pounced and hired Dungy, looking to improve the league's worst defense from 2001.
While the Colts returned to the playoffs in Dungy's first year, they showed no signs of an improved defense. In the Wild Card round, they were blanked by the Jets, losing 41-0.
The 2003 season is where Dungy's team took off. The Colts would reach the playoffs again, and reach the AFC title game in 2003. The team would make in the playoffs every year Dungy was the head coach in Indianapolis.
In this time the Colts turned into an offensive, and regular season juggernaut. However, the team only reached the championship twice with Dungy, but did record a Super Bowl win in 2006.
To me, it always seemed like Tony Dungy was in Indianapolis forever. In reality, he was only the Colts coach for six years before retiring after the 2008 season. In his time in Indianapolis, Dungy was named Coach of the Year (2005), won a Super Bowl, finished with the most wins (85) and best winning percentage (75.9%) of any coach in franchise history.
With seven playoff wins, Dungy has the most playoff wins in franchise history, and is one of only three coaches in team history to have a winning record in the playoffs. Weeb Ewbank (2-0) and Don McCarfferty (4-1) are the others.
In 2009, the Colts saw their third head coach of the decade in Dungy's hand-picked replacement, Jim Caldwell.
Like Dungy, Caldwell also began his football career playing in the Big Ten as a defensive back for the University of Iowa.
After playing four years for Iowa, Caldwell was hired as a graduate assistant. From 1978 until 1992 Caldwell was an offensive assistant at five different Division 1 programs before being hired as the Head Coach at Wake Forest.
In eight years at Wake, Caldwell's record was a somewhat appalling 26-63 with only one winning season. At Wake, Caldwell developed a premier passing team, breaking nearly all of the passing records at the University, but had atrocious rushing attacks. One season, Wake's leading rusher ran for a little more than 300 yards. Oh dear.
In 2001, Caldwell was hired as an assistant in Tampa Bay under Dungy. Caldwell would follow Dungy to Indianapolis where he would remain an assistant coach until 2008.
Caldwell replaced Dungy as the head man in 2009, and many Colts fans weren't sure what to expect. It's hard to say what most will remember Caldwell's first season as. Some will remember the 14-0 start. Some will remember the scenario of those last two regular season games. Some will point to the Colts reaching the Super Bowl for only the second (and final) time in the Peyton Manning era. Others will actually point to that game.
In a nutshell, there was a lot of good and some high-profile bad in Caldwell's first season.
In total, the Colts ended the 2000s after compiling the most wins in a decade and the most consecutive wins.
Next week, Throwback Thursday will conclude the coaching carousel (if you will) by looking at what we know of the 2010s.