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In defense of Jim Irsay

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Indianapolis Colts v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Over the past month, Jim Irsay has taken a lot of criticism in Indianapolis, and much of it for valid reasons. He stayed completely silent for a couple of weeks following the end of the regular season, and at one point it looked like he might wind up keeping everything intact. As I wrote at the time, if Irsay kept things the same, he’d be settling for mediocrity.

But as the dust has begun to settle and the Colts now have a new general manager in Chris Ballard, it’s time to re-evaluate the offseason Jim Irsay has had. And instead of being a circus or a dysfunctional mess, the Colts wound up with one of the very best GM candidates on the market and no Ryan Grigson. That’s a win-win.

It took Jim Irsay a while to make the call, and in fact it was an agonizingly long period for fans waiting... and waiting... and waiting. The media was left waiting for something to happen while some fans were left criticizing the media for allegedly making up the drama, suggesting there would be no change. But then, after nearly three weeks, Jim Irsay broke his silence. He fired Ryan Grigson, then stood up in front of the media for a half an hour looking better than he has in a while and seeming totally convinced of his decision.

He then preceded to go on a general manager search, interviewing six of the most respected personnel men in football. The timing worked out perfectly, coinciding with the Senior Bowl so that the Irsays could conduct the interviews in Mobile and get things done in an efficient manner. After the initial round of interviews, Chris Ballard was invited back for a second one, and on Sunday the Colts announced him as their next general manager.

So the picture begins to get clearer of what Jim Irsay has been up to in the past month. When the season ended, Irsay began seriously pursuing upgrades - Peyton Manning and Jon Gruden, to be exact. That didn’t work out, but there’s no shame in trying for those big-name hires. When those moves didn’t work out, Irsay still made the move to fire Ryan Grigson, but it wasn’t a move made without consideration. Irsay admitted that it was a long evaluation process that included talking with a lot of people about the state of the Colts and analyzing where the franchise was. In the end, Irsay made the decision that was clearly hard for him to make, but one that needed to be done. He then went out and hired one of the top personnel guys in football to replace Ryan Grigson as GM - which should help dispel the notion that Jim Irsay is a bad owner nobody wants to work for (even though Andrew Luck was surely the main draw).

Irsay wasn’t perfect, and there are legitimate things to criticize him for. First and foremost among them is his hesitance to make a complete change, as it currently looks like he’s going to keep Chuck Pagano around for another year. There’s nothing wrong with firing the GM first and letting the new guy decide the coach’s fate. But keeping Pagano around for another year would not be a move with the team’s best long-term interests in mind, regardless of how much blame Irsay places on Grigson for the dysfunction of the past few years. Furthermore, I think most would wonder why it took so long to make the decision in the first place: Irsay wound up going on a GM search anyway, so what took three weeks to do it? Were the past five years not enough evidence?

I honestly didn’t expect to be writing a defense of Jim Irsay this offseason. If he made a move, it would simply be viewed as the obvious and right thing to do. But he’s taken a lot of criticism this offseason, and as the picture becomes clearer it looks like that’s somewhat unwarranted. The Colts aren’t a circus - well, at least not because of this offseason. They might have been with Grigson and Pagano around, but not because of Irsay’s moves and decisions this year so far.

Instead, the owner has been meticulous in seeking out what’s truly the right move for his franchise. He explored the big-name upgrades and evaluated his team’s current situation. The Manning and Gruden deals didn’t work out, but Irsay didn’t let that stop him from making the move his franchise needed. He fired Ryan Grigson, as hard as that surely had to be for him, and went on a search that included some of the top names. He settled on Chris Ballard, a move that has been widely praised. And if he were to let Ballard decide Pagano’s fate, then it’d be the final piece on Irsay’s nice offseason. I know that sounds crazy - Irsay’s nice offseason - but he wasn’t staying silent to stick it to the media or offend the fans; he was doing so to try to make his team better. In the end, he did just that by firing Ryan Grigson and hiring Chris Ballard. Say what you will about Jim Irsay, but that’s not a bad offseason. The Colts are better for it, and they’ve got a very smart man now running the show.

Now if only the Colts would do something about Chuck Pagano...