The Back Story
The Indianapolis Colts have been in a perpetual struggle ever since the team didn’t properly capitalize on Peyton Manning’s career in Indianapolis. There is certainly no doubt that Manning’s legacy, which deserves the statue that now stands in front of Lucas Oil Stadium, should be a very bright spot in the memory of Colts fans in Indianapolis.
For the most part, it is.
I will continue to believe that Manning was and still is the greatest quarterback to ever play football until such time as someone else comes along and makes me feel differently.
So, for all of those who want to crown Brady because he has a bucket full of rings, or Montana, or Unitas or whoever else you can come up with — I’m sorry. This game is one of the greatest games in the world because no one player is able to do it all on his own. It takes a great team and a group of people who all play the game at a high level, or at the very least follow their assignments and play disciplined football, for any franchise to have sustained success and earn multiple Lombardi trophies.
Period. End of story.
With that in mind, there also is no doubt, like it or not, that the greatest football team I’ve ever watched play the game has been the New England Patriots.
I hate them. I want to beat them almost more than I want a Super Bowl. I think they’ve purposely pushed the envelope on cheating and the integrity of the game. Their fans are all apologists about it because it cheapens their accomplishments. Frankly, I get it, I don’t think this team really needed to cheat or do things that make them the most hated franchise by fans of every team in the NFL, but hey, that’s Bill Belichick.
Speaking of Belichick, he is the greatest football coach I have ever seen coach the game. I’d argue he is the greatest football coach in the history of the NFL. He’s a curmudgeon. He’s a cheat. He doesn’t care what you think and he wins championships.
I say all of these things because Colts fans almost universally know them already. The problem for Peyton Manning wasn’t that he was incapable of winning more Super Bowls or that he wasn’t better than Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, or any other signal caller you can name. The problem was that the Colts failed to get the most out of his time when he was here.
He should have won multiple Super Bowls. If he played for New England in his career, I would hate to even imagine the level of dominance he would have had over the rest of the NFL — paired with Belichick and some of the best defensive football teams in the NFL during his career. Flip it and put Brady here, and I don’t know if the Colts would have ever won a Super Bowl.
The point of all of this is that Colts owner Jim Irsay knows more than anyone that Peyton Manning deserved more than he got while he was with the Colts. No offense to Bill Polian and the front office, no offense to the coaching staff, but he played much of his career with one arm behind his back due to a bad defense, or a bad offensive line, or both for all but about ... 2 years?
Even when the Colts won the Super Bowl, the defense was God awful until Booger McFarland and Bob Sanders turned things on in the playoffs.
The New Era
All of this translates to what happened this summer, also what happened with Ryan Grigson, and why the Colts find themselves in their current predicament right now.
When Indianapolis chose to cut Peyton Manning and bring in Andrew Luck through the draft, Jim Irsay couldn’t let go of the idea that doing so would mean that wherever Manning ended up could be an immediate playoff contender and Super Bowl favorite, while the Colts would have a rookie in his place. He knew that missing out on the lean years of Manning’s rookie contract and not capitalizing on his opportunity couldn’t happen again.
So, Irsay hired Ryan Grigson and either directed him to win big and win now, or he targeted Grigson because he told Irsay that he planned to win big and win now. There would be no rebuild. There would be no setback. The Colts were masters of the AFC South, they would not relinquish that crown, they would continue battling in the playoffs and they would win another Super Bowl while Andrew Luck was on his rookie contract.
That was the idea. That was the theory, but it didn’t work.
The reality is that the heart and soul of the Colts team from the Peyton Manning era was starting to build up age and rust. Key players like Dwight Freeney, Reggie Wayne, Robert Mathis, Antoine Bethea and Dallas Clark were all entering the twilight of their careers. It would take a new team, new players and a new philosophy to start a new era with Andrew Luck if they planned to win big and to win fast.
There is no better way to accomplish this goal than to hit on your draft picks and get key players at key positions. Bringing in aging veterans who were themselves on their last legs in professional football did nothing more than exacerbate the problem the team already had — time was running out.
After all of the bluster. After all of the talk about monsters. The team found itself where it predictably had to go before it could ever hope to accomplish its goals. It was back to the drawing board. The cupboard was bare. The draft picks were all out of the NFL and it was time to finally, and publicly, push that reset button.
The biggest mistake of the 2017 off-season
Enter Chris Ballard.
When Ballard came to the team, the fans already had gone through the stages of grief and were ready to accept their fate. It would take new, young blood to get things back on the right track. It would take some time and Ballard pulled no punches about it. Irsay spoke over the summer less like a man who wanted immediate playoff success and more like one who had the same goals but acknowledged that it might take some time.
There’s only one problem. There is only one thing that Irsay couldn’t bring himself to do. He had to hold out hope that with a new General Manager and a new philosophy, with new players and a chance to rekindle the youth on his Colts football team, maybe he could stick with his head coach and try to maintain some “continuity” for Andrew Luck.
In a way, it made sense.
After all, Luck was going to have to recover from off-season shoulder surgery and if the Colts hoped to make a run to the playoffs in 2017, it would be much easier if Luck could come back to the offense he already knew and played in last year. Making a coaching change, an offensive coordinator change, blowing it all up would be to concede that 2017 might be entirely about rebuilding — and might even cause some road bumps during another reset for Andrew Luck who would be playing under his fourth offensive coordinator in his young career (Arians, Hamilton, Chudzinski, ???).
Now, as it turns out, it likely wouldn’t have made a huge difference. There has been so much turnover on defense that I don’t think it would really have a massive impact on the performance on the field. In fact, a change in the right direction could even help the new players.
A change on offense could have resulted in some growing pains for returning players but Jacoby Brissett had no ties to Chudzinski’s scheme. It wouldn’t have had a profound impact on his ability to perform.
More importantly, bringing back Pagano put the franchise in an awful position as it relates to keeping its fans happy. Either Chuck Pagano would have to show immediate and noticeable improvement as a head coach and lead his team to wins, at least when their talent level was worthy of a win, or the nightmare would continue. The dirty, stale, bad taste still would be there.
The only thing worse than having to watch Colts football without Andrew Luck on the sideline — due to an injury he suffered during his time playing with, for and under Ryan Grigson and Chuck Pagano — is to watch Pagano lead a new quarterback and new team to inconsistent performances, blowout losses and leave fans asking the same coaching questions they were making over the last five years.
Even if Jim Irsay and Chris Ballard agree to make the right decision and bring in a new coaching staff to carry the torch into the 2018 season, all it will mean is that the disastrous coaching performances we’ve already seen in the second halves of games through the first six weeks of this season will be for nothing. Next year this core group of players — a group that Ballard has already improved — will be forced to hit another, albeit smaller reset button to learn a new scheme.
All Irsay accomplished by not making the tough decision this off-season on the coaching staff is delaying the inevitable for another year and potentially limiting Andrew Luck yet again by not allowing him as many possible reps in his new offensive scheme under his new offensive coordinator and head coach as was absolutely possible if and when he finally does take the field in 2017.
The same story gets old. Repeating the same mistakes is draining. It’s time for the Colts owner to accept what fans already have. Fixing the old car is no longer an option. It’s time to invest in a new one.