While Colts Owner Jim Irsay and General Manager Chris Ballard made comments during the league meetings earlier this week indicating a patient approach to building the Colts new roster, new Head Coach Frank Reich wants nothing to do with that narrative. The way he sees it, there are plenty of examples of teams who under-perform one season only to find their way back to the playoffs and winning football the next year. Reich made it clear that he is taking the aggressive approach and expects to win now:
“There’s not one ounce of me that’s being patient. There’s not one ounce of me that thinks we are in a rebuilding project. Every ounce of me feels like we are winning this year. We were 4-12 last year. That can turn around with a few breaks, staying healthy, a few more players and we can get it done.”
One player that comes to mind is franchise quarterback Andrew Luck. The impact of his healthy return to the football field should not be understated. While it is clear that the team will likely be unable to reach the status of deep playoff contention until the new coaching staff and Chris Ballard can put a bigger stamp on the roster, Luck can certainly help the team win the kind of close games they loss last year.
It is fair to keep in mind that the Colts will have additional challenges that follow installing a new coaching staff and making broad changes to the offensive and defensive schemes. Reich and Eberflus will have their work cut out for them to install their offense and defense with young players and veterans. How successful they are in a short period of time will certainly have an impact on how well the Colts can bounce back from a disappointing performance in 2017.
Still, teams who make significant strides from one year to the next is not uncommon in the NFL. Mike Chappell points out:
“[In 2017] eight of the 12 teams that advanced to the playoffs failed to do the previous year. Three went from last-to-first, including Reich’s Philadelphia Eagles, who bounced from 7-9 and last in the NFC East in 2016 to 13-3 in ’17 that culminated in a win over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.”
It is certainly clear that turning things around in the NFL does not require a three year runway. In fact, there is every expectation that the Colts could and should be able to improve their record and become more competitive in 2018, even if there will be more work to be done. It appears that no one is more aware of this than Reich who commented:
“For the last 20-some years, there has been a team that has gone from last place to first place in their division, then who knows what happens from there. That’s the way we are wired. We’ve got to go. We’ve got to win this year.”
Projecting the outcome for the Colts in a division that is improving, with front offices who have not been afraid to throw considerable money at making a run in the short-term, is hard to do. There is every reason to realistically believe that winning football for the Colts this season would be 8-8 or 9-7 and the outside chance at making the playoffs. That won’t stop Frank Reich and his new coaching staff from approaching this season as an opportunity to win now. He said:
“I just think there’s got to be that belief and confidence . . . I mean, no one’s playing for second place around here. We’re not playing just to improve.”
“We’re playing for championships. If you want to win the championship, that’s how you’re got to play.’’
While a championship run is extremely unlikely, building a winning culture and attitude should start immediately. As Reich mentioned, while Irsay and Ballard might be in the business of setting expectations and trying to deliver a long-term message to an impatient fan base, it is his job is to help teach young players and get them to outperform expectations now.
There is much to be done but Frank Reich doesn’t appear content with making excuses or taking the outs his boss and owner have given him. Time will tell if he can help guide the Colts to another quick turnaround.