We’re nearly five days into the Ryan Grigson era in Indianapolis, and the Colts’ new general manager should be about ready to make the call on the first of many crucial decisions this offseason.
Grigson, the former director of player personnel with the Philadelphia Eagles and an Indiana native (Purdue alum), is expected to decide either today or in the next couple of days whether to retain incumbent head coach Jim Caldwell or to complete the housecleaning and move forward with his own guy.
With huge decisions looming later in the offseason, particularly whether to keep or release quarterback Peyton Manning and whether to do the same (or re-sign) so many high-profile Colts players, the Caldwell decision might seem simple. It’s not, though, and it could have an effect on some of those decisions down the road.
I’m sure a lot of Colts fans want Caldwell gone.
Caldwell, who succeeded Tony Dungy after the 2008 season, has taken a lot of heat — some of it excessive — in his three years as the head man in Indianapolis. His in-game decisions specifically have come into question; his clock management at the end of the 2010 Wild Card playoff game against the New York Jets and his apparent trouble with challenges have drawn much ire among Colts faithful.
When those issues were paired with the Colts’ abysmal 2011 season without Manning — the team started 0-13 before finishing with a 2-14 record and earning the No. 1 pick in April’s NFL Draft — fans became sure their concerns about Caldwell had been validated. That 62-7 drubbing in New Orleans certainly would suggest it.
As strange as it may sound, though, a case can be made for Caldwell returning as coach in 2012. As I’ve said before, the fact Caldwell was able to get his 0-13 team up for two December victories against division rivals in playoff contention says something about his ability to keep his locker room. And for those fans who say the Colts couldn’t possibly justify bringing back Caldwell after a 2-14 season, might I remind you he also has been to a Super Bowl and got last year’s injury-depleted roster to 10-6 and a division title.
We also aren’t entirely sure what Caldwell can do when the higher-ups aren’t pulling his strings. It became pretty clear former Vice Chairman Bill Polian and GM Chris Polian had a lot of say in things the head coach is supposed to dictate (i.e. quarterback, Justin Tryon at cornerback). Maybe the Polians out and Grigson in, Caldwell will have more freedom in determining who plays and who sits, and hey, it could be for the better.
Also, who’s to say Manning doesn’ t want Caldwell back? Colts owner Jim Irsay has been adamant that Manning would be back with the Colts next year if healthy, and if that’s the case, Manning may very well want Caldwell, his former quarterbacks coach, in the fold as well.
Of course, Grigson could just as easily decide to move on from Caldwell.
While Irsay is expected to have a large say in whether Manning is retained and what to do with the top pick in the draft (it sounds like Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck is on his way), this is Grigson’s administration now. Just like the newly elected president appoints his own cabinet, a new executive of a sports franchise likes to feel comfortable with people he trusts.
There’s talk that Grigson could bring in Marty Mornhinweg, the Eagles offensive coordinator, to replace Caldwell. Let me ask the anti-Caldwell crowd: Is that what you want? A guy who went 5-27 in his two seasons as head coach of the Detroit Lions? Would Mornhinweg really be a better option than Caldwell?
If the Colts could lure Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, who appears to be the favorite to land the Miami Dolphins head gig, then I could see parting with Caldwell. I wouldn’t ditch Caldwell for Mornhinweg, though.
I think Grigson can do well as Colts GM. He has worked his way up the ranks and has a strong reputation as a talent evaluator (we know the Colts could use some talent). He doesn’t have much experience on the financial side of things, so he’ll probably hire a wingman to tackle the Colts’ pressing salary cap issues.
Those personnel decisions come March are daunting, though, and could mark the end of a Colts era altogether. Grigson won’t be alone on the Manning decision, but what to do about Reggie Wayne, Jeff Saturday, Robert Mathis, Dallas Clark and Dwight Freeney?
Thankfully for Grigson, those questions can wait to be answered. But the question on Caldwell needs to be answered as soon as possible. Caldwell deserves to know his fate, and the well of worthy coaching candidates is drying.