Possibly last Colts Blogblitz of the season:
When a team goes from a 14-2 season and a near Super Bowl title to a 10-6 season (6-6 at one point) and a wild-card round loss, obviously some fingers are going to be pointed. One week after the Colts’ disappointing 17-16 loss to the New York Jets, the Indy media and some Colts fans are starting to move their fingers toward head coach Jim Caldwell.
My hope is that this ignorance will end soon and that the city can once again accept Caldwell as coach. Here are the top five reasons that Caldwell’s status in Indy should not be in question:
5. Last season
Before we all run to the hills, let’s first recall what Caldwell did one year ago in his first season as head coach. He led the Colts to arguably the third-most dominant regular season performance in NFL history (behind the 1972 Dolphins and the 2007 Patriots). The Colts were 14-0 and leading the Jets in Week 16 at halftime before taking the team’s starters out for practically the next six quarters. The Colts then came within a surprise onside kick away from their third Super Bowl championship. Last season’s performance alone should keep Caldwell in Indy for an extended period of time.
4. This season wasn’t his fault
Four months ago, Caldwell could not have expected his the most durable team in the NFL to suddenly fall victim to the injury bug. He couldn’t have anticipated long-term injuries to Austin Collie, Dallas Clark, Pierre Garçon, and Anthony Gonzalez, all valuable targets to the arm of Peyton Manning. Their injuries were heavily problematic to a team that makes its living solely off the passing game. An injury to running back Joseph Addai for half the season didn’t help support the offense either. Caldwell spent most of the season trying to figure out how to make an offense work without the majority of its receivers and its featured back. By the end, he turned things around, leading the Colts to a four-game winning streak and a near victory over the Jets in the wild-card round. Who knows? If Collie was running that final third-down route instead of Blair White, the Colts probably would have won and Caldwell’s play-calling would look brilliant.
3. The Tony Dungy Era
In 2001, Tony Dungy hired Caldwell to be his quarterbacks coach in Tampa Bay. Dungy and Caldwell hit it off immediately, leading Dungy to bring Caldwell with him to Indy the following season. Caldwell served as Dungy’s right-hand man in all seven of Dungy’s seasons with the Colts, all of which ended no later than the second week of January. Twelve months prior to his retirement, Dungy tagged Caldwell as his successor, in essence, passing along himself through Caldwell.
During Dungy’s tenure as coach, he became one of the most well-liked individuals by his players in the league and turned the Colts into one of America’s most attractive teams. He built the Colts into a family and was fortunate enough to leave another member of the family in charge after his departure. It would take a lot to convince me that Dungy doesn’t still have some sort of influence on the team through Caldwell. I can confidently infer that Caldwell has been in close contact with Dungy throughout the past two seasons, especially the rough patches like this year’s three-game losing streak.
There is a sense of comfort in Indy with Caldwell as coach due to his connection with Dungy. The players like the continuance of the Dungy Coaching Tree and have no desire to find a new coach with a foreign strategy.
2. The Peyton Manning Era
Since Caldwell arrived in 2002 as quarterbacks coach, Manning has won four MVP awards and led the NFL in passing yards, passing touchdowns, passer rating, and practically every passing statistic known to man. Caldwell has been the mastermind behind most of Manning’s success, grooming him into the face of league’s passing game.
The entire Colts offense revolves around Peyton Manning. In fact, the Colts’ success revolves around Manning. When he has the proper weapons around him and plays like an MVP, the Colts are the best team in the league. When he does not have wide receiver depth and cannot find his groove, the Colts find themselves in trouble, as was the case this season (Manning through interceptions in seven games. The Colts lost five of them).
With his seven-year $99.2 million contract finally ending, Manning is currently a free agent, although he has expressed no desire to leave Indianapolis. The Colts still expect a solid four or five years out of Manning, who has never missed a game in 13 seasons. Manning will be 35 in March. Bringing in a new coach for Manning to mesh with in his final seasons would be disastrous. The Colts have put themselves in a situation in which their only option is to stick with Manning’s partner-in-crime, Caldwell, at least until Manning retires (which with his ironman stature, could be in 2020).
1. See here