Peyton Manning costs another person their job
The Colts have been perennial regular season juggernauts during the last decade. They set an NFL record for consecutive seasons with 11 wins or more, had an MVP candidate every year in Peyton Manning, and could be counted on to wrap up the AFC South by Thanksgiving most years. While they have struggled in the playoffs, they have won a Super Bowl during this run and gone to another, even while transitioning from one coach, Tony Dungy, to a second and much less impressive one in Jim Caldwell. Despite all the success, however, many people could see that the gaudy numbers and mountains of regular season wins were a bit of a facade, somehow overcoming a terrible defense, sub par offensive line, nonexistent running game, and average receiving corps (outside of Reggie Wayne) while failing to replenish their depth chart through the draft, missing on picks more often than hitting in recent years, and having to rely on undrafted free agents to come in and fill in the gaps. This season, we got confirmation about what was keeping this team afloat for all these years because he missed the entire season with a neck injury, and it cost head coach Jim Caldwell his job today.
Yes, Peyton Manning, with all his impressive passing numbers, was making the Colts seem better than they were. How do we know? Because without him, the Colts finished as the worst team in football with a 2-14 record, securing the number one overall pick for the first time since the last time Peyton Manning wasn’t playing quarterback for them. The team went through three quarterbacks during the season, the most successful of them being Dan Orlovsky, which should tell you all you need to know about how bad the situation was. The season cost longtime Colts architect Bill Polian and his son Chris, who had acted as the GM with his dad moving on up in the organization. The erosion from within of the Colts can be traced back to this act of nepotism, as the personnel decision making skills didn’t seem to be genetic. The Polians were shown the door shortly after the end of a disastrous 2011 season, but the fate of the head coach, Caldwell, seemed a bit more optimistic.
Owner Jim Irsay carefully kept his talk of Caldwell fairly neutral when asked about the future of the stoic signal caller, never confirming or denying the status of his coach, but always leaving it at “being under review.” Some people thought Irsay was going to wait for the new GM to come in and let him handle the firing of Caldwell. Then a new GM was hired, and his first order of business was not to immediately dismiss the coach, so then rumblings started that maybe Caldwell would be retained. The man did lose the only reason the team has been good in the last several years unexpectedly right before the season, and the team did rally to win two of their last three games…maybe he was going to be given a reprieve for residing over such a train wreck of a season? As it turns out, the Colts were merely waiting for all the usual coaching suspects to be taken off the market.
The news of Caldwell’s firing came down today, and surprised quite a few people. Just a few hours before the announcement, Patrick Clayton of ESPN went on Sportscenter and said he thought the Colts would be announcing that they were keeping Caldwell in the next few days. However, after meeting with Steve Spagnuolo yesterday regarding their open Defensive Coordinator position, the Colts remembered, “Oh yeah, this guy has been terrible and we have no defense,” and showed him the door.
Caldwell ends his time in Indianapolis after being hand picked by Tony Dungy to run the team after his retirement. Caldwell watched, and did little else, as the team he was handed went out and continued to dominate the AFC South and go to a Super Bowl. But when it came time for Caldwell to put his stamp on the team and grow from the Dungy years, things started to sour pretty quickly. A defense that was undersized and couldn’t stop the run got smaller and worse against the run. An offensive line that had trouble protecting the quarterback and couldn’t run block to save their lives got worse at blocking. A receiving corps that had one great receiver and a bunch of stand ins just got more stand ins. The talent and achievement of the team has been in a steady decline since Caldwell assumed control, and this season it just got driven off the cliff without Peyton under center to keep all the pieces together. All the holes that Manning’s arm made up for got put on display in very unflattering light and everyone involved in building this team is now paying the price for it. But really, when you hire the guy who was the quarterback coach for Peyton Manning (where he most likely just stood around and nodded) to be head coach and stay out of Peyton Manning’s way, can you expect much more from the guy than to stand around and nod? The man could have been replaced by a bobble head on the sidelines and his headset may as well have been piping in easy listening radio for all the impact Jim Caldwell had on improving this team.