Colts Are Caldwell's Team Now, Owner and CEO Irsay Says
INDIANAPOLIS – He had a dream, one that began long ago.
He pursued the dream for years, Jim Caldwell did, working in small towns under legends, then as a collegiate head coach at an undermanned program, and finally, for nearly a decade more as a unassuming assistant. He pursued it through good times and difficult ones.
Gradually, his profile grew. His dream grew nearer.
On Tuesday, his dream met reality. At last.
And as it did, a new era began.
Caldwell, a 32-year coaching veteran, a Colts assistant since 2002 and the team's associate head coach for the past year, early Tuesday afternoon was introduced as the franchise's 17th head coach during a press conference at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
"It's been something I always dreamed about," Caldwell said shortly after being introduced. "There are only 32 of these positions in the world. When you get down to that small number of positions, that's quite special. It's an exciting time for me.
"It's a great opunity for me, and I can't wait to really get it rolling."
Caldwell, 54, succeeded Tony Dungy, who coached the team the past seven seasons before announcing his retirement Monday afternoon.
Colts Owner and Chief Executive Officer Jim Irsay, who made several moves in the last four seasons to ensure Caldwell would remain in Indianapolis, introduced Caldwell.
"This day," Irsay said, "is about moving forward."
Added Irsay, "I couldn't be more excited about having Jim Caldwell as our new head coach."
It was, Irsay said, the beginning of a new era, a new era that follows one of the most successful eras in recent NFL memory.
Under Dungy, the Colts:
• Made seven consecutive playoff appearances.
• Won 12 games in an NFL-record six consecutive seasons.
• Won five consecutive AFC South titles.
• Won Super Bowl XLI.
That's big-time success, and following it is a challenge Caldwell said he embraces.
"We have high standards here," Caldwell said. "Let me tell you something, that's great. That's outstanding. Jobs are difficult in this league. It's tough to win one game, let alone the number of games this franchise has been able to win over the last seven years. It's going to try you. You're going to be tested and there's going to be a lot of work and effort, but the great thing about it is we don't have to necessarily do it alone.
"That's why you put together a great staff and we have a staff with a lot of experience and expertise so we tend to lean on one another to get this job done. We have excellent players. We have from top to bottom an organization from our owner on down that is absolutely excellent and certainly focused in on winning.
"We all have the same vision. We want to win championships. I think that's very exciting. I'd rather it be that way than low expectations."
But while Irsay on Monday discussed the success under Dungy, and while Irsay, Caldwell, and Colts President Bill Polian each said Dungy's time in Indianapolis helped establish a tradition of success and excellence, Irsay said no mistake should be made.
A new era dawned on Tuesday.
"This is going to be his team," Irsay said. "He has a vision. Bill Polian and I are here to support him, and I'm really excited about the possibilities of where this franchise can go. . . .
"I'm just really excited about this era starting for us."
If Monday were about tears, gratitude and reflection for Dungy's seven-year tenure, Irsay said Tuesday afternoon was about something else, something happier, something new, something in a future he said is as bright as the past.
"We're looking to get a second championship," Irsay said. "We want another parade. We want another Lombardi Trophy, but the only way that's going to happen is if it starts this afternoon. I know Jim knows that. It starts each day putting hours together, days together, and doing all the small things, all the little things, that lead to success.
"I know Jim is going to do that. The Window of Opportunity is not closing. This franchise, with Bill Polian and Tony Dungy and now Jim, has done a tremendous job in terms of going forward and bringing in new players and new energy every year.
"I couldn't be more excited. I'm really looking forward to this new era beginning for us."
Irsay and Polian each reiterated a point made by Dungy during his farewell press conference Monday evening – that Caldwell, who had been installed as the associate head coach last January, was the right choice for the job no matter his previous affiliation with the Colts.
"I emphasize this was not something out of convenience," Irsay said. "This was about getting the best guy. I'm really confident Jim is that man. He brings to the franchise the qualities that are most critical."
Said Polian, "He's the right man for the job at the right time. I'm certain that we're going to go forward with the same aggressive, talented, disciplined football team we've had under Tony Dungy."
Caldwell had been the team's quarterbacks coach from 2002-2004, and served as the assistant head coach/quarterbacks from 2005-2007.
He had coached under Dungy in Tampa Bay in 2001. Before then, he was head coach at Wake Forest from 1993-2000. He coached the Demon Deacons to an Aloha Bowl appearance in 1999.
"When he was released two years in a row – from Wake Forest, then after the year with Tony in Tampa – we didn't fall apart," Caldwell's wife, Cheryl, said shortly after the press conference. "We just knew, 'Things seem low now, but eventually we're going to be back on top.'''
Caldwell, a four-year starter at defensive back at the University of Iowa from 1973-76, coached at Iowa for one season, in 1977, then had stints at Southern Illinois (1978-80), Northwestern (1981), Colorado (1982-84), Louisville (1985) and Penn State (1986-92).
Caldwell worked with three-time National Football League Most Valuable Player Peyton Manning the past seven seasons. Manning has made the Pro Bowl in each of Caldwell's seven seasons with the team.
Caldwell on Tuesday discussed extensively what his experience both in the NFL and in college has meant to bringing him to the head coaching position of one of the NFL's most successful franchises. He said, too, he realizes succeeding the most-successful coach in the history of that franchise won't be easy.
But he also said there's no other man he would want to succeed.
And no better situation in which to succeed him.
"I embrace that challenge," Caldwell said. "Number one, he certainly had a great impact on this community and is a very tough act to follow, but I'm not competing with Tony. We're here to direct this program and get it going in the direction we think it should.
"We want to build upon what's already been established and it's a great foundation of success here and we want to move forward."