INDIANAPOLIS – Charley Casserly has a unique perspective as an NFL analyst for CBS Sports.
Casserly is finishing his fifth season on the network pre-game show, a stint that developed after a distinguished 29-year tenure in the NFL with Washington and Houston.
Casserly served as a general manager for 16 of those 29 seasons. Casserly's tenure with Washington spanned the 1977-99 seasons. He was elevated to the general manager post in 1989. Casserly joined the Houston Texans in their 2002 expansion season. During those NFL years, he brought teams to Indianapolis to face the Colts.
He has observed the Colts for years in his roles in the league and with the network. Casserly has observer many different ownership styles in his career. He had two very distinct examples while leading different teams, and he has witnessed others since then in a network capacity. He knows the commitments an owner must make in building a program that achieves and sustains success.
"You have to have the commitment from the owner in more than one way," said Casserly. "You have to have a commitment to spend money not only for players, but for coaches and staff. Two, you have to have a commitment to patience. You're going to go through tough times. It's a commitment in a number of different ways."
Jim Irsay has been that type of committed owner in Indianapolis. Irsay's dedication helped the Colts produce one of football's best eras from 2000-09 with 115 regular-season victories, playoff appearances in but one of those seasons, multiple division titles, two conference championships and a World Championship in Super Bowl XLI.
Irsay is in the process of plotting an organizational direction involving key components. He holds a firm conviction that three pillars of a solid organization, one that seeks repeated greatness, are the general manager, head coach and quarterback. Casserly concurs and believes it is a timeless truism in the sport.
"It is essential in any era of the NFL," said Casserly. "You have to have an owner who is committed to winning, which the Colts do. In addition to a solid general manager, you have to have head coach who is a good leader, a good motivator and who can hire good people. He has to understand how to use personnel. Ultimately, you're not going to get where you want to get without a quarterback. If you have one, conversely, every time you go out to play a game, you have a chance to win."
Indianapolis was the only team to have double-digit victory totals and playoff berths from 2002-10. Nine straight playoff appearances tied the league mark set only by Dallas from 1975-83. The extended period of success helped Indianapolis fill Lucas Oil Stadium with sold out audiences in 103 of the last 104 home outings.
This past season marked the eighth straight year the team played before a completely sold out home schedule. Casserly believes fans hung tough through a difficult time and that there are things that can be anticipated.
"I think the fans have to look at it from a couple of points of view. Last year is over with. Move on, you have the first pick in the draft," said Casserly. "It also means you have the first pick in every round. It gives you a chance to have a bonanza of a draft. It also gives you a chance to maneuver with the picks.
"You're lucky there are quarterbacks to evaluate (if that is a pinpointed area of need). You can have the first pick of the draft and there's not a quarterback to take. Look at the Detroit Lions. They did not win a game three years ago, now they made the playoffs. They got a terrific quarterback in Matthew Stafford because he was there in the draft, and they made the decision to pick him. I think there is a lot of excitement there (for Colts fans).
"The two young tackles (Anthony Castonzo and Ben Ijalana) that were drafted last year (are good). I think Castonzo is a guy who can be a bedrock on the left side and Ijalana can be on the right side. I think you have a chance there. You have some young running backs. (Pierre) Garcon is certainly a young receiver to build upon. You have (Dwight) Freeney at one defensive end. (Robert) Mathis, you want to get him signed to give you your pass rushers. There are young defensive tackles and (Pat) Angerer is a good prospect at linebacker. (Antoine) Bethea is a good safety.
"There are things to work with. There are a lot of exciting things to go forward with. The way the defense kind of came around at the end of the year, I think there should be a lot of excitement."
Casserly is one who is measured in his demeanor. He has seen all manners of sideline comportment around the league. When observing the Colts over the past decade, he has seen composure, poise and results. The results, he feels, are the true measure of any coach.
"I think the first thing to look at is how the team plays. Is it disciplined? Does it play with emotion? Does it play hard? That's what counts," said Casserly. "The rest, really, is for NFL Films highlights, when you come right down to it. What a coach wants to do is communicate with his players, hold them accountable and motivate them. Those are the three things you want to do. There are different ways to do it.
"Tony Dungy was a guy who never cursed. He never yelled, but he held people accountable. He had a standard of how to practice, how to play, how to be disciplined. How you hold them accountable is not as important as holding them accountable. I think Jim Caldwell does a good of that. It is evidenced in the emotion and effort the team played with last year. It (the effort) was all positive."
With the eye of a former general manager, Casserly was impressive with the integrity and dignity shown weekly by Colts players. Throughout a difficult season, he saw players who handled themselves professionally.
"I think it's a tremendous compliment to the players and the organization," said Casserly. "There was one team that struggled this year and it (the behavior) got to be an embarrassment when they were losing. You saw things with other teams where players went to the press and now all of the sudden things look dysfunctional. You did not see any of that with the Colts. That's a testament to the head coach. It's a testament to the character of the players, to those who chose them. No matter what it was, they kept playing hard every week. With injuries hitting a couple of positions they became a little thin and it showed up. The character of the players and their integrity should not be taken lightly. It was something to be proud of."