ZIONSVILLE, Ind. —"We want to create a great place to work that's going to represent the game of football in a way that's going to make our fans proud to wear the Horseshoe."
A couple weeks after Chris Ballard took the job as the Indianapolis Colts' general manager early last year, he wrote those words down as his personal mission statement.
Ballard knew the path to achieving and maintaining that goal wasn't going to be easy. But by sticking to his guns and building things up the way he knew it needed to happen — the same ways his mentors did it during his various stops at the collegiate and professional levels — Ballard was confident that his lofty expectations could one day be achieved.
Today, those aspirations are as clear as ever, Ballard told a packed room at the Rotary Club of Zionsville's fundraiser luncheon on Thursday.
Ballard was the featured speaker at the event, which was held at the new Lids Corporate Headquarters in Zionsville, just a 20-minute drive from the Colts' West 56th Street facility, where the team was holding its final day of Phase 2 of its offseason workout program on Thursday.
Ballard told those in attendance at the fundraiser that earning the fans' trust is crucial. After three straight seasons that ended without a playoff appearance, Ballard now has two full draft classes under his belt to begin to shape and mold into what he truly believes can be another perennial winner for the city of Indianapolis, and the state as a whole.
"Me getting up here speaking, Frank (Reich) speaking — that's all good, and it's good for you to know the plan. We want to be open and we want to communicate to you where we're at, where we're going and how we're going to get there," Ballard said. "But we've got to earn your trust back; we've got to earn our fans' trust back."
As a player, Ballard saw first-hand how Barry Alvarez did it with the University of Wisconsin football program. As a young coach, he saw how Ron Harms was able to do it at Texas A&M-Kingsville. When he got into scouting, Ballard saw the Chicago Bears go from a laughingstock to a perennial contender. And as he continue to move up in his personnel career, Ballard saw the Kansas City Chiefs go from 2-14 his first season to 11-5 the next.
The blueprint for the Colts to do the same, Ballard said, is undoubtedly there.
"I think we're sitting on a sleeping giant. I really do," Ballard said.
When he began with the Colts, Ballard said he sat down and studied the historically successful Indianapolis teams of the first decade of the 2000s, trying to get an idea of what clicked. Sure, having a Hall of Fame general manager (Bill Polian), head coach (Tony Dungy) and perhaps the greatest quarterback of all-time (Peyton Manning) are terrific assets, but what did those Colts teams do to sustain all that success?
The answer, Ballard said, wasn't hard to uncover.
"I just started writing names down," Ballard said. "Peyton (Manning). Edgerrin James. Marvin Harrison. Reggie Wayne. (Dallas) Clark. (Bob) Sanders. (Dwight) Freeney. (Robert) Mathis.
"And they all had one thing in common: they were all drafted by the Colts; they were all developed by the Colts. They all were career Colts for the most part. … For the most part, the majority and the greatest parts of their careers were played in Indianapolis. You got to watch them grow up."
That's exactly what Ballard wants to build — and what he believes he's started to establish — in his first couple years in charge of the Colts' roster.
"It's not always popular, it's not always sexy, it's not always the headline, it's not always on the front of ESPN or USA TODAY, it's not always on sports talk shows when you're not out there signing free agents," Ballard said. "But the only way to get it done is roll up your sleeves and start drafting good players — and drafting guys that you can develop into being lifelong Colts."
There's no question the Colts fans are hungry to get back to those glory days, where double-digit-win seasons and deep playoff runs were the norm. And by trying to build it one step at a time, Ballard is convinced the organization is headed in the right direction.
"That's our goal. That's my goal," Ballard said of his aforementioned mission statement. "That's something I really want to do, and something we will do. I have no question that we will do it."