Colts general manager Chris Ballard opened his press conference with three words:
"Look," Ballard said, "I failed."
Over the course of his annual end-of-season press conference, Ballard didn't shy away from taking responsibility for the Colts' 4-12-1 mark in 2022 – but he also expressed confidence he and the team's front office can fix the issues that led to that record, and get this franchise back to being a contender.
"I'm not going to sit up here and make excuses. I failed a lot of people," Ballard said. "Highly disappointed about where we're at, how the season went. I never take lightly what's at stake here. It's not the wins and losses, but people's lives are on the line — players' families, coaches' families, front office, people in this building, and I don't ever take that lightly. I'm disappointed where we're at. And ultimately it falls on my shoulders. I won't walk away from that, I won't run from that.
"Saying that, we'll grow from it and I'll grow from it. And I'll get better because of it."
Here are some of the most important things we heard and learned on Tuesday morning:
The Coaching Search
Ballard will lead the Colts' coaching search in the coming weeks, with Colts Owner and CEO Jim Irsay having the final say – which is no different than how the other 31 NFL teams operate. It'll be Ballard's second head coach interview process as the team's general manager, and he explained a lesson he learned from the first one in 2018 – when, of course, Josh McDaniels backed out and Frank Reich was later hired.
"Don't start with an end in mind," Ballard said. "It's big. A lot of times what happens is you get a vision of what you want — you've made your mind up, and then you might ignore somebody that's really freaking good right in front of your face.
"So we've got a very detailed process put together on the traits and attributes we're looking for in the head coach. Don't care which side of the ball. And then to be patient, take your time and make sure we have a thorough interview with everybody. Consistent, thorough. I don't care if it takes until mid-February to hire the head coach. It's about getting it right."
While whoever the Colts' next head coach is may be tasked with developing a young quarterback – more on that in a bit – that does not mean Ballard will only focus on coaches with offensive backgrounds in the search. More important is the overall plan to win, with the hope that the Colts would ideally have elite quarterback play but also with the acknowledgement only a handful of teams actually possess that.
"You got to be able to win with average to above average quarterback play. You gotta be able to find a way to win," Ballard said. "So it's gonna be very important, whether it's an offensive coach, defensive coach, special teams coach, the ability to build a plan around how we're going to win, what our identity is going to be and how we're going to win with who's playing quarterback is important.
"I think there is a way to win every game. You look across the league right now and teams that might not be getting great — they're not getting superstar quarterback play but getting solid quarterback play, they're finding ways to win."
Ballard did not discuss who's on the Colts' list of candidates outside of confirming interim head coach Jeff Saturday will interview. Which brings us to:
Jeff Saturday, the head coaching candidate.
While the Colts went 1-7 with Saturday as interim head coach, Ballard said he doesn't hold that record against Saturday given the unprecedented nature with which he took the job – and the remarkably challenging circumstances he walked into in Indianapolis.
"We put him in a tough spot," Ballard said. "I'm not judging him by that. What I will judge — the things I did like — he stayed positive, he kept working, he held the team accountable, wasn't afraid to hold players accountable. And when he saw mistakes to call them out. Sure he's got things he's gotta grow, we all do. But I'm not going to judge him off that."
Ballard said he's interested to hear what Saturday's vision for the Colts is – what he would change, how he would change it, who his coaching staff would be, etc. And Ballard pointed out that vision Saturday has couldn't be implemented in the middle of a season.
"Your vision and everything you want to do, that starts in April and that's built over time and over years," Ballard said. "So it'll be interesting to hear — he'll go through the process, just like everybody else — it'll be interesting to hear his vision, how he wants to build it. He'll go through the whole interview process."
Saturday, though, does not have an inside track to the job, Ballard said – he'll be considered on level footing alongside the other candidates.
"His leg up is that he knows the internal workings and he's been able to see the inside of what he wants to fix," Ballard said. "But we'll have a process that will be equal for everybody."
The 2023 NFL Draft
Ballard was asked if he'd be surprised if the Colts didn't draft a quarterback with the fourth overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
"I wouldn't be surprised," Ballard said. "It's the fourth pick of the draft. We earned that. I don't like earning it, but we did."
But for the Colts to take a quarterback with what would be their highest draft pick in a decade, it would have to be the right guy – Ballard will not draft a quarterback just because the team may need a young player at that position.
"I've said this before and I think history proves me right," Ballard said. "I can take one, we can take one as an organization, and y'all are going to celebrate it and say we have got the savior for the Colts. And then if he doesn't play well — why'd you take that guy? You gotta be right. We gotta be right.
"We understand the magnitude of where we're at in the draft. And we understand the importance of the position. To get one that actually you can win with and be right is the most important thing. Not if we take one or not. But being right."
Ballard and his scouting staff in the coming weeks and months will spend thousands of hours evaluating the quarterbacks, and other top talent, in this year's draft. And if in that process their evaluation reveals a prospect they feel is "the guy," Ballard said he'd be willing to trade up in the draft to ensure he winds up in Indianapolis.
"I'd do whatever it takes," Ballard said. "If we thought there's a player that we're driven to get that makes the franchise and the team better that's what we would do."
Last Words On 2022
Ballard and his staff will go through their usual post-mortem process this month to get to the core of why 2022 ended with a 4-12-1 record. But Ballard on Tuesday reflected on his view of a season he, again, deemed a failure, and one for which he took accountability.
"I mean looking back on it, when you're changing quarterbacks every year it's tough," Ballard said. "It's tough on everybody. It's tough on the team. Not getting that position settled has a little something to do with it, and that's no indictment on any of the quarterbacks that we have.
"Let me talk about Matt Ryan. I mean, it's not an indictment on Matt Ryan. Matt Ryan is as professional a guy, player that I've ever been around. I still think he's got something left in his body to play. He's smart, knows how to play the game.
"Looking back, early in the season we had some changes to the offensive line, and that's where our struggles occurred early and we just never really recovered from them. It took us awhile to get some continuity. I probably underestimated that. I thought we've been so good up front for the last few years, I thought with the three really good players we had coming back in Braden (Smith), Ryan Kelly and Quenton (Nelson), that we would absorb those other positions and they would come up to speed right away. It just didn't occur that way, and that's a mistake.
"Now I will say midseason, I did think the line played better. I thought they played better down the stretch. I know they've taken a lot of criticism, but down the stretch that wasn't the reason we were losing.
"I know people say it all the time, but more games are lost than won. We lost them. Like, you cannot be -13 in the turnover ratio and win. You can't do it. You can't be 32nd in the league in the red zone and win. I think on defense we either finished 30th or 31st in the red zone. Like those are key areas of the game that you have to perform to be able to win.
"There is a way to win every game. I've said this every year with whoever you have. I mean the talent level in this league between teams – sure there are going to be a few, but it's not here and here. It's usually here and here, and I think you even look at the playoffs of teams that rebounded from a year ago that everybody said stunk and now they are in the playoffs. But those teams that got in, they didn't lose the game. We lost the game. You can't turn the ball over. You have to execute in the red zone when you get those opportunities, and we didn't."