*INDIANAPOLIS — *Faith, family and football are the guiding principles of many players, coaches and team officials across the National Football League.
And that's certainly no different for Chris Ballard.
Hired in January 2017 to be the Indianapolis Colts' general manager, Ballard has spent much of the past 460-plus days doing what he can to get a proud franchsie back to its winning ways. But, off the field, Ballard has a completely different team of his own: five kids and a wife, Kristin (but she's in charge at home, Ballard insists).
And while Ballard of late has found himself fielding tons of questions about his professional life — the Colts just wrapped up a modern-era record 11-player 2018 NFL Draft class, and head into a critical 2018 season with a franchise quarterback, Andrew Luck, set to return after missing the entire 2017 season — it's the off-the-field stuff that just doesn't come up all that often.
But Ballard this week opened up on those very aforementioned topics — faith, family and football — with host Wil Hampton on his show "Catholic Sports Weekly."
You can listen to the entire interview by clicking here, but here's a transcript of Ballard's conversation with Hampton:
On what he liked about guard Quenton Nelson, the team’s first-round (sixth-overall) pick in this year’s NFL Draft:
“Well, I mean, I’ve been watching Quenton for a couple years. I noticed him last year when I was in Notre Dame visiting on a school (visit), and just his presence; he’s got all the physical attributes that you look for in an offensive lineman — he’s big and strong and got the movement and quickness that you want — but also it’s just the way he prepares and the character, the football character, that he has just epitomizes everything that we want in a player, from his love (of) the game to his ability to hold himself accountable, but also his teammates accountable. And then his toughness — his toughness is at a whole ‘nother level, and he knows how to keep it between the lines, and he does, and he’s going to be exciting for Colts fans to watch here for years to come.”
On how much fun it is make the phone call on draft night:
“Well, look, I mean, I don’t ever take for granted what we do, and that the impact that we do have in people’s lives — not only the players we draft, but our fans. And I’ll never take that for granted. In those moments, when you hear the kid — the excitement in his voice, the excitement in his family’s voice that everything that they’ve worked for their entire lives is coming into fruition, those are exciting moments. And I’ve got to be honest, and even a little candor here: I had about a 101 (-degree) temperature; I was sick as an absolute dog the first two days of the draft. So I probably sat down for a reason.”
But you’re feeling better now?
“I am finally making the turn.”
That’s one thing about Indiana: you get these colds and they just hang on with the weather being so inconsistent:
“No, it’s been great here lately, and look: I’ve got a wife who unfortunately got it, and we have five children, and we’re passing it around. I mean, it’s hard to get out of our house. When one person gets anything, it gets passed around to everybody.”
On the approach of getting team leaders in this year’s draft:
“Look, I mean, that’s always going to be a big emphasis of ours. Will we be perfect? No. But we’re going to make a big emphasis to get the right type of people in the locker room. I just believe long-term, that’s what wins. And we don’t only want to represent the Colts, they’re representing the city of Indianapolis and the state of Indiana, and it’s important that we get the right type of people to represent our organization and our community.”
On the emphasis to get as many draft picks as possible:
“Look, the history shows you — I mean, you look at the best teams in the league who have had success through the years, they draft in numbers. And we’re going to continue to do that. I mean, you want to go into a draft and be able to get at minimum nine picks, and then the more you get going forward is more shots at the dartboard. And look, when your roster needs work, that’s how you replenish it, with young talent.”
On the coaching search that eventually landed on Frank Reich:
“Well, look, things always — I never get in panic mode when things don’t go the way that you planned them to go. Because lord knows, my wife always tells me, you know, we plan and God laughs. And he always has a way to work things out. And, you know, we had Frank on our initial list and we didn’t interview him the first go-around, but the next three guys we interviewed were all very qualified, and (I) feel fortunate to get a man of Frank’s character and leadership as our head football coach.”
On the Philadelphia Eagles’ passion for faith last season, like with Reich, their former offensive coordinator, and how important that aspect was to hiring him in Indy:
“You know, Frank — I mean, look, and we have all different types of denominations here — and Frank, with what he stands for on a daily basis and his character, I think that’s something that’s going to definitely bleed throughout the locker room and through our organization.”
On if the faith aspect was something that helped the Eagles in a Super Bowl title last year:
“I think the character of the men that they had on that coaching staff — I know (head coach) Doug Pederson well, just from being in Kansas City with Doug for three season — the character of his coaching staff, the character of their players, I think all of that resonates when it comes down to crunch time and winning ballgames. So I do think it is an important element.”
“He’s a big man. You would think he would’ve played football at one time. But, look: he’s got an interesting background, with being a police officer, with doing what he’s done, and now following his faith into the priesthood. He’s going to make a tremendous impact here with the Colts.”
Father Hunter has said the fact he’s big helps him open doors with the players; do you see that happening?
“There’s no doubt that his presence leads to easier conversations.”
Who were your mentors when it comes to your faith?
“You know, growing up, I did not grow up Catholic. I grew up Methodist, and in a very strong church. And when I went to college, we had a great priest at the University of Wisconsin, and then I started to get interested in the Catholic faith. I started going to Catholic church, and then when I got married, my wife was Catholic, and we joined a church in Houston, St. Ignatius, which I ended up signing up for RCIA and going through the process of making the transition, and they had a priest by the name of Father Norbert, who I’m still very close with to this day, who ended up being, really, a guiding factor in my life. I mean, through every decision we made — both me and my wife — with our children — we had two that we have adopted that he gave us a lot of great guidance along the way, and I still have a very strong relationship with him today.”
So you still talk with him as much as you can?
“Absolutely. So they were devastated by the floods in Houston where I grew up, and their parish — which he’s been the priest now, I want to say, for nine years at St. Ignatius, and they had done a lot of work; they were in the process of building the school, and all of that was lost. And I made a point when we played Houston this year to go down and see him, and he walked me through the parish and all the damage, and what really resonated with me at the time was his faith and how he had never lost faith in the obstacles that he was faced with at the time. And, look, I remember him always telling me, ‘God does things for a reason. He only gives you what you can handle.’ He told me that when we adopted our two daughters, when we became foster parents and ended up fostering them, and then adopting him, and he said that was God’s plan for you and Kristin. And, much like with the parish, it resonated because I starting thinking about, ‘Hey, God did this to you and to the parish because he knew you could handle it.’ And he has handled it. The archdiocese didn’t have the funds to completely renovate the church and all of the work they had done, but he did it through fundraising and the people of the parish and raising money, and now they’ve got construction going back in the right direction — and I want to say they’ve actually moved back in; they had to build a temporary structure just so they could have mass, and I know they had to have mass at the local high school — but just seeing how he was able to overcome his situation with no panic, complete faith in what God’s plan was for him, really has helped me through any kind of difficult times we have in life.”
Sometimes when you see what other people are going through, it makes your life seem a little bit easier:
“Look: sometimes we worry about things that we can’t control. You know, everything’s already been planned out for us anyways, and there’s always going to be change — there’s always going to be change in your life — but there’s one constant, and that’s God. God doesn’t change; God doesn’t change in his love for you and his direction for you, and you’ve got to keep that in perspective when things aren’t going your way or when things are changing around you, that is our solid ground that we can always stand upon.”
On the decision that went behind deciding to adopt his two daughters, Sunnie and Rainn:
“I wish I could sit here and tell you it was just this rosy (situation); (that) we had brought two new children into our lives and it was an easy transition. But it wasn’t. There was struggles, and I learned a lot of great lessons — not only from Sunnie and Rainn, and from them, but also from my three children, how they took them in with unconditional love. And it taught me and my wife a lot about love, because you think that, you know, you bring two kids in who had been in a pretty tough situation, you’d think they’re automatically just going to love you because you’ve given them a nice house and nice things and sending them to school — but it doesn’t work that way. You know, you have to earn that, and you have to earn it through your daily actions. And it was a great growth process for me and my wife to go through; it made our marriage stronger because we did have some tests. But because we were able to overcome it and just followed what God’s plan was for us, I think we’re stronger today because of it.”
On the emotional reaction of his other children when they decided to adopt:
“You know, being able to serve others and give to others, much is given, much is expected. And I’ll tell you, it’s been a great lesson for our children — and for Kristin and I. God gives us a bunch, but he expects more, and not everybody has had the advantages that we have had. I mean, we’ve been very blessed and fortunate, and God has given us a lot, and he expects us to give more back, and those lessons will stay with our children the rest of our lives.”
On how every life is important:
“And you never know when you’re going to have a chance to really make a difference in a child’s life. You know, we learned a lot going through the foster process how many children (are) out there that need homes and need help and need guidance. And we have to be willing to give up ourselves. I mean, it’s gotta be more than just writing a check. You know, we have to be willing to sacrifice. I mean, lord knows God sacrificed for us so we would have these opportunities, and we’ve gotta be able to sacrifice ourselves. And I see that a little bit as a problem in our world today, is that we’ve all become so self-absorbed, to where it’s all about us and what can we get instead of what can we give and what difference can we make. And when God gives us this platform and a chance to really make a difference, we have to take advantage of that.”
On how the family is doing?
“They’re good. They’re all very active, they run my poor wife ragged — you know, between all of the sports activities that are going. But she finds a way to manage it, plus manage me because I’m child No. 6, and lord knows I need my own guidance, too.”
On ‘The rivalry is back on’ statement he said about the New England Patriots:
“Well, I mean, look — and I’m sure they’ll treat it the same way; each game on the schedule’s important. I mean, look, at one point, New England and Indianapolis, that was a primetime, big game — Peyton (Manning) vs. (Tom Brady), you had two of the best quarterbacks in the league going at it. And I got caught up in the emotion and it came out. But absolutely — look: that’s where we want to be, and that’s where we plan on being, and we’ve got to make it more competitive and we’ve got to make it a rivalry again, because I think it’s good for the league, and it also shows that we’re getting back to where we need to be as an organization and team.”
On holding joint practices with the Baltimore Ravens at training camp at Grand Park in Westfield:
“Last year was hard; it was hard for me, when I first walked in and we were debating training camp and where we were going to go and we had some contingency plans, and they had some plans in place that I just didn’t feel comfortable with. And, look: my entire career, everywhere — I’ve never stayed at home for camp. So last year was hard not being around the fans. I mean, I think it’s a great time — and I think Grand Park, it’s close, it’s a quick drive here, almost the whole city of Indianapolis and, really, the state of Indiana can come out and see their team. And I think it’s important; I think it’s important for our players to get to know our fans, and I think it’s good for our fans to get to see our players on a daily basis. And it’s a chance for us to reach fans that can’t always get to Sunday, that can’t always get to a game on Sunday. This is a way for them to be able to really connect with our team and our players.”
On how quarterback Andrew Luck is doing:
“He’s good (laughs). Don’t worry — I promise you. You’re not the first, and you won’t be the last. Until he walks out of that tunnel and plays a game, I will get asked this question a million times, and I’m pretty (consistent) with my response. I have total faith in the young man and where he’s going and our plan going forward to get him ready to play Week 1.”