INDIANAPOLIS —The Indianapolis Colts are on the hunt for their new leader.
Team owner Jim Irsay and general manager Chris Ballard on Monday conducted the team's year-end press conference, one day after the team decided to part ways with head coach Chuck Pagano, who just wrapped up his sixth season at the helm of the franchise.
While both Irsay and Ballard were complimentary of Pagano's efforts as a leader both on and off the field, they said they're excited to begin conversations with a new wave of candidates to bring the organization to new heights.
Here are some highlights from today's press conference:
• Irsay said he "couldn't be more excited about the direction that we're going to be headed." He says he's fully confident quarterback Andrew Luck, who did not play in 2017 after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery, will be good to go next season, and that the team's No. 3-overall pick in April's NFL Draft — while an abnormally-high selection for an organization used to picking much later in the round — should bring with it a dangerous weapon who can come in and contribute immediately.
• Ballard, according to Irsay, will be leading the search for a new head coach. While Irsay will obviously have final say, Ballard will be expected to find one, if not more, top candidates he knows can lead and develop the team, build a superb coaching staff, and, most importantly, win ballgames. "Chris is going to go out, do a lot of the heavy lifting," Irsay said. "I'm going to meet the top candidates."
• Ballard talked to the team today, and addressed his expectations going forward. While he said "we're going to find a head coach who can lead them and a staff that can develop them," Ballard also expressed the importance of the players holding each other accountable. He commended Pagano and his staff for keeping the locker room together during a tough 2017 campaign; now it's time to take a big step forward. "When you tolerate anything that gets in the way of winning, that puts you at fault, too," Ballard said he told the players. "We've got to have high standards, and it's got to be held throughout the locker room. And I think we will."
• Ballard said there will be a "wide-open search" for the next head coach. He'll consider candidates from the collegiate and professional ranks, and while experience and a strong résumé are each obviously plusses, he said they won't be the be-all, end-all in his decision-making process. Ballard mentioned the fact that current Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was an assistant coach on a Minnesota Vikings team that was .500 when the Steelers hired him, and that current Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy was a coach on a two-win team when he got hired on. Both have since won Super Bowl titles leading their respective franchises. "The previous head coaching experience, that's not a requirement," Ballard said. "The change, though, when you hire an inexperienced head coach … (he's) gotta have a presence, have to lead the room." Ballard also said he won't discriminate between candidates who might specialize in offense or defense.
• Ballard said the Colts are "going to take our time" to select the perfect candidate for the position. While several teams now have openings, that won't affect the timing of the Colts' pick. "We want to make sure it's the right fit. … We want a partner. The head coach-GM relationship is one of the most important things in the success of this franchise."
• The organization is "currently evaluating" the remaining assistant coaches on staff, and "we'll let the new head coach make some decisions" regarding those individuals, Ballard said.
• On Luck, Irsay said No. 12 is "going to be back — and I mean back — with a fierce fire in his eyes. I promise you." With that in mind, Irsay believes, "This is going to be a special place and a special place to play, so I think it's going to be exciting to see exactly what fit we get and what individual can come in and to make us great."
Irsay / Ballard Press Conference 1/1/18