INDIANAPOLIS – Two weeks ago, Colts Owner and CEO Jim Irsay relieved Vice Chairman Bill Polian and General Manager Chris Polian of their duties.
Six days ago, Irsay hired Ryan Grigson as his new general manager.
Irsay and Grigson have met almost continuously since January 11 plotting the direction of Colts football. Tuesday the pair made the next decision for the future, and it meant Head Coach Jim Caldwell was relieved of his duties.
The move was difficult for both parties. It was a decision made in lockstep with an eye toward the future. Irsay and Grigson did not move forward, however, without citing the many contributions and accomplishments of Caldwell, the 10th head coach in the club's Indianapolis era.
"I want to thank Jim Caldwell and acknowledge all the outstanding things that he has done for our franchise," said Irsay. "This is someone who (in 2009) took us to the Super Bowl, winning an AFC Championship game at home and going to Miami again (for Super Bowl XLIV). He did an outstanding job in the playoff game and getting us to the playoffs and winning the division (in 2010)."
Caldwell directed the Colts for three seasons, earning a 14-2 mark in 2009 and a 10-6 record in 2010 before the team posted a 2-14 record in 2011. Caldwell won division titles in his first two seasons and reached Super Bowl XLIV as a rookie field general. His clubs the past two years were beset with injuries, but he was able to direct wins the last four games in 2010 to earn a second post-season appearance. Overall, Caldwell produced a record of 28-24.
"This was a difficult decision," said Irsay. "It was based on the feeling that this was the direction the franchise needed to go. I wanted to make sure we took all the time we needed to make sure it was the right decision. (General Manager) Ryan (Grigson) and I had a chance to evaluate the situation thoroughly since he was hired. This was the direction we needed to go."
Decisions of this nature never are easy for Irsay, but it was one like he made in 1998 in re-shaping his franchise. That year, he changed his general manager and head coach. Today, he decided on the same course.
"Just like in 1998, 14 years ago, when there was this sort of change and I decided to change general managers, change head coaches and go in a different direction, it's a big change for the franchise," said Irsay. "At the same time, there are players, other coaches (and) many people on the staff that will go forward into the new day and get on with the work of 2012. It was difficult because my affection for him (Caldwell) and knowing what a good man that he was. That team played hard until the end last year, and that's a great credit to him.
Grigson and Caldwell met over the past couple of days, a period Grigson used to familiarize himself with the coach. Grigson was duly impressed by Caldwell and admired all he was able to accomplish while directing the Indianapolis sidelines.
"We all acknowledge and appreciate what Jim Caldwell did for this franchise and for this city (and) the body of fans," said Grigson. "He's a tremendous man. We had a lengthy, lengthy talk – seven hours. We sat and just talked ball and got to know each other.
"You can see why people respect him the way they do and feel about him the way they do. All coaches, they all say the same thing about him – he's a great man, a great football coach and his heart's in the right place."
In the end, Grigson and Irsay decided the time was right for a change in direction, with each knowing change is not simple.
"Me and Mr. Irsay, we talked, and this is a change," said Grigson. "Change sometimes isn't always the easiest transition to make, but it's part of this game. It's part of this league, and it's part of the steps needed for us to get going in the right direction in this new era of Colts football."
Grigson and Irsay each would like the replacement effort to be addressed in an expedient manner, though there is no time frame to conclude a process that carries the importance of the decision of a new head coach. Grigson said it is not a matter that will be rushed into and that no decisions of a rash nature will be made.
Grigson will meet with the coaching staff in an evaluation process. He did confirm an interview he and Caldwell had with former St. Louis Head Coach Steve Spagnuolo about the club's vacant defensive coordinator position. Spagnuolo was the defensive coordinator of the New York Giants prior to being named Rams head coach in 2009. Spagnuolo and Grigson served together with Philadelphia from 2004-06.
"I'm excited about the future," said Grigson, who stated he wants strong leadership from the new head coach. "I'm with the right ownership and team and body of people within the organization. From the day I walked in, I felt that. I said it the other day, and I meant it. We're going to chip away at this thing. Every day we're going to try to get better, everybody within the organization moving in a common direction with a common vision and goal to be great again."
It is a shared excitement between owner and general manager, and Irsay sees looks forward to the next person named head coach.
"I'm excited about the search," said Irsay. "This is something that is going to start immediately. I really think that we're going to get an outstanding head coach to lead us going forward.
"When I look at the future, I see a bright future. Just like it was in 1998 with the uncertainty and all those sort of things, it's tough to change. We've had such excellence and greatness over such a long period of time here. That's what I expect us to return to. It's not an overnight process. (I'm) looking forward to continuing getting on with the work of getting this franchise back to all the great things it has done."