INDIANAPOLIS – Jim Caldwell has been coaching football since 1977, one season after he concluded a four-year career as a defensive back at Iowa.
His collegiate career as an assistant took him through programs at Iowa, Southern Illinois, Northwestern, Colorado, Louisville and Penn State. He served under coaches in Rey Dempsey, Bill McCartney and Howard Schnellenberger who won collegiate titles, and he was on Joe Paterno's staff in 1986 when the Nittany Lions won a national championship.
Caldwell was the head coach at Wake Forest from 1993-2000, and in 1999 directed the school to its first winning record and bowl game since 1992.
Tony Dungy picked Caldwell for his staff at Tampa Bay when Caldwell left Wake Forest, and Dungy brought him to Indianapolis in 2002 to serve as quarterbacks coach. Caldwell earned larger titles with the Colts and succeeded Dungy as head coach in 2009.
Caldwell has learned from great coaches through his career. He also has had enough accomplishments on his own to understand the nuances and demands of a difficult profession.
One practice regardless of any profession is to seek advice from others who have gone before you. Seeking advice is something that can be done in good times and difficult situations. It is something Caldwell did early in his career and would continue to do to this day if the moment called for it. After all, resources are to be used if needed.
"I think that's customary in our business. It's not anything that's unusual," said Caldwell about the practice of seeking advice. "You try to use every available resource. At least that's what I believe, whether it's in-house intellectual property or somewhere else, someone you can tap into just to get an idea of what they went through in terms of what they looked for (during a problem time). Maybe what turned the corner for them. That's the thing I was most interested in, is trying to find out, 'What happened in that situation? What did you do? Did you do anything differently?'
"I can tell you this, the great majority of them did nothing different."
The off-beat subject arose this week since Caldwell and Indianapolis are dealing with an injury to quarterback Peyton Manning and having to play without him for the first time since 1998. While Caldwell did once consult former San Francisco 49er head coach George Seifert about any advice he might have in serving after a successful head coach (Seifert succeeded the legendary Bill Walsh), he has not done so now with other NFL coaches who had to play for a period of time with a new quarterback. Caldwell in this instance has the services of Kerry Collins, who played under Caldwell at Penn State before embarking on a career that reached 16 seasons before joining the Colts in late August.
That Caldwell did not consult anyone over the situation is not surprising. No one better than the head coach knows his team and how it operates. Caldwell is setting the path in this circumstance with his club.
While he is aware of the attention that goes with the matter, he also shared an anecdote and some advice he received years when he reached out to Wisconsin head coach Barry Alvarez.
"A guy I did call one time, I was in college at the time, I called Barry Alvarez," said Caldwell. "Barry Alvarez, when he was at Wisconsin, had had a team that he kind of brought from mediocrity to the point where they were playing extremely well. He built that platform, and it didn't happen until he was in about his third or fourth year. I called him trying to get some comparisons because his program looked a little bit similar. He gave me a list of things they had done and a lot of them were basically, 'Stay the same. Stay the course. Do the things that you know how to do and try to get better at them.' He said, 'Set those parameters,' and he ended it with, 'Don't flinch.'
"I even use that today in terms of the way in which I approach things. You're going to hear a lot of stuff, and that's the thing I try to talk to our players about. Everybody has an opinion about it, I mean everybody has an opinion about what you should do. That's going to happen. That's why our sport is so popular. I think even way back when, even before the 'information age' when King Solomon was on the throne, in (the Book of) Ecclesiastes he even said, 'If you take every opinion and weigh it out and evaluate it, it could become exhausting.' If he had it back then, that was before computers and that was when oral history was at its best, very few things were written down, just imagine if we considered everything that is thrown at us today.
"That's the thing we talk to our players about as well, 'You have to minimize it.' We have to stay focused on what we're doing, and we can't flinch."
COLTS FRIDAY NOTEBOOK:
On a squad of 53 players even avid fans would be hard pressed to name the majority of their favorite team's roster. For a team itself, though, each of the 53 players is critical to practicing and playing. The cast of performers can change each week, given the physical nature of the game.
That was the case this week when the Colts signed linebacker Nate Triplett. Triplett joined the Colts originally on December 1 of last season when the club was dealing with a great amount of injuries. Triplett played in the final five games on special teams, totaling six tackles. He also played on specialty units in the Wild Card outing against the New York Jets. Triplett had been a fifth-round pick by Minnesota in 2010 and spent time on the San Diego practice, too.
Triplett was with the Colts during training camp before being waived on September 3. He returned to his native Minnesota, trained and waited for the phone to ring. It rang this week, and the Colts were on the line. Triplett was pleased to get the call, and he is happy to return.
"I've always really loved it here. I've had an opportunity with a couple of other teams, and it's just not the same as it is here," said Triplett. "So I felt pretty fortunate to get a call from these guys, knowing that there are 31 other teams out there that could have called before. I went through camp here, and I had about six games last year. So I have a little experience here. The fact that they have the confidence in me to bring me back and throw me in there shows me a lot. I've been planning on doing a lot of special teams this week, so I'll be out there contributing however I'm needed."
Not every player on NFL rosters is a top draft pick or has a high celebrity profile. Many are like Triplett who work every bit as hard and hope to make an impact. All are young men playing a sport they love and likely do it away from home. Triplett may get playing time this week if injuries impact the linebacking corps, and he could get time on special teams, too. Action for him would be his sixth outing in league play, and he hopes to build on his career numbers.
COLTS QUOTE-UNQUOTE: Jin Caldwell(on adding FB-Chris Gronkowski after club has not had FB for years) "We've have some from time-to-time, and it just depends on if a guy can fit. He's a pretty versatile guy. Sometimes it has a lot to do with whether or not a guy can contribute and help us in terms of special teams. We haven't had a guy that helped us in special teams that played the position since Detron Smith, probably. Which has been a little while back. Detron was kind of a core guy, and he did everything. I think Chris (Gronkowski) has that potential as well." Caldwell (on possibly teaming RBs-Chris Gronkowski and Delone Carter together in short-yardage offense) "We're hoping. That's kind of what we're looking at. Obviously, we had one successful conversion. It's early yet, so we'll see how they grow and develop together."
Caldwell (on if he things opponents will return kickoffs from deep in end zone) "I think so. I think every week you have to be ready to cover it all the way until the whistle blows, because there are some guys that are bringing them out with some depth. If you look at the games that have been played around the league, there are a number of them that have come out from a lot deeper than you ordinarily would get. Typically, if they're three or four yards in, they would stay in. But that's not the case any longer."
Caldwell (on if coaches discounted Kerry Collins' fumbles at Houston because he is a veteran who is not likely to do so again) "Facts are facts. That's just the way we kind of view everything. We look at it from that standpoint, but we don't sugarcoat it. Overall, we can talk about the things he did well, and we talk about the things that, maybe as a team, we didn't do as well. We cover every base, and we do not sugarcoat anything."
Caldwell (on does he think the Colts defense is not built to play without a lead on the scoreboard) "I would say that's probably not the case. In particular, if you look back two years ago, we played from behind a number of times and won a lot of games coming from behind. I think we had seven in 2009. I'm not certain how many last year, but I'll bet there's quite a few. So I'd probably say that the facts don't bear out that particular inquiry. They're built for speed. They're built to make things happen in terms of turnovers. They're built to get people stopped. That's basically what we do. There are a lot of teams that defensively you'd love to play with a lead. It certainly does make things a little bit better. But in this league, leads vanish rather quickly, so you have to be a good defense all-around in order to compete consistently."
Caldwell (on how a player who is not starting should be ready to play always given the duration of a season) "It always comes. It's just one of those things. Oftentimes, you go through this process. Sometimes guys get an understanding of it from a maturity standpoint. You may not like what happens to you but if you mope around and you're not really focused on continuing to get better, your time is going to pop back up again. When that time comes, you'd better be ready to perform. We get second and third chances, but beyond that our game is unforgiving."
Caldwell (on if improvement on special teams comes through film evaluation or personnel changes) "A little bit of both. You can't overreact. Sometimes in a situation, particularly when it happens in the kicking game, that it's one guy sometimes. Sure, you can make some adjustments, but that could have been a fluke. He may have had 10 other great plays during the course of the kicking game. You have to kind of measure it out, and take a look at it and look at the entire body of work of an individual before you make any drastic changes. But improvement is the key. We have to get better. This is a meritocracy. It depends on how well a guy does in those situations, and that is what we judge it by. If he doesn't do well, just in terms of looking at everything that he's done, then we have to look at some alternatives."
Caldwell (on making alterations to defense without having Peyton Manning) "It just depends on who you're playing. Sometimes you go into ballgames, obviously even when Peyton (Manning) was here or prior to that time, you still have to look at certain teams and make a determination on how you're going to play that particular team. Maybe their strength's in their kicking game, maybe it's their defense or maybe it's their offense. A lot of teams would try to keep our offense off the field by running the ball and certainly eating up as much clock as they possibly can. We had to kind of prepare in terms of a limited amount of snaps that you're going to get. You're only going to get maybe seven or eight possessions in the game, which is highly unusual. What are we going to do with them? How aggressive do we have to be? Sometimes we'd have to go for it on fourth down in some situations. That's when we kind of came up with the idea about getting parameters on when we're going to go for it. Before each game we kind of know, and depending on who we're playing, how often we do it. That never changes. Now do we have to look at things differently? Yes, because our dynamic has changed somewhat. Yeah, we have to look some things a little bit differently as we go into each and every game."
Jerraud Powers(on responding as a team and defense) "Our way of responding is playing on the field. I can get up here and say, 'We're going to do this, we're going to do that, and we're going to do this.'…How we are going to respond is how we play on the field, and you are definitely going to see a difference."
Powers(on being confident the defense will play better) "The leadership we've got in this locker room, the coaches, everybody is on the same page. If you look at least year, something similar happened. We went out to Houston and things didn't go as we planned, but over the course of the whole year guys stayed together, stayed as one and we were still able to win the division. Nobody's walking around with their head down or thinking that the season is over. Like we said after the game at Houston, 'This is a journey, it's not a sprint.' We just have to continue to take it one game at a time."
Dwight Freeney (on the sky not falling because of one loss) "Not at all, not at all. Last year at this time we had the same record, similar score and we ended up doing some nice things last year. (Last week was) obviously not what we wanted…(but) we definitely turned some things around. We're hoping for a similar type of thing this year. Not every game is going to be your best game. Starting the year we don't ever say, 'We're going to be 16-0.' We have a challenge with whoever we're playing next, and our challenge is to beat that team. If you don't, go back to the drawing board, figure out why you didn't do it and move on to the next one (opponent)."
Gary Brackett (on tackling Cleveland RB-Peyton Hillis) "Obviously, you are more conscious about running your feet when you tackle him. You can't leave your feet, thinking that you're going to tackle him with an arm tackle or anything like that. You have to bring your whole body up under you, and it's going to take everyone running to the ball. There's going to be a second or third guy coming in and trying to get a strip and a turnover."
Brackett (on if it's strange facing a runner bigger than some tacklers) "No. At the end of the day, it's football. We've faced guys like him before, back with (Jerome) Bettis and Brandon Jacobs and a few other guys. I think guys will be prepared to attack him and make sure they get him down."
Brackett (on the perception the season is over at 0-1) "It's a long season. Being at 1-0 or 0-1 is just like a lot of other teams in the NFL. This week, you're only as good as your last game. Last week, people are, I guess, up in arms about what happened, and this week is a new challenge. We can go out there and redeem ourselves, and be right back sitting pretty again."
Kerry Collins (on playing in Lucas Oil Stadium) "I'm looking forward to being here at home. I know they've got great fans here. I have personal experience that this is a tough place to play for visiting teams. I hope they're as loud and as boisterous as they always are, because it really is a big home-field advantage here."
Collins (on crowd when Colts have ball) "It's nice and quiet. When the offense is on the field it's almost eerily quiet for having that many people in the stadium. They're knowledgeable. They know when they need to let the offense do its work."
Collins (on if he were limited in the offense at Houston) "Not much at all. I think we all were pleased with the amount of stuff we had in going into the game. I really felt like I had a good grasp on the game plan and what we were doing. From a game plan and running the offense type of situation, there really wasn't that many blitzes. I felt that was pretty smooth. I certainly think we can continue to have that number of plays and that volume (of material in the plan), I think it will help us going through the rest of the season."
Collins (on if he had multiple plays at his disposal and some latitude at the line) "Absolutely, absolutely, that's part of the offense. I expected to be able to handle the situation and get us in the right play. There were maybe one or two (plays) I maybe could have done a little better on but for the most part, I thought we were in the right play most of the day."
Collins (on if he sees the no-huddle in the future) "I don't know if it's on the radar screen right now, possibly. I think the offense kind of lends itself to that. I think as we go along and the progression kind of manifests itself maybe we can get there at some point."
Austin Collie (on if he were frustrated at Houston with receptions) "I think (it's) more of a frustration that I didn't help us win. I didn't help us get any better. I think that's where more of the frustration comes from, whether that's in the blocking game, catching balls, whatever. I just don't think I helped us at all get any better."
Collie (on the source of his anxiety at Houston) "I think it was all of the above (new quarterback, first game of the season, not having Peyton Manning). When you get a new quarterback who hasn't been in the system that long and a lot of pressure is on him, I can't imagine what his nerves were like going into the game. I imagine that he was nervous. I think we all were a little bit nervous just because we didn't know where we were at. Now that we have an idea of where we're at and what we need to work on and what we need to get better at I think we are pretty confident going into this week that we're going to be head and shoulders better than we were last week."