INDIANAPOLIS – The final gun of the 2011 regular season sounded for Jim Irsay last Sunday at 3:41 p.m.
Though the NFL in recent years has suspended the use of the referee's gun to punctuate the end of halves and games, the sound in a figurative sense was audible.
For the first time in a decade, Irsay did not have a playoff game for which to prepare. The fortunes of his team did not allow for a nine-year playoff run to reach a NFL-record 10th straight season.
Irsay and his team were ushered into the off-season quicker than it had wished, a feeling not felt since 2001.
In two short seasons, Irsay had gone from the exhilaration of seeing confetti lying on the playing floor of Lucas Oil Stadium to the excruciating feeling of holding the first pick in the 2012 draft because his team had earned the position.
The first order of business was a walk, a tough walk – leaving EverBank Field with a flight back to Indianapolis on which he would ponder his organization's future. Irsay had had better walks and flights than he endured last Sunday.
"Walking out of the locker room in Jacksonville, that was a hard walk," said Irsay. "It is a hard situation because of my affection for the people who have done so much for this franchise is deep, but my commitment to doing what we need to do will always be resolute, and that it the way it has to be."
Early Monday, he reached a difficult decision to change the hierarchy of his franchise, and at dusk he was standing in front of reporters and with cameras beaming his message that Vice Chairman Bill Polian and Vice President and General Manager Chris Polian were departing the company.
It was a dramatic change in a power structure that had been in place for 14 memorable seasons.
Almost any form of change is difficult. Having to go through change that affects a company and the lives of people who have worked hard and well was far beyond tough task for Irsay.
"To see a franchise that has had so much success, that has had so much pride in winning and winning the right way (has been difficult)," said Irsay. "It has been very difficult. I think it is difficult to see your franchise struggle when you care so much about the people and you know they are trying to do the best they can to get it right and to not struggle. It is difficult and at the same time, it is something where you know in the end that these things can happen and eventually you are going to see a decline. It is impossible for 25 years to have 10-win seasons consistently. It is just very difficult because there is a lot of pride."
Irsay is fiercely competitive in nature. He is just as dogged in his loyalty to those who serve in his organization. Disrupting careers and lives is a last-resort duty in his job description. Serving as the leader of a company means it falls on him.
Irsay has been involved in the NFL for 40 years. Low times were accompanied by periodic bursts of excitement through most of his first 25 years with the team. Sustained greatness was something he saw in other teams, and he hoped to achieve it for his team and for Colts fans.
Excellence was a constant driving force, and he was able to achieve it in the late 1990s, and he sustained it for a remarkable decade-plus span.
Making a decision of the magnitude he made on Monday is one of the toughest jobs Irsay must do as an owner. It is one that comes through thought, meditation and conviction. It is with intuition and inner fortitude. It is one that can cause a lonely feeling at the top.
The decision affected one of his three "pillars" of strength in the organizational. The decision on a general manager could affect the other pillars – head coach and quarterback.
"This type of decision is extremely difficult," said Irsay. "There are many, many components that you look at in weighing the positives and the negatives, and the type of energy, and the type of timing that you feel in your gut that's right for your organization. There is so much that goes into a decision like this. In the end, I think it is an intuitive decision where you feel that the time is right to make a change.
"This is the tough part of this business. I've always said there is a great loyalty in this business because when I walk into the locker room with my team on opening Sunday, I'm expected to make sure the circle that I've built is as strong as it can be for us to win. Sentiment and those things can't come between that. That's the way I've always looked at it in seeing this business for over 40 years. It was difficult."