NFL in Period of Outstanding Growth and Positive Times, Irsay Says
PALM BEACH, Fla. – Jim Irsay's a bit tired of hearing it.
Irsay, the Colts' Owner and Chief Executive Officer, for the last several months has heard the talk about the difficult times facing the National Football League, particularly involving the issue of the integrity of the game.
Irsay said he understands there are concerns.
But he also said perspective is needed.
"It's easy to talk about things that are quote-unquote concerning, when in fact we really are in a period of outstanding growth and very positive times," Irsay said during an extensive interview with Colts.com this week at the NFL Owners Meetings at The Breakers resort in Palm Beach, Fla.
Irsay, now in his second decade as the Colts' owner, discussed a variety of topics, from the state of the franchise, to the city of Indianapolis' upcoming Super Bowl bid, to the imance of continuity to the Colts' success in recent seasons.
But particularly, Irsay said he believes that in recent months the talk of the problems facing the NFL has overshadowed a greater truth.
"When I look back over the years, I've seen some concerning times, but you always have concerns, because you're continually trying to grow," Irsay said. "I guess, to me, there has been too much of a microscopic looking at it in terms of the integrity of the game. We have tremendous integrity in our game in so many ways. Obviously, when a couple of instances come up you're always trying to fine-tune it, whether it's integrity of the game or player conduct or any of those things.
"It's just being proactive and it may lead to some sort of misconception that things aren't going the right way."
The rest of Irsay's conversation with Colts.com:
Question: What are the most pressing issues facing the NFL these days? What concerns you the most?
A: I would say becoming more international remains a high priority to me. I won't say it's a concern. It's a Rubik's Cube you're attempting to address. How much money do you put into the effort to become more international and global? Where do you put the money? We're in between a period of time, obviously, with NFL Europe not being there. People talk about the growth that is happening in China. They talk about all businesses that have a real interest to become global and more international. That may be one of the top priority items on the list. I think in terms of the union deal, the integrity of the game, player conduct – all those sorts of things are things that always exist. We end up talking about them. I think that really is critical to note that we always have challenges and you're always competing against yourself, so to speak, in terms of your success and growth, but again, I would say it's an area that seems to be still a frontier that hasn't been close to really being even blazed or addressed significantly. It's going to take decades, but we need to continue to look at the international aspect.
Q: What about the Colts? You always see the big picture with the organization. When you look at the team, where do you see things right now?
A: It couldn't be more exciting for us than it is now. I mean, to have the Lombardi Trophy, to have a great defense (last season) with all the injuries we had . . . obviously, we wanted to take it father (last season), but to be going into the new stadium and opening up against the (Chicago) Bears (in the 2008 regular-season opener and the first game in Lucas Oil Stadium) . . . . again, you are competing against yourself along those lines. You're competing against expectations that are well-deserved. I always have my eye two, four, six years down the road and at the same time enjoy this year and the moment. We always have issues of transition. Thankfully, I don't see those issues coming up in the immediate future, but as they come up down the road, we'd like to extend a decade of greatness to 15 years and continue to be an outstanding franchise. Obviously, it's as good as it gets getting into the new stadium. I think you don't get complacent, you don't take things for granted, you don't get careless, you know how hard it is and you know you have to redouble your efforts each year in terms of going forward. Obviously, we'd love to win another Super Bowl. We want to get the Super Bowl for Indianapolis. We're working hard toward that. Those are the things you look to work toward. It's always moving it forward in that way. Personally, it's tremendous to have my kids – Carlie and Casey – participating at meetings. You see the third generation in the meeting rooms and you think back to when I was their age and my dad (Robert) was alive. You see time pass. One thing I think you're very aware of is things change. Time moves on. Things change. If you're fortunate enough to be an owner and be around for a long time, the challenges keep coming up. You do everything you can to try to move forward and try to ensure you have an outstanding, competitive team and that you're going forward with the expectation of having a great year and that your fans and your brand are continuing to grow. Complacency never sets in and you want to continue to try to do some of the outstanding things we've done over the last 10 years and keep that going.
Q: How much does your experience – a lifetime spent in the NFL, basically – help you have the perspective you discussed earlier, that things are really pretty good for the league right now?
A: To me, I look back and see some of the things that have happened, being in the rooms for over 25 years now and being in my 38th year being around it. I've seen some real difficult times and some times when you're in crisis management and there are a lot of difficulties. It certainly gives you a perspective. I can remember times in meetings when you spent so much time in crisis management and managing things that you really couldn't focus on growth and you couldn't focus on the positive things. You don't take that for granted. There is still a lot of wisdom in the room. There are still experienced people who can go back in time and remember some of the difficulties. At some point, they just come up. As much as you try to manage away from them, some of it's unavoidable in terms of being in a fluid marketplace. It's something now where we've become more expansive. The business model is a lot more complicated. There are a lot more moving pieces. You really can see that change, but we never want to forget our focus. The focus on the game and on the fans is really what's important. That's what you try to remember as you're working and problem-solving on various things that come up. You want to make sure you don't forget what it's all about and that's the game and the fans.
Q: You're a strong believer in continuity and that has been a key part of the Colts' success in recent years. How important was it to you to get the so-called line of succession in place with the announcement of Associate Head Coach Jim Caldwell as the successor should Head Coach Tony Dungy retire?
A: I think people may have misunderstood it a little bit. We had a coach in Jim Caldwell who was being highly sought after. My goal, which took a financial commitment from me – the owner – was to take him off the market. It really doesn't define the future as much. I'm not saying some day he won't be the head coach, but the biggest point – how long Tony's days are – remains uncertain. It was really about an outstanding assistant coach and taking him off the market, so to speak. That's what really occurred there. I know there is some focus on succession and, 'Is this year any different?' and, 'Is Jim Caldwell doing different things?' I don't really see a lot of that there as much as it was, 'We are focused on developing excellent management, coaching and playing.' Keeping those individuals is really where the focus was on that. I think it's pre