INDIANAPOLIS – Jim Irsay changed the path of his organization on January 2 when he decided to reshape his front office.
Irsay made a change in the general manager position for the first time since 1998, and the search for the next step for his franchise started.
Over the next nine days, he distilled a list of approximately 25 candidates to eight interviewees and the work involved "hundreds" of phone calls to help reach a conclusion.
On Wednesday, Irsay announced the hiring of Ryan Grigson as general manager. The process was one of intense work for the steward of the Colts.
"We probably started with 25 or 30 people," said Irsay. "We whittled the list down. I had a chance to talk to all the people I thought were top candidates. It was a great opportunity for me to talk football with a lot of different people, talk about different organizations, different philosophies. It very much was an experience that I think really helped me in determining our future and looking where we're at."
In the end, it was an initial impression that had an impact.
"From the first time I walked into the room and started the interview with Ryan, there was something special there," said Irsay. "There was something immediately even after five minutes that I could sense. I really thought he was a guy who was going to be one of the most serious candidates. That impression stayed with me. Sometimes they say first impressions are important."
"It is an intuitive decision. I picked Ryan (Grigson) because I felt that he had a vision, that he had an intelligence, that he had a depth of perception and awareness, and that he was capable of taking it up to the next level. I think there is an intelligence, there is a toughness and there is a teamwork-understanding and mentality. I couldn't be more excited. I think as we go forward Ryan (Grigson) is a riser. He is a guy who is going to continue to get better. He has all the tools and all the talent to continue to rise up to this next level of being a general manager."
Irsay senses the time is different in the NFL these days. While he lauds Grigson's personnel acuity and cites the need never to be distracted from the edge that sharp talent evaluation provides, he believes the time was right for the change.
"When you make this decision, it's a full-out process," said Irsay. "You want this person to have league office introductions. You want to see him rise. It's that type of maturation process that's starting immediately. It's something where I know that he can ascend. When you're trying to identify the next George Young, the next Bill Polian, the next Jim Finks, it's changed a little bit since those guys started. When you go back and look at the old general managers, the business model has changed. The game has changed. It's a little bit of a bigger responsibility, but I don't want Ryan detracted from the critical things he has to do, which are the football things.
"Ryan's come in because he has a great knowledge, a great expertise in building a football program. That's the number one thing. In this business, it's about can you get the best players? Can you get the best coaches and coordinate that effort to be the best football team? That's the hardest thing to get. You can get the (salary) cap right. You can do negotiations. The toughest thing is being able to have an edge there. That's where he gives us the edge."
Grigson comes to the Colts after having work in scouting and personnel areas with St. Louis and Philadelphia since 1999. He was with the Rams from 1999-2003 before joining the Eagles. Grigson experienced success at each stop.
St. Louis earned a 56-24 regular season record during Grigson's tenure, making the playoffs four times in five seasons. Four times the Rams won 10 or more games, while winning three NFC West titles and capturing two conference championship games. Philadelphia earned a 75-52-1 regular season record during Grigson's tenure, making the playoffs five times in eight seasons. Four times the Eagles won 10 or more games, while winning three NFC East titles, making two conference championship game appearances and reaching Super Bowl XXXIX.
The Indiana native who has reached the post-season nine times in 13 seasons has a full plate with the Colts. Indianapolis is rebounding from its first non-winning season since 2001. The Colts own the first pick in the draft. There are salary cap concerns and veteran players to address. The most pressing matter is deciding on the coaching staff going forward, something Irsay hopes is finalized within a week.
While it is an exciting situation, Irsay knows it is one that is not normal.
"He is not walking into a normal situation," said Irsay. "When you have the number one draft pick, when you have a veteran roster with salary cap problems, when you have injured players, whether it's Peyton Manning, Melvin Bullitt or Gary Brackett or Anthony Gonzalez, how you evaluate that, the coaching situation, if Jim (Caldwell) is going to be here, this is a difficult job to come into. It's not without the support he has.
"I think we can do better (with the salary cap). We need to do better. We have a real salary cap problem right now. There's no question about it, it's real. It's not insurmountable, but it's real. We can get the cap right. There are difficult decisions and it's not as simple as 1997 going into 1998."