Caldwell Best Candidate Available, Irsay and Polian Say
INDIANAPOLIS – The Colts didn't look far for a replacement for the most successful head coach in franchise history.
He was, in fact, just down the hall.
Jim Caldwell, a Colts assistant since 2002 and the team's Associate Head Coach for the past year, on Tuesday afternoon was introduced on Tuesday as the franchise's 17th head coach during a press conference at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
But Colts Owner Jim Irsay and Colts President Bill Polian each made something clear Tuesday:
Caldwell was the choice. The best choice.
Each said that was true no matter his previous title.
And whether he had been with the Colts or not.
"He's a special candidate," Irsay said on Tuesday, a day after the retirement of Tony Dungy, who in seven seasons as head coach led the Colts to seven postseason appearances, five division titles and a Super Bowl title following the 2006 season.
"If he was being introduced in another city right now, which he very well may have been if we hadn't signed the contractual deal we had, they would be talking about all of the things he did here, and all of the aspects of how contributed to (Colts quarterback) Peyton Manning's career, and to the offense, and all of those sorts of things.
"To me, it's really an exciting day for us. I really look forward '09."
Caldwell had interviewed for several head coaching positions in recent seasons, emerging as one of the NFL's rising head coaching candidates before the Colts announced last January he would be Dungy's successor upon the latter's retirement.
"He'd be No. 1 on everybody's list," Polian said. "He had a couple of interviews, maybe more than a couple, in the last year. Two people I respect very greatly told me, 'Boy, is he everything you said he was and more.' He would have been probably the No. 1 guy being considered for any head coaching opunity this year and I'm certain he would have gotten one. I'm very glad that the one he's got is the Indianapolis Colts.
"He's the right man for the job at the right time. I'm certain we're going to go forward with the same aggressive, talented, disciplined, successful football team that we've had under Tony Dungy."
Polian said it was clear long ago Caldwell had a future as a head coach.
He spent the first three seasons with the Colts as the quarterbacks coach, working closely with Manning during three Pro Bowl and two Most Valuable Player seasons. In 2005, Polian said Caldwell began drawing interest from NFL teams as an offensive coordinator candidate.
"I had had the benefit of working every day with Jim Caldwell, and seeing what he could do not only technically, but working with football players and people at that position, motivating them and developing them," Polian said.
Polian approached Dungy, and the two approached Irsay about promoting Caldwell to assistant head coach.
"He has all the qualities necessary," Polian said the two told Irsay. "If anything were to ever happen to Tony, or if he were to decide to retire, this is the kind of person we want as our head coach."
Irsay agreed, and the Colts promoted Caldwell to assistant head coach, a position he held from 2005 until last season, when he was promoted to associate head coach.
Polian, who said he first became aware of Caldwell when the latter was at Penn State under Head Coach Joe Paterno and working with current Tennessee Titans quarterback Kerry Collins, said he learned more when Caldwell was the head coach at Wake Forest from 1993-2000.
Caldwell coached the Demon Deacons to the Aloha Bowl before joining Dungy and the Buccaneers' staff in 2001. Polian was the general manager of the Carolina Panthers from 1994-1997.
"I got an opportunity to see Jim Caldwell, the head coach, up close and personal – both getting to know him and watching him work in a situation that was very difficult," Polian said. Wake Forest, Polian added, "was a rebuilding situation where Wake Forest was a decided underdog both from a talent and facilities and resources capacity with others that they were competing with.
"Jim did a marvelous job there."
Caldwell said his time at Wake Forest as the head coach was invaluable in preparing him for his current position.
"One of the big things I learned was leadership," Caldwell said. "There was an old saying that said the mark of a true leader is a man that can lead himself. You really don't know until you get the opportunity to stand in front of a group, and for eight years, I had the opportunity to lead a hundred-plus young men 365 days a year, which was quite a task. In terms of organizational leadership skills, that was absolutely invaluable. You have to deal with so many different entities. Juggling between the faculty and the board of trustees and boosters and the media and things of that nature. It was a great sort of a training ground for me. It taught me some valuable lessons."
Caldwell said at the same time, he is a different person and a different coach now.
"The other thing you have to consider is in 1993 when I took that job, it was like 16 years ago," he said, smiling. "Now I'm hoping that I've matured and developed and growing stronger in a number of different areas since that time which I believe there's no question that I have. We're not trying to hide from the record that we had.
"We're not making any excuses and not going to hide from past failure. You learn from failures but we left the program better from the way we found it and I think that's important."
Polian said Caldwell has exhibited the same qualities since joining the Colts as he did at Wake Forest, qualities Polian said were on particularly display when Caldwell served as interim head coach for a week following the death of Dungy's son, James, in December 2005.
"When it came, unfortunately and tragically, for someone to take over when Tony's situation developed in '05, there was no better person than Jim Caldwell," Polian said. "I was very grateful that Jim Irsay had seen fit to allow us to make the promotion that we did. Jim handled the job as well as anyone could in those very difficult circumstances.
"At that point in time, there was no doubt in Tony's mind, in my mind and I think in Jim Irsay's mind, that Jim Caldwell at some future time would be our next head coach."
Said Irsay, "This is something where Bill Polian and I had very lengthy discussions over the last several years. We knew that it was a possibility that Tony might choose to retire. It was on our radar screen."