When the Colts hired Shane Steichen to take over as their new head coach after an exhaustive search, it was an opportunity for the then 37-year-old to show he was capable of steering the team into a new era.
However, in the nine months since he took over, Steichen not only has the team entrenched in the playoff hunt but has also gained the respect and admiration of the players around him.
"Shane has brought in a presence of just holding people accountable. The standard he's put in is a great standard – the pillars. I mean everything that he says, he stands on it," defensive lineman Tyquan Lewis said. "Being on time, being a presence around the guys, he adds a new dimension to the locker room. He's like an extended version of us because if we don't believe then, we got to have somebody to give us that hope. I feel like Shane adds that too because he's like listen, 'At the end of the day, we're all we got. This is all we need.' We have a great locker room here and Shane just adds another dimension to it because he just fires us up to get us going even more."
That appreciation has come in large part due to the way he's helped the team navigate through the series of unfortunate events that they've undergone in the past 12 weeks.
From a shoulder injury that prematurely ended Anthony Richardson's promising rookie season, a six-game suspension that's kept run-stuffing defensive tackle Grover Stewart off the field or even a three-game losing streak midway through the season, Steichen has not allowed the team to succumb to their circumstances.
"I think the biggest thing is just handling adversity. There's going to be adversity in this league. You never know when it's going to come," Steichen said following the Colts' Week 11 bye. "Obviously, we had a stretch there when we lost three in a row and how do we bounce back from that? As a coach, the message to the team is staying consistent through our process and getting back on track – playing your best football in November and December. Winning two in a row and now we got a chance to win three in a row is big. Maintain that process, maintain the consistency, maintain the relentless effort throughout the week so we can give ourselves a chance to win on Sundays."
So, when the team made their way back into the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center after their week off, there was a renewed sense of optimism. They were 5-5 and knew a win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 12 would help them take another big step toward a potential playoff berth.
"Everything's ahead of us and that's because of how our coaches have approached everything and how we've been as a team just being behind him [Steichen], trusting that what he has for us is the best thing for us," safety Julian Blackmon said. "At the end of the day, we control our own destiny and that's what we want."
The Colts would go on to win the game 27-20, pushing their record on the season to 6-5 and more importantly positioning them as the seventh seed in the AFC.
With the way that Steichen has led the team, it can be easy to forget that he'd never been a head coach before getting the job with the Colts.
His NFL coaching career began in 2011 when he served as a defensive assistant for the San Diego Chargers. After two seasons there, he worked for the Cleveland Browns for a year before returning to the Chargers. His second stint with the team lasted from 2014-2020 which he filled multiple roles such as offensive quality control and wide receivers coach, quarterbacks coach, interim offensive coordinator and offensive coordinator.
Defensive backs coach Ron Milus was also on the Chargers coaching staff around the same time as Steichen and saw he had great potential then to be a head coach.
"I think we all realized early on when he was with the Chargers that he was going to be an up-and-coming, bright coach," Milus said. "Actually, we had a few guys on that staff who were like that. We had Nick Sirianni (the Philadelphia Eagles head coach) on the staff. Tommy Rees, who's the offensive coordinator at Alabama, he was part of that early crew that came through.
"We had a bunch of guys in that same mode that made you go, 'Hey, that's one.' and Shane was one of those guys. Just with how he carried himself, his knowledge and then how he went about his business. So, it wasn't hard to figure out he was gonna be one of those dudes in the future."
He served as the offensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2021-2022. In his final year at the helm, he helped the Eagles end the season with a 14-3 record and the chance to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
Upon joining the Colts, he'd kept several coaches on his staff who were around in 2022, including veteran defensive coordinator Gus Bradley.
In 2013, he was in the same spot after leaving his post as the Seattle Seahawks' defensive coordinator to become the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Impressed by how Steichen has handled the job, Bradley said Steichen's inability to lower his standards has pushed everyone around him to be better.
"Well, I think Shane (Steichen) has been very consistent with his message," Bradley said. "I think there's a sense of strength coming from him, a strength, a confidence in what this team can become, and I think he challenges this team to get to that standard each and every week. There's no wavering. I think he's demanding, he holds people accountable, he holds us as coaches accountable – what it needs to look like. I've just been very excited for that consistency because the season, you're going to have some ups and downs throughout it and if you can have that leadership be consistent in their message, I think it just aids the team in coming out of some of those tougher times and getting back on course. He's allowed us to do that."
For a coach still getting to know his new locker room, it can take time for them to feel comfortable vocalizing their high expectations. However, with Steichen that has not appeared to be the case, which has been respected by his players.
"I think it's major because it's like if he didn't get control over the locker room or if he didn't have people believing in him, then it could be very detrimental to the team because you don't want a split locker room," Lewis said. "You want guys rallying behind you and we want to rally behind the coach, you know? Whatever he's telling us, we have to believe in it and pass on the message."
So, as Steichen leads the team into their final regular season games, Milus said he has no doubts that Steichen can handle the pressure.
"I think there's a little bit of 'been there, done that'. Last year, Shane was with the Eagles, and he's been in that situation where he knows how to manage, how to navigate the waters, how to make calls in a big game," Milus said. "So, I don't think it's gonna be an issue. He's gonna be able to handle whatever adversity that comes along in here this next month."