Questions and Answers with Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell
Question: It has been quite a few weeks, and what's striking is that while many outside the team – fans and media included – have continued to debate the Colts' approach to the final two weeks of the regular season, the team has moved on to focus on the postseason . . . A: We're certainly aware of how certain view what we've done and decisions that we've made. We've certainly taken those things into consideration. We understand it, and I don't think there's any question that the magnitude is pretty widespread, but all in all, what we have done – and what we always have done – is to try to do what we thought was best for the team, to get us in the best position to reach our ultimate goal. We don't try to deviate too much from that.
Q: It's amazing when you think of it – that one of the biggest issues you faced as a rookie head coach was how to approach things with a 14-0 record. Of all the problems you could have . . .
A: (Laughing) I'm extremely grateful and thankful for the way our team has played, the way they have responded. To sit here at this moment in time with the best record in the National Football League – that's difficult to do. They have been able to deal with a number of different adverse situations throughout the year – injuries, back-to-back games in a short period of time, travel, Thursday night games. We probably had as many road prime-times as anybody has had in the first part of a season. To do it with all of the changes we have gone through in the last year, I think, is really admirable. I'm certainly proud of the way our players have played and measured up, and the way our staff has adjusted to it – and how they have helped them prepare week in and week out to prepare at a very high level consistently.
Q: You leave very little to chance, and you're meticulous in your approach. In that sense, did you plan out ways your first season might go, and if so, did anything surprise you?
A: You could never have pinned me down to where I could have said, 'I think this is where we're going to be record-wise,' because you just don't know. One thing I did know was I knew we had a good football team. I knew that, obviously, because I've been here. It wasn't a big surprise to me that our guys would play well.
Q: And even with all of the changes and the off-season issues, you never lost that vibe that it had a chance to be a special year . . .
A: Very early on, I did sense it. Just looking at the camaraderie and the development of continuity – because it did need to be developed in some of the younger guys – how quickly they adapted, and the maturity that was demonstrated in some younger guys in some very key positions, and the overall willingness in our veterans to really take an active role in making certain that some of our younger guys understood what kind of performance was expected around here. They worked with them. All of those things I appreciated, and you could see it early on. You could see it happening in April, May and June.
Q: Some players said they picked up that sort of vibe at the beginning of training camp, when wide receiver Reggie Wayne showed up in a dump truck and hard hat and proclaimed it was time to go to work . . .
A: We've always had an outstanding work ethic, but you could sense just a little bit of a difference. First of all, in our organized team activities, although we have had outstanding year-to-year attendance, we had the same kind of attendance this year, and they worked extremely hard. I think the level of intensity picked up just a little, just a notch, in preparation for this season.
Q: Is that 'New Coach,' or is it veterans realizing you've only got so many of these chances?
A: I think it's a combination of all of those things. But I've always believed that good teams are formed from the inside out. What I mean by that is the core of veterans really set the tone. Inside-out means they've taken ownership and when a team takes ownership that's when you see, I believe, some dynamic work come out.
Q: Because without that – the veterans taking ownership – there are things you can't control as a head coach . . .
A: We can prod. We can direct. But until they take ownership of it, it really doesn't bear fruit. They've taken ownership in a big way.
Q: There have been changes, some subtle, this season from how the Colts approached past seasons. Will the approach to the post-season change significantly?
A: In terms of the bye week, we're probably practicing a little more than we've practiced previously. We call it, 'We like to keep our edge.' This is a week we get our edge back, or keep our edge, in terms of our work. That's what this week is for, as well as to work on a few of our weaknesses to get some things in order for this next run.
Q: Because in the past, you didn't practice on Friday during the postseason bye week . . .
A: That's correct. We'd go Wednesday and Thursday and take off. So, we'll go one more day and just work on some details and come back and get ready to roll next Tuesday because we play Saturday.
Q: Colts President Bill Polian mentioned this week that you were influenced by Penn State Head Coach Joe Paterno, who approaches bowl months like spring practice. While that's not entirely possible in the NFL, there's a trace of that here, correct?
A: There's a training-camp mode in a way. You go offense versus defense, looking for speed and sharpness. Although we're not necessarily working on opponents, because we don't know who we're going to play – we have three different options – the best thing for us to do is make certain our fundamentals and techniques are sound. The things that will actually carry us through – those things are the things that make a difference, so we go back to those things. In our individual periods, we've extended the time a little bit to work on those. We work offense and defense and keep things in short spurts. The practices aren't real long, but we're hoping they will be sharp and intense. That's the goal, then we come back Tuesday and focus on whoever the opponent is. We took a step back, worked on our basic techniques and fundamentals and then move forward.
Q: And at some point in the offseason, did you look at it and say, 'What have we done wrong in the past?'
A: No. We've won a whole lot of games, so we haven't done too many things poorly around here. I've taken some things and taken a look at them and said, 'OK, this might not fit exactly. I don't feel real good about maybe that length of time that we're practicing; maybe we need a little more or a little less.' We've done those kinds of things – slight adjustments to our schedule, but for the most part, I've never looked at it that way. I've never said, 'We didn't do this very well.' I'll tell you what I do: I talk to our players. I talk to our veterans. When I get an opunity, I say, 'Listen, what do you feel about how much we practiced during this bye week? What do you feel?' I get a chance to get their feelings and let them weigh in on some things. There are guys who have been around here and understand what we've done before, so I let them weigh in on some things. Sometimes, it may affect how I feel about a certain issue.
Q: But in the end, it's your call . . .
A: I'll take it into consideration, because if you don't listen to them, they won't listen to you.
Q: There was so much talk in training camp about you putting your so-called "stamp" on this team. Is there a Jim Caldwell stamp yet or not?
A: I never even view things that way. What I do is take a look at the end of the regular season and like I've said, 'Add them up, see what we have.' That way, we can look back and say, 'OK, we were able to play well enough to achieve the best record in football and play well enough to achieve our goals.' We wanted to win our division. We wanted to play well enough to get a first-round bye. We did all of those things, so you have to say that when we tallied it up in the regular season we did what we set out to do. Now, the most important phase comes. This is what all of the work we did all year leads to. We still have to approach this time of year exactly like we approached the other ballgames in terms of our preparation and in terms of our rhythm and in terms of how we get ready for a game. We certainly have a lot of confidence in the way we've done things.
Q: So, overall, your vibe is good entering the postseason . . .
A: I feel great about it. First of all, if we keep trending the way we've been trending, we're going to be in very good physical health, and I think that's key. If we practice well – and I know we will, because we always do – we're going to feel good about where we are from a practice standpoint in terms of sharpness heading into our preparations for whoever we play. I feel good about what our team has been able to accomplish. When we tee it up, there are going to some tough ballgames and some tough teams. Anybody can win, but there's not anybody we can't beat. There's not anybody who can't beat us, but we know we have to play well.
Q: Throughout the season, there has been something about this team's ability to make plays at the end of games . . .
A: If I put it in a nutshell, this team knows how to finish – in all three phases. We've found ways to finish by going down the field and scoring on the last drive of a game. We'll drive down the field and eat up clock on offense. We've found ways on defense where we've had to punt the ball, when we couldn't convert and had to punt it to the opposition. We've had to get a stop. We've known how to come out and get the opposition stopped.
Q: And those kinds of plays separate teams in the NFL, do they not?
A: I remember one of the first times I talked to (former Colts Head Coach) Tony (Dungy) early on. We were sitting down and discussing things. He said to me, 'What you're going to find is different between pro football and college football is that 90 percent of the games or more are going to come down to you on offense with the ball in your hands trying to either win it with a touchdown – or tie – or win it with a field goal or tie. Or the opposite will be true. You're going to be on defense and you're trying to prevent a team from driving down the field to either win or tie in the last two minutes of a game. That's what it boils down to every single week. That's one of the reasons we work on the two-minute situation so much and try to hone in on those last four plays of the game, so our guys understand the importance and understand the nuances involved with them as well – so that they can perform at a very high level in those intense situations.