Polian defends unknown Colts' head coach

BY foxsports • May 29, 2009

Life isn't the same in Indianapolis. The city is hurting financially and the mayor has his hand out to Colts owner Jim Irsay, hoping for at least $5 million to help defray their stadium debt, while on the football side Tony Dungy really is retired and much of his old coaching staff is either in semi-retirement or gone altogether. The good news is that Peyton Manning remains the quarterback.

"This is the NFL," Colts general manager Bill Polian told me, "and like Bill Parcells says, you can go to work in the morning and five things you didn't expect to happen have happened and you have to be able to deal with it."

Since February, Polian has been grappling with how to retain the services of veteran offensive coaches Tom Moore, 70, and Howard Mudd, 67, who opted to retire and take their pension in a lump sum payment (over $1 million) when the NFL drastically altered their employees' pension plan.

Never a big fan of attorneys, Polian has been forced to deal with them in order to negotiate a solution so that these two retired employees can return to work, possibly as unpaid consultants until something sensible can be formalized. Irsay wants the two coaches to return and everyone feels they will be assisting new head coach Jim Caldwell by training camp.

The entire issue is magnified by the success of Dungy — the Colts have won an NFL-record 12 or more games for six consecutive seasons, including a Super Bowl — and the elevation of Jim Caldwell, 54, whose lone head coaching stint was at Wake Forest from 1993-2000 where he was 26-63.

"People want to knock his record at Wake, but he got that school to its first bowl game in a long time and we all know it wasn't a football school," Polian said. "The bottom line is that Tony supported him and hired him and, to me, that's a great endorsement. Peyton and the players on offense have complete confidence in Jim and his offensive philosophy. I mean, I don't know this now, but we could actually get better on offense."

I don't know if Polian said this with a straight face because he was on the telephone. But, honestly, the Colts weren't really very good on offense last season. They ranked 15th overall and only Arizona rushed for fewer yards (1,274 to 1,178) than they did. In another necessary move, the team cut long-time receiver Marvin Harrison.

After five straight seasons of ranking in the NFL's top five in both scoring and total offense, Indy's offensive production under Jim Caldwell dropped quite a bit in 2008.
Scoring rank
Total off. rank

Consequently, Polian wants to believe that Caldwell can improve the running game and he thinks this way even if Moore and Mudd don't return to the sidelines in some capacity. Polian is also above retirement age (66) and he kept reminding me that Moore and Mudd are older guys who have already retired once. "We all are eventually going to move on," he said.

There is no question that Polian and Caldwell have complete confidence in the replacements, Clyde Christensen and Pete Metzelaars, who were elevated to offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, respectively. You may recall Christensen — he was Dungy's final offensive coordinator in Tampa Bay; the one he had the season he was fired. Back then, the Bucs' front office continually dictated to Dungy who should be coaching his offense. They hired Les Steckel and fired Mike Shula. Dungy may have turned the Bucs' franchise around, but they fired him for Jon Gruden, who won a Super Bowl with his players.

Yes, Dungy has a few faults. He was always very loyal to his coaches. Heck, Moore coached him at the U. of Minnesota and they both worked on the Pittsburgh staff when Terry Bradshaw was still the Steelers quarterback.

Caldwell has said in recent weeks that he believes the players have responded very well to the transition to him from Dungy, whose teams went to the playoffs for 10 consecutive seasons. The best indicator is that only receiver Reggie Wayne, who typically works out with fellow U. of Miami players, has been missing from OTA workouts this month. That's an impressive 87 of 88 roster players showing up to work with Caldwell and his new staff, which also includes new defensive coordinator Larry Coyer and special teams coach Ray Rychleski.

Polian and Irsay have always been impressed with Caldwell. "He showed great leadership skills when Tony had to leave the team (in 2005) to deal with the death of his son, James," Polian said. "Those were adverse conditions and he kept his cool and displayed a lot of poise and professional confidence. There is no doubt that he's extremely organized and has the knowledge to be an excellent head coach."

The NFL perception is that the Colts won't be as good as they were under Dungy. Even if Moore and Mudd help out, there's no question that Caldwell wants to put his stamp on the offense and this football team.

"But your perception isn't necessarily our reality," Polian told me. "We don't know that we aren't going to be as good with all these coaching changes. And I still don't know what role Tom and Howard are going to have with us. We have every confidence with Clyde and Pete.

"People want to say that we have some unknown in (Jim Caldwell). But I know that he was a viable candidate for two head-coaching positions and I was told he was the second choice both times. Someone I respect greatly in his league told me, 'You got a gem there.' So, I know that Jim is completely prepared to assume this job."