Michael James, a Detroit native, has spent more than 20 years in sports journalism as a general assignment reporter with the Detroit News, an NBA beat writer for the New York Daily News and as head writer for ESPN’s Quite Frankly With Stephen A. Smith. He is the editor of The Tribe Sports. This column is being republished with permission.
By Michael James
All the gnashing of teeth and anguish over the loss of Josh McDaniels makes absolutely no sense to me.
And it should make no sense to you, either, for there is a very viable solution – albeit a stopgap solution – only a phone call away.
Before we get to that, I understand the unsettled feeling in Colts nation as you scour the hinterlands in search of the next great leader who will return the franchise to National Football League prominence.
I understand the feelings of betrayal and uncertainty flowing through a room full of assistants who expected to be getting a crash course in emulating the successful Patriot way from a proven Bill Belichick disciple.
Few things evoke such negative emotions in the Midwest as when a person’s word is not their bond.
However, instead of lusting after a next-big-thing offensive or defensive coordinator from another team and hoping that ancillary success will follow, why not employ someone more experienced and familiar in the interim?
In other words, why not give a call to former Colts head coach Jim Caldwell?
Last I checked, after his relative success and firing by the Detroit Lions, he’s not particularly busy.
And I suspect that spurned and smarting Colts general manager Chris Ballard still has Caldwell’s phone number.
As things currently stand, who is better equipped to step in and lead a group of already-installed assistants – and work with mercurial owner Jim Irsay – than a man who has already done it?
Jim Caldwell might not be a permanent solution, but he is certainly a serviceable and above average one.
Caldwell is a get-along guy and company man who has solid relationships with the existing Colts brain trust and excellent relationships with players.
He has an NFL track record far superior to Josh McDaniels’ 11-17 head coaching tenure in Denver and potential that is primarily rooted in his connection to the greatest head coach and quarterback in league history.
What did not work out in Detroit was based upon unfulfilled expectations that should not necessarily come into play in Indianapolis, where the immediate future of the franchise is connected to the suspect health of Andrew Luck – no matter who the head coach will ultimately be.
Caldwell, 62, no matter what transpired in his four seasons in Detroit, has been to three Super Bowls, winning as an assistant with the Colts and Baltimore Ravens. He’s also taken the Colts to the Super Bowl as a head coach.
What available candidate can make such claims?
Succeeding Tony Dungy
Surely Colts fans remember Caldwell succeeding Tony Dungy and compiling a record start of 14-0 as a rookie head coach in the 2009 season. He finished 14-2 and concluded the year with a 31-17 loss to the New Orleans Saints in the Super Bowl.
In his second season, the Colts finished 10-6 and lost in the playoffs. The 2-14 season which cost Caldwell his job can be attributed mostly to having to make a go of it without Peyton Manning, who was injured for the entire year.
Who wouldn’t have struggled without their star quarterback?
With hindsight as a guide, why not give Caldwell a redux? I’m not suggesting that he is a permanent solution, by any means. But he is qualified. He does know the game. He does know the organization and the players. He does have the relationships.
And, at the moment, he’s unemployed.
As recently as January, his best friend and former head coach, Tony Dungy, suggested that Caldwell wasn’t going to actively seek a head coaching job in the league, but that he also wasn’t done and would accept nothing less. Dungy said that Caldwell would make a return if his services were sought.
He is the man the Colts should seek. Offer him a one-year deal with a team option for a second season. If things don’t work out, no harm, no foul, and Indianapolis can start a brand new search for the next big thing following the 2018 season.
If Chris Ballard and the Colts reach out to Caldwell, they know what they’re going to get if he accepts – a man, unlike Josh McDaniels, with a track record whose word you can depend upon.
The answer you seek does not lie in the return of the prodigal son, Peyton Manning, with desperate hopes that his success as a Hall of Fame player can translate on the field as a rookie head coach.
It does not lie with Frank Reich, who is a current assistant with the newly-crowned world champion Philadelphia Eagles, but who is best known for his quarterback performance in the greatest-comeback-ever with the Buffalo Bills. Ditto for New Orleans assistant head coach Dan Campbell, whose Saints came thisclose to playing for the right to go to Super Bowl LII or with Buffalo Bills assistant Leslie Frazier.
Your man is much, much closer to home. And he feels like home, because he’s already lived there.
So, stop with all the agonizing and desperation in light of the McDaniels situation and just give Jim Caldwell a call. He was 36-28 in Detroit and took the Lions to the playoffs in two of his four seasons. He’s better than any alternative you’ll find on short notice. He’ll pick up the phone and listen to your overture.
After all, you already have his phone number.