INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – For Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard, the initial shock was gut-wrenching.
Standing before reporters to address the sudden decision of Josh McDaniels to pass on the head coaching job, Ballard first spoke about the crash that killed linebacker Edwin Jackson and Uber driver Jeffrey Monroe.
Ballard said he didn’t watch the Super Bowl on Sunday after learning about the early morning crash.
“With the passing of Edwin Jackson and Jeffrey Monroe, it was a very tough day. My thoughts were not even close to the coaching search,” he said. “Very difficult day, very difficult couple of days, talking with both families, talking with our players. I want all of you to make sure you keep in perspective what’s important in life.”
He called the crash an “eye opener” that put things in perspective. He said the organization would be with both families “every step of the way” and told reporters that he and defensive back Matthias Farley shed tears together about Jackson’s untimely death.
“It’s important that we remember him for the things he stood for,” he said of Jackson.
Ballard then transitioned into the Josh McDaniels saga. The Colts courted him for weeks before McDaniels made the last-second decision to turn down the job.
“We were disappointed. Unquestionably, we were disappointed and surprised. We had agreed to contract terms. We had an agreement in place. We followed all the rules, did everything right. [We had] two interviews—and both of them went very well,” Ballard said.
He was so confident, Ballard said, that he authorized an announcement Tuesday morning and scheduled a news conference for Wednesday night to introduce McDaniels as the Colts’ new coach.
Then the phone call came Tuesday night.
“He had decided to—he had changed his mind,” Ballard recalled. “At that point, I informed our owner, we informed [the media and fans] of where we going, and we’ll keep moving forward.”
Ballard said obstacles happen in football and life. What makes football great, he said, is overcoming those obstacles.
“It’s the mentally tough, gritty people that overcome these things that are successful. That’s what we’re going to be built on. That’s what this city is built on.”
Ballard said he has a list of candidates, some of whom he couldn’t interview due to NFL limitations on talking to candidates with playoff teams.
He said he was proud of the outpouring of support the team has received since Sunday and continuing through McDaniels’ sudden reversal.
He had no inkling that McDaniels would change his mind.
“[McDaniels called and] and said he had bad news for me. I just said, ‘I just need a yes or no answer. Are you in or out?’ He said he’s out, and I said, ‘that’s okay, we’re going to move forward.’”
He didn’t try to change McDaniels’ mind.
“There was no persuasion. Let me make this clear: I want and we want as an organization a head coach who wants to be all-in. We have work to do and I want someone who’s 100 percent committed to partnering with us and getting that work done.”
Ballard called McDaniels a good football coach and wished him well. He told reporters he was unaware of weekend speculation that McDaniels may be getting cold feet–he was too focused on his own football team and the loss of Jackson.
But one thing’s for sure—the Indianapolis Colts-New England Patriots rivalry is renewed. Two franchises that clashed during the Peyton Manning-Tom Brady years, two teams that have held animosity with one another for years, “deflategate” included, have another reason to dislike one another.
And Ballard left the news conference with a simple message.
“The rivalry is back on.”