Jim Irsay tapped into past while looking to the future
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – His franchise was teetering on irrelevancy, and in dire need of finding the appropriate on-field direction.
A portion of his fan base seemed to be wandering from anger to apathy. That’s the inevitable – and perilous – byproduct of missing the playoffs in three consecutive seasons for the first time in nearly a quarter century and enduring just the second double-digit loss season in the last 16 seasons.
To look forward, the man in charge of that distressed franchise – the Indianapolis Colts – decided he had to look back. To help return his team to prominence, owner Jim Irsay tapped into so many of the resources so instrumental in the Golden Years of the Indy era.
He sought the counsel of two former colleagues whose league-wide sway led them to the Pro Football Hall of Fame: long-time front-office sidekick Bill Polian and former coach Tony Dungy. He talked with Peyton Manning, whose bronze bust soon will be added in Canton, Ohio.
“It’s been great to see the Colts use their alumni base in all sorts of ways . . . too many guys to list in what they contributed and (offer) anything they could do to help,’’ Irsay said.
When Josh McDaniels reneged last week on an agreement to succeed Chuck Pagano as head coach, the Colts were thrust in scramble mode. Once the shock wore off and the anger ran its course, a new course was plotted.
One of Irsay’s first post-McDaniels contacts involved Polian, who had been on a flight when the news broke.
“Bill and I had a long talk,’’ Irsay said. “He had gotten off an airplane and as soon as he landed, he called me. His phone was lighting up because the news was spreading.’’
Polian dialed up his former boss, eager to offer whatever help possible.
“I reached out to both Jim and Chris (Ballard, general manager) to see if there was anything I could help with,’’ he said.
His advice was brief.
“I told them Frank was the right choice,’’ Polian said.
Again, a face from the past would help guide the Colts into an uncertain future. Polian and Dungy gave Frank Reich his first coaching job in 2006, as an offensive intern.
“It’s great now to have a talented group of alumni guys,’’ Irsay said. “You always want to bring back your own guys if you can.
“This is an example. I think he is perfect, perfect in so many ways.’’
The new beginning was official Sunday when Reich signed his multi-year contract and launched at a Tuesday press conference at Lucas Oil Stadium. A “family’’ atmosphere permeated the West Club Lounge.
Irsay long has lamented the inability of the Polian-Dungy-Manning Colts to fully maximize that group’s potential. Yes, they set an NFL record for the most wins in a decade (115), reached two Super Bowls and delivered one world championship to the city.
But the owner believed “multiple Lombardis’’ were possible.
Following six seasons of mixed results and diminishing returns, it’s obvious Irsay is interested in recreating that past and getting more out of it in the future.
Reich promised a versatile, attacking, oft-times up-tempo offense. Sound familiar?
Ballard confirmed the Colts are trashing their ineffective 3-4 defense and first-time coordinator Matt Eberflus will utilize a 4-3 scheme based on speed and athleticism to accentuate the fast track of Lucas Oil Stadium. Sound familiar?
Those back-to-the-future concepts apparently were foremost in the discussion when Irsay, Ballard and Reich met at Irsay’s residence to finalize Reich’s return to the franchise.
“It became very apparent really early on that Chris and I shared a very common philosophy and vision for this team,’’ Reich said. “It really began with the idea that every person matters and every detail matters in building a championship culture. One person at a time, one detail at a time, we will build a championship culture and make this city proud.
“Being over at Mr. Irsay’s house the other day to sign the contract . . . hearing Mr. Irsay’s heart was, ‘Frank, help us bring the job back into the city of Indianapolis for the great traditions that we have here, all the games that we’ve won. Let’s bring that back again.’
“That’s what we’re here for, and we’ll do it one person at a time, one detail at a time, one player at a time and one game at a time.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.