INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – He was calm, poised, measured with the vast majority of his responses.
This was Chris Ballard, some 16 hours after that Tuesday evening phone call from Josh McDaniels that rocked the Indianapolis Colts’ world.
“Just because you’re the first choice doesn’t make you the right choice,’’ Ballard said Wednesday morning of McDaniels reneging on an agreement to be the Colts’ next head coach. “It’s about getting the right guy.
“Sometimes things work out the way they’re supposed to work out.’’
McDaniels didn’t work out, for whatever reason that allows him to sleep at night.
But his stunning reversal caught the Colts by complete surprise. Ballard was emphatic there were no hints of this.
“No, not at all until Tuesday evening,’’ he said. “None at all.’’
Instead of introducing McDaniels at a Wednesday afternoon press conference, the Colts are restarting a coaching search that seemingly had reached a conclusion.
Now, Ballard goes back to vetting and interviewing. He insisted there’s no timetable to find the replacement for McDaniels who was the presumptive replacement for Chuck Pagano, but he emphasized he’ll once again refer to a list of coaching candidates any GM worth his salt always has within reach.
Ballard’s short list apparently includes Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator and former Colts assistant Frank Reich and New Orleans Saints assistant coach/tight ends coach Dan Campbell. A source confirms Ballard will meet with Campbell Thursday and Reich Friday.
Again, anybody but Josh McDaniels.
Offered the composed Ballard: “People make decisions. They tell people ‘No’ every day. That’s his prerogative and that’s his choice.
“He chose not to be an Indianapolis Colts. That’s OK. We’ll keep moving forward.’’
In what might have been a parting dig at McDaniels, Ballard noted “we have work to do and I want somebody that’s 100 percent committed to partnering with us and getting that work done.’’
A five-week process that had run its course veered wildly off course as Ballard and his personnel staff were immersed in a draft meeting Tuesday night. He was summoned from the room – “7:30-ish, 7:15,’’ he said – to take a call from McDaniels.
How long did the call last?
“Five minutes,’’ Ballard said. “It was a pretty short conversation . . . He just said he had bad news for me. I said, ‘I just need a yes or no answer. You in or out?’ We went around for a minute and he said he’s out and I said, ‘OK. We’re going to move forward.’’’
Did Ballard attempt to convince McDaniels to reconsider?
“There was no persuasion,’’ he said. “I live in a black and white world. I didn’t want an explanation. Either you’re in or you’re out; 100 percent in or out.
“Josh McDaniels is a good football coach and I wish him the best going forward.’’
It was at this point of the unexpected press conference Ballard’s emotions seemed to bubble closer to the surface. Whatever volatility existed 17 hours earlier after that brief phone call – punching the wall, a few obscenities – was under control, but just barely.
“Look here, I’m competitive,’’ he said. “I want to win. I think over time I’ve grown and matured. I still have my moments in the press boxes. I have my little moments.
“But look, things work out for a reason.’’
Ballard also hinted that owner Jim Irsay didn’t exactly respond quietly to McDaniels’ decision.
“There’s no doubt he’s competitive,’’ he said with a smile. “This city’s fortunate to have him as an owner. I couldn’t imagine working anywhere else and for a better man who stands for the right things and wants to win.’’
Ballard quickly sidestepped the issue when asked if the Patriots were to blame for McDaniels staying put rather than relocating. It’s believed they gave their offensive coordinator increased financial considerations and perhaps some assurance he’ll be heavily considered as Bill Belichick’s successor whenever Belichick retires.
“Josh called me, made a decision he’s not coming,’’ Ballard said. “I don’t deal with New England. I have no idea what they’re thinking.’’
However, the Patriots clearly were foremost in his mind as he walked away from the podium.
“The rivalry is back on,’’ Ballard said.
Portion of staff staying:
Somewhat lost in the glare of McDaniels staying in New England was the fact the Colts already had signed three of his expected assistants to contracts: Matt Eberflus (defensive coordinator), Mike Phair (defensive line) and Dave DeGuglielmo (offensive line).
That trio will be part of the new head coach’s staff.
“We will not abandon them,’’ Ballard said.
He’s especially high on Eberflus, who most recently has been the Dallas Cowboys’ linebackers coach/passing game coordinator. His arrival heralds a defensive change from Pagano’s 3-4 to a 4-3, which Ballard believes will accentuate the Colts’ current personnel.
“I got to know Matt Eberflus a few years ago and was blown away,’’ Ballard said. “He’s a coveted coach. Feel very lucky to have Matt Eberflus in the building.’’