INDIANAPOLIS – Chris Ballard has been true to his word.
The Indianapolis Colts still are without a head coach because the individual in charge of running the search process – that would be Chris Ballard – promised he would cast a wide net and entertain candidates with varied backgrounds.
An initial list of 13 candidates has been whittled to seven and a second round of in-person, extensive interviews – at least four and perhaps five already have taken place – reinforces the blueprint Ballard, owner Jim Irsay and their support staff put in place.
The final seven runs the gamut of area of expertise and experience.
Special teams is involved (Green Bay’s Rich Bisaccia), as is defense (Denver’s Ejiro Evero, the Los Angeles Rams’ Raheem Morris and the New York Giants’ Don “Wink’’ Martindale). Jeff Saturday, who handled interim duties after Frank Reich was fired Nov. 7, remains in the mix.
And, of course, there are two offensive-minded prospects: Philadelphia’s Shane Steichen and Cincinnati’s Brian Callahan.
One of the issues Irsay and Ballard will undoubtedly consider is whether their next head coach has done it before. They believe there’s value in an individual learning and adjusting from whatever went wrong in his first head coaching position.
The group of 7 includes three with head coach/interim coach experience.
Morris was 17-31 with Tampa Bay from 2009-11 – 3-13, 10-6, 4-12 – before being fired. In 2020, he was Atlanta’s defensive coordinator and named interim head coach after the Falcons’ fired Dan Quinn. After opening 0-5 with Quinn, the Falcons finished 4-7 with Morris.
Bisaccia, 62, is the oldest of the second-round candidates and the only one with a special teams background. But his head coaching skills were on display in Las Vegas in 2021 when Jon Gruden resigned and Bisaccia replaced him on an interim basis. The Raiders finished 7-5 under Bisaccia’s guidance and reached the playoffs for the first time since 2016. Bisaccia became the first interim coach since the Colts’ Bruce Arians in 2012 to lead his team into the postseason.
Saturday’s experience consists of the final eight games of last season. He inherited a flawed team and won his first game at Las Vegas. Then, the Colts lost the final seven games in a season for the first time since 1953, and that included epic collapses at Dallas and Minnesota.
While several of those candidates are worthy of either a second chance or a first shot at running a team, we’ve locked onto to the value of Steichen and/or Callahan.
The Colts absolutely must address an offense that was one of the worst in the league and one of their most impotent since the relocation in 1984: 32nd in offensive touchdowns (25) and offensive points per game (15.7), 30th in yards per play (4.8) and yards per pass attempt (6.4). They ranked No. 29 in third-down conversions (32.9%) and red-zone efficiency (45.8%). At one point, the offense went 30 straight possessions with a TD.
The Colts led the NFL in interceptions (20) and total turnovers (35). They fumbled 37 times, the third-most in franchise history, losing 14. And let’s not forget the 60 sacks, two shy of matching the franchise record.
A dramatic change will occur in the April draft. The Colts hold the 4th overall pick, and are expected to finally grab their quarterback of the future, either by staying at No. 4 or trading up to No. 1 with the Chicago Bears to ensure they get the guy they covet.
But it’s also imperative to give that young QB – Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud or Will Levis – the proper foundation, and that begins with a head coach/offensive coordinator with a track record of working with and developing a young QB.
Callahan is in his third year as the Bengals’ coordinator, and we’ve seen the accelerated evolution of Joe Burrow.
Steichen is in his second season as Nick Sirianni’s coordinator in Philadelphia, and that’s coincided with Jalen Hurts’ emergence into an MVP frontrunner in his third season. Prior to Philly, he was with the Chargers – coordinator in 2019-20, QB coach from 2016-18 – and worked with Justin Herbert and Philip Rivers.
The Bengals have reached the AFC Championship game two straight years and advanced to the Super Bowl in 2021. The Eagles are back in the Super Bowl for the first time since they won it all after the 2017 season.
Each team has a top-tier defense, but also features a diverse, potent offense.
There’s absolutely no assurance hiring a successful offensive mind from Cincinnati or Philly will translate into similar results in Indy. Callahan won’t be bringing Burrow, JaMarr Chase, Tee Higgins or Tyler Boyd. And Sirianni isn’t going to allow Steichen to pack Hurts, A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith or Dallas Goedert for a relocation to Indy.
Exhibit A of there is no guarantee: Denver fired Nathanial Hackett 15 games (4-11) into his first season as a head coach.
But there’s no denying what’s driving success in the NFL. Of the 16 teams to reach the divisional round the past two seasons, 12 have head coaches with offensive backgrounds.
And look at this season’s Final 4: Kansas City (Andy Reid), Philadelphia (Sirianni), San Francisco (Kyle Shanahan) and Cincinnati (Zak Taylor).
If Ballard or Irsay calls for advice, we’ll offer four words.
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