INDIANAPOLIS – It wasn’t the norm, but neither were the circumstances.
In fact, Jim Irsay considered Sunday night anything but normal.
“It was an urgent situation because of the gravity of the things that had transpired,’’ the owner of the Indianapolis Colts told CBS4 Monday evening.
With the sting of the franchise’s worst regular-season loss since the relocation in 1984 still fresh – shoot, one of the worst in NFL history – Irsay was stewing and perhaps steaming in his plush office at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center Sunday evening. He briefly mulled over what might have been – a deep playoff push – and lamented opportunities lost. Yes, Sunday’s win-and-in face-plant in Jacksonville, but the listless loss to the Las Vegas Raiders the previous week in Lucas Oil Stadium as well.
When calmness returned, he realized it was time – Sunday night, not a few days later – to not only rehash the season but also look ahead.
So, Irsay summoned Chris Ballard and Frank Reich to West 56th Street.
He always has a season-ending sit-down with his general manager and head coach. But generally not so soon after a season ends.
He had just seen his Colts become the first team since the 1970 merger to have a win-and-in-the-playoffs opportunity in its final regular-season game only to lose to a team with the worst record in the league.
Reich and Ballard were home, presumably trying to figure out what went wrong. Then, their cell phone buzzed.
“When we got back, he wanted to meet with Chris and I,’’ Reich said. “So, we came back over here to the building last night and met with Mr. Irsay for a couple of hours just reflecting on the game, on the season.’’
Again, an urgent situation required a unique gathering.
“I don’t like meetings after games,’’ Irsay said. “Almost never do them after road games because everyone’s tired. You get home and everyone’s tired and disappointed.
“But it was important that we talked, and we had a thorough conversation so we could realize what direction we need to start charting the course for the next year.’’
Irsay paused, then continued.
“It’s clear that we did not have the right stuff,’’ he said. “We were not able to perform at the level we were certainly capable of performing to.
“Look, I thought it was important that we meet immediately because of the gravity of what transpired – us being left out of the playoffs and losing in games when we were 8½- point favorites (against the Raiders) and 15-point favorites on the road (against the Jaguars).
“That’s unacceptable. In Jacksonville, we weren’t even competitive.’’
Irsay delved into every conceivable issue regarding his franchise with Ballard and Reich across the desk. He drove home one message.
“One thing that’s clear is changes need to be made,’’ Irsay said. “And they will be made. We also realize we have to do it cautiously and with a thorough evaluation and full discussion in a calm environment.
“It’s not an emotional thing at all. It’s about evaluating the whole program and clearly changes need to be made.’’
The end to any regular season is followed by change.
Monday, the Chicago Bears fired coach Matt Nagy and GM Ryan Pace; the Minnesota Vikings did likewise with coach Mike Zimmer and GM Rick Spielman; and Miami parted ways with coach Brian Flores. Sunday, Denver fired coach Vic Fangio.
No such reboot is happening with the Colts.
“That was never in question,’’ Irsay said of moving on from either Ballard or Reich. “As an owner, I can say I have the utmost faith in Frank and Chris.’’
In August, Irsay signed both to extensions through the 2026 season.
“Those two guys are excellent and I hope one day they can follow the path of Bill Polian and Tony Dungy, who I hired and became Hall of Famers,’’ he said.
Irsay declined to elaborate on the record regarding the possible changes that loom for the Colts.
The Carson Wentz-led passing game faded badly over the second half of the season. Too often, the quarterback acquired in a February trade with Philadelphia wasn’t nearly good enough. The defense finished 2nd in the league with 33 takeaways, but never mounted a steady pass rush and frequently was unable to get off the field in critical situations.
The glaring deficiencies wasted one of the best seasons by a running back in team history. Jonathan Taylor led the NFL is rushing with a franchise-record 1,811 yards and total yards from scrimmage (2,171).
But he’s the first league rushing champ not to reach the playoffs since Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew in 2011.
Irsay’s confab with Ballard and Reich was the first step in determining how a season with so much promise – from 1-4 to 9-6 and everything in its control with two games remaining to 9-8 and players heading into the offseason – careened off the rails.
He admitted it was beyond frustrating.
“The comment was ‘They are viewed as the most dangerous team going into the playoffs. Nobody wants to play them.’ You heard that,’’ Irsay said. “But now you don’t have to face them.’’
So, a Sunday night meeting with the Jacksonville loss still so raw.
“I thought it was very important for Chris and Frank and I to meet,’’ Irsay said. “We talked about the future because timing and other things are important. We had a calm and thorough discussion, but based on the whole season.
“It was very calm. It’s like, ‘Hey, Jacksonville’s tough. We’re all hurting from it. But we’re professionals.’ We had to put that aside and say calmly – very calmly and with intelligence and prudence and temperament – ‘How do we look at things and how do we evaluate things?’
“It’s not about being angry or whatever, and all of those things are there. It’s about evaluating the whole program.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.