Tony Dungy took a lot with him when he decided to retire after the 2008 season. Gone with him are 85 regular season wins, an impressive winning percentage of 76 percent, and a Super Bowl trophy from 2006. Dungy’s departure immediately sent waves through the organization. Within weeks of Dungy’s retirement, both the defensive coordinator (Ron Meeks) and the special teams coach (Russ Purnell) were gone.
The Colts faced even more coaching changes when long time offensive coordinator Tom Moore and offensive line coach Howard Mudd were forced into early retirement due to a quirk in the NFL’s pension program.
If the coaching changes weren’t enough, the Colts personnel on the field will be missing some notable names. Most recognizable is the absence of Marvin Harrison on the 2009 roster. Harrison, with over 1100 career catches, had been Manning’s go-to-guy for a decade. Yet, the Colts also lost half of their rushing tandem of 2008 in Dominic Rhodes and special teams ace Darrell Reid.
Oh, and don’t forget the Colts’ Bob Sanders starts the season injured, again.
Isn’t that enough to write the Colts off in 2009? Well, Change can be a good thing.
Dungy’s replacement, Jim Caldwell, has worked with Manning for the past seven season as quarterbacks’ coach. Caldwell has been a part of an offense that has ranked in the top 15 in yardage and points for six consecutive years. Caldwell also initiated the changes that sent Meeks and Purnell out of town. Larry Coyer replaces Meeks at defensive coordinator. Coyer, the defensive coordinator at Denver from 2003-2006, brings in a more aggressive blitzing style, a style often avoided during the Dungy years. Coyer’s Denver defense finished no lower than ninth in points allowed during his tenure. New special teams coach, Ray Rychleski, will look to improve a special teams unit that was 31st overall. Moore and Mudd even return as senior consultants to help in Caldwell’s transition.
Replacing Marvin Harrison may be one of the easier parts of Caldwell’s job. Harrison’s two worst years of productivity were 2008 and 2007. His two year totals of 883 yards and 6 touchdowns are a far cry from Harrison’s prime production. General Manager Bill Polian has already tabbed second year man Pierre Garcon as one of the Colts’ breakout players for 2009. Fourth round pick, Austin Collie, figures to be in the mix too. Both have seen extensive time lining up with Peyton Manning during training camp. The young guys will give Manning many options to go with established veterans Dallas Clark, Reggie Wayne, and Anthony Gonzalez. With Rhodes off to Buffalo, the Colts used their first round pick on Donald Brown, the nation’s leading rushing his senior year at Connecticut. Brown has received a lot of praise early in camp and his presence should help Addai return to form. Add in Mike Hart, who had only 2 carries last season before suffering a knee injury, and the Colts have some depth at the running back spot.
And what about Bob? Well, the Colts accomplished most of their remarkable 9-0 run to end the 2008 season without the services of Bob Sanders. The Colts are hoping Coyer’s aggressive style will help them get opposing offenses off the field more often, with or without Sanders in the lineup.
Changes may abound in Indianapolis this year, but the death of the Colts has been greatly exaggerated. Manning and company should find themselves in the mix in the AFC once again.