The Case for Peyton Manning as Next Indianapolis Colts Coach

Russell Puntenney@@RussPuntContributor IIIJanuary 11, 2012

The Case for Peyton Manning as Next Indianapolis Colts Coach

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    Is it possible the solution to all the Colts’ current problems has been hiding right under their noses this entire time?

    It might not make sense at first, it’s never going to happen and there’s no way they’d actually consider it anyway, but the answer, curiously enough, just might be yes.

    Why not let Peyton Manning have a shot at coaching this team?

    Even though he’s never coached before, Manning is in many ways just as qualified to run the Colts as any legitimate candidate who’ll lobby for the position if owner Jim Irsay (or new General Manager Ryan Grigson) decide to remove current coach Jim Caldwell this offseason, and considering the utmost confidence Irsay already has in his ridiculously talented veteran quarterback, it’s not an altogether unfathomable notion, either.  

    Granted, making Peyton Manning the first player-coach in NFL history would be without precedent and true, the fallout if it didn’t work out would be monumental. The franchise would be a laughing stock and the NFL might not even allow the move in the first place.

    Assuming they did, however, would it really be that much riskier than picking an established coach instead?

    This team just went 2-14 with a traditional head coach at the helm and he flustered mainly because the most successful personnel executive in NFL history failed to adequately maintain his roster in recent years.

    It’s not like there are any guarantees in this sport, because if there were the Colts wouldn’t be in this mess to begin with.

    Peyton Manning is no ordinary football player, and if there’s a chance he’s even remotely as good at managing a team as he is at playing for one, this is one gamble that’d totally be worth taking.

    Even if it did go wrong and completely blew up in Irsay’s face, after all, so what?

    Look at how easily coaches are replaced in this day and age. It’s not like this would have to be a long-term commitment or anything. Sure, no one would ever forget the debacle and the embarrassment may linger for years, but it’s not like one bad coaching experience is going to bring down an entire franchise, especially one with as little to lose as the Colts.

    Follow along as we plead Peyton’s case, even though he never asked us to and even though we already know our efforts are doomed to fail.

    What’s the worst that could happen?

The Guy Knows His Football

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    Peyton Manning has been obsessed with the game of football since he was three years old. We know. We have proof.

    As a freshman at Tennessee in 1994, Manning sat on the bench for three games as a third-string quarterback until both guys ahead of him went down with injuries and, until this past September, those were the only games the 35-year-old had missed since high school.

    Manning isn’t simply out there executing, either: The guy has been calling his own plays for most of his professional career and is just as likely to be found throwing an indefensible touchdown pass to an otherwise covered receiver as he is catching the opposing defense with 12 men on the field.

    How many head coaches can truly match the knowledge about this sport Manning has been acquiring non-stop throughout his entire lifetime?

    Scratch that – how many human beings can match in any field the knowledge Manning has for the game of football?

    Peyton has more playing experience than any coach in the league and is already older than many of the most successful ones in league history were at the time they were first hired (John Madden, Jon Gruden, Bill Cowher, Mike Tomlin, and Mike Shanahan were all younger than Manning is today when they became head coaches).

    Coaching experience is obviously a different beast altogether, but if you evaluate candidates solely on their understanding of the game, Manning trumps any other option the Colts will have if they decide to replace Caldwell this offseason.

    Why not give him the chance to apply what he’s learned in an even greater capacity than he already does?

He Understands This Offense Better Than Anyone

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    If Manning is a student of the game, he’s a professor of running a fast-paced, no-huddle offense, specifically the one he’s been engineering in Indianapolis for over a decade now.

    The 2011 season showed us just how different this offense operates without Manning starring in it and the contrast could not have appeared any sharper. The guy single-handedly makes this unit among the most effective in the league year after year.

    With him, they can score against anyone. Without him, they’re forever stalled. They make stupid mistakes. They run bad plays. And roughly 55% more often than when Manning is in the lineup, they lose.

    Many of these guys have been playing together for ages, and that will likely still be the case next season even if the team does lose some key free agents in the months ahead. Manning knows all of them. He made them who they are. He’s the catalyst. The rock. The tie that binds them.

    Manning was here before Jim Caldwell, he was here before Tony Dungy, he was here before any player on the current roster and he’ll obviously have been here longer than any new coach the team brings in if they do decide to do so this offseason.

    How could anyone be trusted to facilitate this Colts offense any more than Manning himself?

He’s a Born Leader

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    Peyton Manning is more than just a superstar quarterback and his presence off the field is often just as pronounced as his efforts are on it.

    In action, Manning commands his offense like no quarterback ever has.

    His teammates trust Manning to not only call the best possible play but to then execute that play successfully. He controls their destiny more than any other player on the roster, he puts them in position to win nearly every time they play and more often than not over the course of his storied 14-year career that’s exactly what he’s done, winning 141 of 208 regular season games.

    Even when not playing, however, Manning is still an active participant in every game he attends.

    This season offered a particularly heavy dose of Manning’s sideline alter ego as injuries kept the quarterback from appearing in any game all year long, and even though the results were far from successful, the implications the experience had for Manning’s future in a coaching position were definitely encouraging.

    Manning just can’t get enough of this stuff, and after this season we all know it'll take a whole lot more than a few measly old neck surgeries to keep him out of football for good. 

    For the first few games of the season, Manning was only allowed to watch games from the press box, but as soon as doctors gave him the necessary clearance, he was back on the sideline, diligently monitoring the performance of his team week after week like a father keeping watch over his sons.

    He mentored his fellow Colts quarterbacks to any extent that he could this season, he participated in team meetings and he reportedly advised the current coaching staff as their struggles continued to mount all season long.

    Peyton Manning has always been an excellent player, but after seeing how comfortable he looked this season as more consultant than contributor, his image has accordingly evolved into something of an authoritative figure now, too.

    Is it really that hard to imagine Manning now adding “head coach” to this title after the way he handled himself this year? 

He Can Handle It

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    If it’s possible for any player to simultaneously act as coach, Peyton Manning is just the guy to do it.

    Obviously we know Manning can handle his business as a player, and clearly we can only assume from what we’ve seen that he also has the persona and dedication necessary to function as a coach.

    Why wouldn’t he able to do both?

    This isn’t just a great player we’re talking about here, after all, this is one of the biggest celebrities in all of sports.

    Manning hasn’t just been making tough decisions at the line of scrimmage all these years, he’s been juggling his wildly successful career in the most popular sport in America with his emergence as a TV pitchman and a never-ending whirlwind of public scrutiny from both critics and supporters alike.

    In many ways the Peyton Manning brand has flourished specifically because of the star’s ability to play multiple roles.

    Is it really fair to think he’d be overwhelmed acting as player and coach simply because we know the challenge would be so immense?

    Hasn’t this guy been overcoming immense challenges all his life?

Look at Jim Harbaugh

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    There’s no question about it: San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh and Peyton Manning are totally different people in countless significant ways.

    But when it comes to predicting what kind of coach Manning would be if ever the day finally came, Harbaugh is the only contemporary we have to compare him to at this point and on that basis alone, strong associations between these two can easily be drawn.

    Like Manning, Harbaugh is still relatively young (his last season was 2001 and several of his former teammates are still active) and, like Manning, he played the quarterback position at the professional level for a very long time (14 seasons and 177 career games).

    Harbaugh wasn’t just some nameless, game-managing QB, either: The guy led the league in passer rating in 1995 and went 2-3 during three separate playoff runs throughout his career.

    So far he’s the most accomplished quarterback-turned-coach ever, and after the success the 49ers had this season under his guidance (13-3 with virtually the same roster that had underachieved for years going just 37-59 since 2005), he’s on an early pace to become one of the most successful player-to-coach converts in NFL history.

    Harbaugh’s background isn’t the only reason for his success, he’ll be the first to tell you, in fact, but because he is the first legitimate star quarterback to prove on-field performance really can translate to success on the sideline too, the road to coaching glory, should Manning ever decide to pursue it, will have been paved by Harbaugh and primarily by his breakout season this year.

    While not nearly to the same extent, Harbaugh as a player also exhibited many of the same attributes people love to identify in Manning.

    He too was a leader. He played smart. He was resilient (you don’t snag a nickname like “Captain Comeback” without knowing a thing or two about overcoming adversity, after all).

    Even so, Peyton Manning was ten times the quarterback Jim Harbaugh ever was, even at his worst.

    Who’s to say he wouldn’t be ten times the coach?

It Might Solve Indy’s Potential QB Dilemma

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    If Manning takes over as coach next season, it just might help ease the tensions that may otherwise begin mounting with both Manning and inevitable No. 1 draft pick Andrew Luck gracing the same roster.

    The notion of having two franchise quarterbacks is obviously tempting, but it often works better in theory than in practice, no matter what the Green Bay Packers might have to say about it.

    Manning needs as much playing time as he can physically muster from this point on. His career is ending. His window is closing. His legacy depends on it.

    Luck likewise has plenty of incentive to start playing as soon as possible, however, because at this point the guy is still nothing but a prospect and nothing is guaranteed anymore under the new rookie pay scale, even for a top pick like him. Luck’s career is just beginning. He needs to prove he’s worth the hype. His future depends on it.

    By eliminating the traditional coach position and passing those duties on to Peyton, not only would the team free up some cash that could help them keep both quarterbacks signed to appropriate deals, they could foster an environment that might keep both star players happy.

    Luck would probably feel a little more comfortable riding the bench if the guy in front of him were coincidentally the head coach of his team, after all (who wouldn’t feel humbled by a situation like that?), while Manning on the other hand would probably be a little more willing to share the role with his successor if he were as equally invested in this team’s future as he already is its present.

    Luck is happy, Manning stays in Indianapolis and Colts fans everywhere, well they just get to have their cake and eat it too, now don’t they?

    Problem solved.

It’s Worked in Other Sports Before

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    As radical as the practice may now seem, player-coaches were to some extent common in both basketball and baseball before the 1980’s.

    Bill Russell is probably the most famous example, who led the Boston Celtics to consecutive NBA Finals victories in the late 1960’s in only three years as player-coach (starting at age 33, two years younger than Peyton is now), but others abound, including Lenny Wilkens, Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, Frank Robinson, and Joe Torre.

    Granted, none of those guys had to deal with round-the-clock news coverage, 53-man rosters or 300-pound human grizzly bears trying to obliterate them every time they played, but that in no way diminishes what they accomplished.

    These guys were professional athletes. In America. And it worked.

    Isn’t it possible there’s an advantage to having your best player also be your coach, especially your quarterback?

    Who better to decide half-time adjustments than the guy who just got finished standing smack dab in the middle of the action for the last hour or so?

    Who better to evaluate personnel than the same guy who has to line up right beside them every week and trust they’ll protect him against an NFL defense?

    Manning already acts like a coach while he’s playing.

    How scared would opposing teams be if he also coaches like he plays?

It’d Be Super Cool

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    Who cares whether it amounts to anything or not, how historically cool would this be just to witness?

    Ticket prices would soar. Hysteria would rule the streets. ESPN would create a whole new channel, and Peyton Manning would ascend to a level no NFL figure has ever reached before.

    Opportunities to do ridiculously cool things like this in sports only come along so often and very rarely are they taken.

    LeBron James has been teasing us with the idea of becoming a dual sport athlete for years now.

    Not happening.

    LeBron was also involved in some well-publicized hoopla over a potential pay-per-view one-on-one game against Kobe Bryant a few years back, after the Lakers shooting guard called out the younger James and claimed he would win the epic showdown if it ever took place.

    It didn’t.

    It’s time for a change.

    Here’s a genuine opportunity to give loyal sports fans something they never realized they’ve always wanted, and it’d require little sacrifice and only average risk to make it happen.

    All you’d really need is an ambitious owner who doesn’t mind challenging conventional thinking from time to time and is willing to take a risk every now and then and this could actually become a reality.

    Check.

It’d Make Tons of Money

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    And you thought you were already sick of hearing Peyton Manning’s name every five minutes.

    Just you wait.

    Remember the Manning Bowl?

    How about Manning Bowl II?

    Well you can go ahead and forget about both of them the day Peyton “Slash” Manning is named head coach/player because from that moment on, every single game will be a bigger, more publicized spectacle than the one before it.

    Just in case you (or you, Jim Irsay) forgot, Peyton Manning is already one of the most marketable players in NFL history.

    If he were somehow able to now become the first player-coach ever in this day and age with the massive star power he’s already accumulated, the whole world might just completely explode the day the news breaks.

    Manning’s name will be absolutely everywhere. The Colts will be everywhere. Preseason games will be sold out, and playoff games, if the arrangement miraculously works out the way it very well could, will be ferociously fought over like locks of Justin Bieber’s hair.

    Win or lose, this move will pay off the moment it’s announced.

    Potentially millions of dollars in otherwise unobtainable revenue plus the chance to make history and all you have to do is trust your team for one lousy year to the same guy that almost single-handedly made your franchise into what it is today?

    When you stop and really weigh the options, this one’s kind of a no-brainer.

    Please, Jim Irsay. Do the right thing this offseason.

    You’ve never been shy about the trust you have in your beloved No. 18.

    Now’s your chance to prove just how deep that trust really goes.