Diner Morning News: Jim Caldwell Takes over Colts

Michael LombardiContributor IJuly 24, 2009

SEATTLE - DECEMBER 24:  Assistant Head Coach Jim Caldwell of the Indianapolis Colts watches his players return to the sideline after kicking a field goal in the first quarter of the Colts' game against the Seattle Seahawks at Qwest Field on December 24, 2005 in Seattle, Washington. Caldwell is filling in for Head Coach Tony Dungy whose son died on Thursday. The field goal gave the Colts a 3-0 lead.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

National Football Post

Quote: “The average person puts about 25 percent of his energy and ability into his work. The world takes off its hat to those who put in more than 50 percent of their capacity, and stands on its head for those few-and-far-between souls who devote 100 percent.” -Andrew Carnegie

In our continuing series on first-year NFL coaches, today we look at Jim Caldwell of the Indy Colts.

 

Background

Jim Caldwell begins his first NFL head coaching job with a well-rounded resume that includes eight years as a college head coach (Wake Forest) and more than 20 years in the college game.

He spent the past nine years working for Tony Dungy, first in Tampa Bay then in Indianapolis.

Caldwell’s expertise is offense, specifically coaching quarterbacks. He coached Kerry Collins at Penn State, and his Wake Forest teams were ranked in the top-25 among passing offenses in four of his eight years.

 

Les Steckel Effect

For the past year, everyone in the NFL knew that Caldwell was going to become the next head coach of the Colts when Dungy finally decided to walk away from the game. There was never a coaching search; the plan was in place and ready to go when Dungy gave the word.

Caldwell then assumed a leadership role, making changes to the staff and not keeping things status quo in the organization. In his own way, he put his stamp on the team, which let the players and the rest of the organization know that he’s his own man.

When George Seifert took over for Bill Walsh as the new 49ers head coach in 1989, he walked into a great football situation, on and off the field. Seifert did not have to worry about the organization off the field, how it would procure players or what kinds of players were needed.

All he had to focus on was being able to inject his personality into the team and maintain the excellence. On paper, it looks easy to do, but taking over for someone who has been so successful is a hard role.

However, Caldwell, like Seifert, is helped by the fact that the organization is set up to run smoothly, so he can focus on putting his personality into the team.

Caldwell did the right thing by making the changes he felt were necessary for the team. He sent a message to the players that he’s not a house man. That was critical first step if he ever wants to match the success of Dungy.

They Didn't Tell Me This Would Happen

Can you imagine losing two vital members of your staff to a pension problem in your first year as an NFL head coach?

Howard Mudd and Tom Moore, both crucial components of the Colts’ offense, had a pension conflict with the NFL office—but being resourceful, the Colts found a way to make sure that both got their money and could remain with the team in consultants’ roles.

Caldwell was involved with the Colts’ offense and worked side by side with Mudd and Moore, so he knows exactly how important they are to the overall success of the team.

What makes them so valuable is their experience as coaches; when something happens on game day, they can react in a timely fashion.

The game-day chess match cannot be minimized, so having Mudd and Moore around in any role is a huge bonus for a first-year head coach.

 

What Am I Going To Do on Game Day?

This is not going to be hard transition for Caldwell, since the mechanisms for the game-day operation are already in place. That includes the fact that Peyton Manning is in tune when it comes to game management and completely understands what it takes to finish off games in the NFL.

Now, I don’t want to place the burden of game management solely on Manning’s shoulders because he carries enough of this team around, but when your quarterback is a student of the game as well as a play-caller, he can be a tremendous asset in this area.

Caldwell advised Dungy on game management last season, so he has an understanding of what needs to get done. This should be a smooth transition, since the Colts under Dungy were always well-schooled in this phase of football.

I Know When To Punt...I Think

Punting has never been a big problem when the Colts’ offense is operating at full strength. But last season, with no running game, they actually had to punt more than 50 times, which for them is more than normal.

This year, with rookie first-rounder Donald Brown, they should find their running game and stay out of the awkward situation of having to throw the ball to make key plays.

Did you realize that last year the Colts were ranked last in the NFL in 10-yard runs? That’s amazing, because when teams play the Colts, they often cheat the coverage, allowing the box to be a little looser and opening up running lanes for some potential big runs.

If defenses try that approach this season, I strongly doubt the Colts will be last in 10-yard runs again.

To some extent, what the Colts did last year in certain phases of the game was gang-tackle well as a defense. They allowed only 9.8 yards per reception and just six passing touchdowns all year.

I know they must shore up their run defense, but new defensive coordinator Larry Coyer loves to work with a fast-moving defense that relies on quickness more than power. That quickness has to rally to the ball and help the Colts’ smallish defensive players improve their overall tackling.

With the 2009 Colts under the direction of Coyer, we might see those all-up blitzes that became a staple in Denver, as Indy tries to find ways to generate more pressure.

Last year, two players, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, combined for 22 of the team’s 30 total sacks. The Colts must find more of a pass rush and must find someone else on their defense who can make plays on critical downs.

Coyer’s scheme will be more diversified than the previous scheme, but scheme alone can’t carry a team. Eventually, someone needs to step up.

 

I Wish I Had Done

It will be interesting to see the approach Caldwell takes in terms of how the Colts play their preseason games. In the past, and maybe this year as well, the Colts’ No. 1 objective has been the health of the team.

Keeping the team healthy for the opener is the biggest concern along with not revealing their schemes before the regular season.

When change occurs in the head coaching chair, it usually means change in a number of things. Most notably, it means a change in how the team approaches practice.

The one area that Caldwell can make a marked improvement in is the kicking game. Last season, the Colts struggled to perform in that area, just as they had in the past, but last year, it was glaring because the offense was unable to make big plays.

When you lack the ability to make big plays (the Colts ranked 26th in the NFL in plays of 20 yards or more), then you must find ways to control vertical field position. Yet, the Colts were worse at controlling field position (32nd in punt returns, 28th in kickoff returns) than they were at making big plays. This needs to be fixed.

I'm Going To Remember This One

Heat and humidity are hard to prepare for, but they play a huge role in the outcome of games in September in the NFL. So, how can Caldwell prepare for the heat of Miami in Week Two (I know it’s a night game, but that doesn’t matter; it’s still hot and humid in Miami at night) or the heat of Arizona (the dome will be open for sure) in Week Three?

The simple answer is, you can’t. But what you can do is play more players during the early parts of those games, thus, keeping your key players fresh at crunch time.

When Caldwell and team president Bill Polian sit down to formulate the roster for the season, they might want to consider carrying more defensive linemen than usual. During hot, humid games, the defensive line is the first to break down, and when the game is on the line, you need your pass rushers to be fresh.

 

Things Will Be Different Next Year

Not seeing Marvin Harrison in a Colts uniform will take a little getting used to. His replacement, Pierre Garcon, has very big shoes to fill as the new outside receiver.

Garcon was a sixth-round pick from Mount Union College in 2007, so this is a huge step for him to make. He’s not going to make anyone forget Harrison in one season, but can he handle the role as a starter?

That might take a year to determine, but if he does, he’ll have an NFL career. If he doesn’t, the Colts will be looking for a new wideout next year.


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