Colts 101 is counting down the 30 most influential members of the Indianapolis Colts organization as the team prepares to embark on its 30th season in Indianapolis.
No list of influential Indianapolis Colts would be complete without one of the two coaches who guided the Colts to the Super Bowl during their tenure. Even though his time with the Colts came to an abrupt and disappointing end, Jim Caldwell most certainly left his mark on the franchise.
Caldwell began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at his alma mater, the University of Iowa. After a number of college assistant jobs and an eight year stint as the head coach at Wake Forest, Caldwell landed on Tony Dungy's staff in
Tampa Bay as the quarterbacks coach. When Dungy was fired in Tampa, Caldwell followed Dungy to his next stop in Indianapolis.
Caldwell coached the quarterbacks under Dungy, possibly the easiest job on the staff considering his main pupil was Peyton Manning. He was also Dungy's "right-hand man" and most trusted friend on the staff. So when Dungy retired after the 2008 season, it was Caldwell who was named his successor.
Not much changed under Caldwell. The offense remained potent with Manning at the controls and the Colts continued to employ Dungy's Cover 2 defensive scheme. In Caldwell's first season, the Colts broke out of the gate to a 14-0 record. With the division and conference crowns already clinched, Caldwell (at GM Bill Polian's behest) chose to sit Manning and the rest of the starters in the second half of their week 15 game at home against the Jets. Backup quarterback Curtis Painter would give us a glimpse of what was to come in 2011 when he coughed up the lead and the Colts run at perfection was history.
The Colts ran the table in the AFC playoffs, reaching their second Super Bowl. Despite leading at half time, New Orleans, buoyed by a successful onside kick to start the second half, came from behind to defeat the Colts 31-17.
Caldwell would guide the Colts to a 10-6 record in 2010 and another AFC South title. Indianapolis was unceremoniously bounced in the first round, however, when the Jets were able to get in field goal range after Adam Vinatieri had put the Colts ahead late in the fourth quarter. Caldwell's use of timeouts, which gave the Jets extra time when they received the football, came under tremendous scrutiny.
Caldwell was already under some fire for his decision-making when the ill-fated 2011 season began without the injured Manning. The Colts lured veteran Kerry Collins out of retirement, but he was clearly not ready to resume his NFL career. When Collins went down, Painter was given the starting job. The Colts lost 13 consecutive games before stunning the Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans for back to back victories.
That was still not enough to save Caldwell. With owner Jim Irsay cleaning house, releasing Manning and several other veterans and firing Bill Polian, Caldwell was certain to go. He was eventually hired by John Harbaugh as the Baltimore Ravens' quarterbacks coach and was elevated to offensive coordinator when Cam Cameron was fired. Caldwell earned another Super Bowl ring this past year when the Ravens defeated the 49ers in the Super Bowl.
Jim Caldwell certainly made some curious decisions as Colts' head coach, ones that cost the Colts opportunities for a championship under his watch. Even so, his tenure was star-crossed to say the least. Had Peyton Manning not thrown a costly pick six in the waning moments of Super Bowl XLIV, Caldwell might still be coaching in Indianapolis. More importantly, had Manning's neck surgery been more timely or more successful, Caldwell likely wouldn't have been the overseeer of one of the worst seasons in Colts history.
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