|Chip Kelly has a 34-6 record in three seasons as head coach at the University of Oregon.|
Having a 2-14 record in any season is hard to endure. It's difficult for the fans, the team and, most of all, the owner. And once the owner gets mad, changes aren't far behind. Change is happening all over the place in Indianapolis. It started with owner Jim Irsay's removal of GM Bill Polian and his son Chris, and it continued Tuesday with the firing of coach Jim Caldwell.
Now the Colts start over with new GM Ryan Grigson, a 39-year-old former Eagles executive, in control. Grigson is faced with some huge problems. The number one issue is not what to do with Peyton Manning. The real question is what type of team Grigson is going to build. Does he want to have a big team? A small, fast team? A team that does not care about size or speed and just cares about finding good football players? Grigson must set the direction, and it begins with having a grading system for draft prospects that highlights the players Grigson envisions for the team.
But what must be most important to Grigson right now is finding the right head coach who shares his vision and knows how to be a head coach. The Colts need someone who knows how to lay the foundation for success. This cannot come from Grigson, as he has never walked this path before. Hiring a young GM is good, but teaming him with someone who has never been a head coach, either in college or at the pro level, might prove costly.
What the Colts need is someone with a unique understanding of football who has been a success on every level. They must not make a decision based on what is best for the team right now. They must make a decision that is good for today, but even better for tomorrow. With that in mind, if I were in Grigson's shoes, I would spend time with University of Oregon coach Chip Kelly and try to convince him to become the next head coach of the Colts. Kelly is smart, innovative and has an appetite for learning.
Some might say college coaches don't know pro football and to a degree this is true. But intelligent people learn quickly and Kelly is super smart. Do you think Jimmy Johnson was ready for pro football when he came into the NFL in 1989? No, but by 1991, he was ready. Johnson was smart, energetic, creative, convicted in his thoughts and could lay down a foundation for new owner Jerry Jones. This is what the Colts need right now.
The Colts have many problems, including salary cap issues, a poor talent base and a delicate decision on Manning that cannot be solved overnight. As the Colts grow as an organization under the direction of Grigson, they need a coach who can grow along with him. With two years of learning the NFL, I believe Kelly would become a star. (Another coach who fits this profile is Marc Trestman, who pilots Montreal's CFL franchise and has been mentioned as a possible candidate in various reports.) Grigson should pick the next coach just like he should choose players -- projecting forward.
When Jimmy Johnson went 1-15 in his first year in Dallas, he could point to his success at the University of Miami to convince the players he had the right approach. When he went 7-9 the next year, he could sell improvement in his program and that they were close. As he entered his third year, he knew he needed to make changes to his staff, in part because of his prior experience as a head coach. With those changes came an 11-win season, and the rest is history. Johnson had the credibility to think and sell long-term. Assistants who have not been head coaches often don't. Look no further than the recent firings of Steve Spagnuolo, Todd Haley, Tony Sparano and others who didn't have head-coaching experience.
Next year does not look bright for the Colts, but the future might if Grigson finds the right coach, develops the right blueprint for re-building this team and finds the right people to help him along the way. He should think differently than the other teams looking for a head coach as his situation is vastly different. Grigson should know that when everyone is thinking alike, then no one is thinking.
Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi