Caldwell inherits talent, but taking over for Dungy is no easy task

Following some sage advice he had received years earlier from then-Buffalo Bills coach Marv Levy, then-Bills general manager Bill Polian wasn't only studying players during a Penn State practice in the early 1990s.

"As Marv always said, 'Scout the coaches when you go out scouting,'" Polian recalled.

Although he was mainly focused on then-Nittany Lions quarterback Kerry Collins, Polian found himself "mightily impressed" with the assistant coach leading Collins through his drills. The assistant's name was Jim Caldwell, and Polian would never forget it.

Now, thanks to fate and the constant crisscrossing of NFL career paths, Polian and Caldwell have become partners in leading the Indianapolis Colts. Polian just finished his 11th season as the team's president. Caldwell is beginning his first year as Colts head coach, replacing retired Tony Dungy.

Caldwell steps into the most ideal situation that any of this year's new coaching hires could assume. He has a three-time league MVP and Super Bowl MVP at quarterback. He has an abundance of talent on both sides of the ball. And the Colts, fresh off a 12-4 season, will again be viewed a favorite (along with Tennessee) to win the AFC South and contend for a Super Bowl.

Compare that with the task facing Jim Mora, who was tabbed before the season as Mike Holmgren's replacement in Seattle. The Seahawks struggled badly in 2008, and, through no fault of Holmgren, need plenty of work to get back to being a contender.

Among the many reasons Polian is confident there will be a seamless transition from Dungy -- who walked away at the top of his profession -- to Caldwell -- positioned as Dungy's successor-in-waiting in 2005 with his promotion from quarterbacks coach to assistant head coach (he became associate coach 12 months ago) -- is what Caldwell displayed while tutoring Collins.

"I saw presence, which is hard to quantify, but you know it if you see it," Polian said. "I was very impressed with his basic grasp of football. And I saw a guy who was developing a very fundamentally sound quarterback. When Jim left (Penn State) to take over as head coach at Wake Forest (in 1993), Dick Anderson stepped in and did a wonderful job of polishing Kerry up, but Jim started with the basics."

Polian would get to see the finished product when, as general manager of the Carolina Panthers, he would make Collins the fifth overall pick of the 1995 draft.

Since 2002, when Caldwell arrived in Indianapolis with Dungy after the two had worked together in Tampa Bay, Polian has witnessed first-hand how well he handles himself around a quarterback that presumably is beyond teaching -- Peyton Manning.

But Manning credits Caldwell with being "very influential" in his development.

"He's really helped me as a quarterback," Manning told reporters in Indianapolis. "Very detail-oriented, very disciplined."

It takes that sort of approach to be able to prepare the complex game plans the Colts use and the constant signal-calling that Manning does at the line of scrimmage.

Dungy through the years

After 13 seasons as a head coach, Tony Dungy walks away with a Super Bowl ring and a 139-69 regular-season record. Take a look back at his impressive career. Photos ...

Like his 53-year-old predecessor, Caldwell, who turns 54 on Friday, tends to be soft-spoken. However, that should not be confused for being soft. Caldwell is direct and extremely demanding when it comes to coaching players.

He already has had a taste of NFL head-coaching experience. It came late in the 2005 season when, after Dungy took a leave of absence after his son, James, committed suicide, Caldwell stepped into the top job for two weeks. He guided the team in one game, a loss to Seattle, when the Colts were playing mostly backups because they already had clinched home-field advantage in the playoffs. But he served as a calming force during a tragedy that shook the entire Colts organization.

"He did a phenomenal job," Polian said. "So we don't have any doubt that, under these circumstances, where everything is relatively quiet and you're moving forward in sort of business-as-usual mode, that Jim will be fine. He's already been battle-tested, as far as we're concerned."

But he isn't Dungy, and that will likely be his greatest challenge. Colts players have become accustomed to doing things a certain way, and any new coach would represent a dramatic change.

Caldwell faces a period in which he will be judged based on what his predecessor has done in helping to allow the Colts to remain a perennial powerhouse. Whatever success they have in the short term will likely still be credited to Dungy ... and any failures will be blamed on the coaching change.

But Dungy, for one, insists that Caldwell will "put his stamp on this team" and that the Colts will continue to win.

"If (Colts owner) Jim Irsay was looking for a coach and interviewed all these guys that I'm seeing being interviewed, he would interview Jim Caldwell and say, 'That's the best guy out there,'" Dungy said during his farewell news conference. "And the fact that Jim's been here for seven years, knows our organization inside-out, and has the respect of our players and our coaches, there's no question in my mind he's the best guy for this job.

"He's ready. He's more than ready."

Make the hire

» The Detroit Lions should not hesitate any longer to make Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz their new head coach. Schwartz brings sterling credentials from the NFL, but he also has a few other things going for him.

Schwartz has a great deal of polish, which he displayed during a recent news conference while interviewing in Detroit. That is extremely helpful considering the tough grind Schwartz (or anyone who gets the job) would face as the primary spokesman for the league's most woe-begotten franchise.

He also has a classic football-coaching mind, given his love for chess and the fact he makes good use of his economics degree from Georgetown by putting a heavy dose of statistical analysis into his game plans.

Don't let looks fool you

Schefter: McDaniels' difficult task

Denver had many selling points for its new coach, Josh McDaniels, writes Adam Schefter. One was not its 2009 schedule. The team faces what can only be termed as a brutal schedule next season. More ...

» Let's stop focusing on Josh McDaniels' age (32) or youthful looks. The guy is definitely ready to be an NFL head coach, and the Broncos are lucky to have him. He has learned well from some outstanding mentors, beginning with is father, Thom, the winningest football coach at Canton (Ohio) McKinley High School. He learned a thing or two from Bill Belichick as well.

But the proof is in what the former Patriots offensive coordinator has done the past two years, guiding Tom Brady on his historic MVP season in 2007 and making Matt Cassel an outstanding emergency replacement (not to mention a very rich man) in 2008.

With McDaniels in charge, Jay Cutler will continue to thrive as a star quarterback, but the Broncos' defense also has hope for improvement because the team's new coach fully understands what it takes to build a complete team. New defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is an excellent addition as well in Denver.

Tough love

» I was among those who criticized Jack Del Rio from shifting from a player-friendly coach to a strict disciplinarian as the Jaguars' season was slipping away because the inconsistency would only make things worse, which it did. Now, however, Del Rio is doing absolutely the right thing by laying out a get-tough plan that will be present from the very start of training camp.

That way, players will know exactly what is expected of them, and Del Rio can determine who is buying into a program that he expects will build greater chemistry and a tougher team mentality and who isn't. The Jaguars had major problems with a divided locker room last season, and it is imperative to weed out the problems.

"It's safe to say there will be a little more of an edge to our camp this year," Del Rio told reporters in Jacksonville. "I don't think (camp) was necessarily easy last year, but we did lighten up some things that will be hardened up this year."

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