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Colts knew what they had in head coach Frank Reich

It didn't take the failed fourth-down attempt that cost them a win to tell Colts general manager Chris Ballard what he had in head coach Frank Reich. He knew 30 minutes into their interview in February.

But Reich's decision, and his reaction to it, solidified it.

"Looking back, I knew in that moment, and I knew in the press conference after when he owned it, that we had the right guy," Ballard told this week prior to his team's wild-card game against the Texans. "He owned it. Like, 'I went for it, and I'd do it again.' He had that conviction. So many times, you see people try to spin it or make excuses. But real leaders don't blame others no matter how hard it is or even if it's not their fault. They just own it and move forward. That's when I knew, that's when the guys in the locker room knew, we had the right guy."

This isn't hindsight. On Sept. 30, the Colts were tied in overtime with the Texans with 27 seconds left and fourth-and-4. He opted to go for it, they failed, and Houston ended up kicking the game-winning field goal. Reich was criticized.

After, Reich stepped to the microphone and said, "We're not playing to tie. We're going for it 10 times out of 10." He didn't drop the mic, but he might as well have.

Afterward, I texted Ballard about the call and Reich's statements. Ballard responded to me quickly: "He is going to be really good." This was after a loss that dropped Indy to 1-3 and they were 1-5 until a dramatic playoff march. That's how assured Ballard was.

By now you know the story of how they got here. Josh McDaniels accepted the job, hired staff, then pulled out after the Super Bowl. The Colts were left with what was left, and that included Reich.

Ballard told that 30 minutes into the former Eagles offensive coordinator's interview, he had a feeling.

"I texted Bill Polian after saying, 'Why isn't this guy a head coach?'" Ballard remembered. "He had a great presence, a great calming demeanor, experience, confidence."

And so, watching the failed fourth down, Ballard said he didn't even second-guess in the moment. Watching from the box, he felt it because it showed a belief in his players.

Ballard, by the way, has seen this story before. When he was with the Chiefs, they came back from starting 1-5 to make the playoffs in 2016. He sees a lot of the characteristics of head coach Andy Reid in Reich.

"We knew we were good enough to turn it around, even if no one else believed in us, we knew we had the right stuff," said Ballard, whose first two draft picks this year Darius Leonard and Quenton Nelson made the All-Pro team. "And that's a credit to Frank and his staff. And what I asked them to do is hard -- play young guys. They never griped or flinched. We had our struggles. But the story has to play out and I give them credit for how it has. And we're going to continue to get better."

Follow Ian Rapoport on Twitter @RapSheet.

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