How the Colts are weathering the Moore-Mudd aftermath

When Peyton Manning complains publicly about "pretty poor" communication within the Indianapolis Colts organization, people tend to listen.

Listen and wonder. Listen and speculate ... wildly.

"Is this Manning's opening salvo in an effort to get out of Indianapolis?" the co-host of a sports-talk radio show asked me on the air Thursday.

I told him I didn't think so, but that I could understand the suspicion.

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Manning doesn't make a habit of airing his team's dirty laundry in public, which is a tactic players often use when they want to force their way out the door. The fact that he did -- because of confusion surrounding the recent retirements of two prominent Colts assistant coaches -- is reason alone to take a harder look at exactly what's going on with a team that has long stood as a symbol of NFL excellence. It also begs closer examination of an issue that not long ago was discussed as merely the tip of an iceberg threatening to sink multiple coaching staffs throughout the league.

My first conclusion is that there is no reason for Colts fans to panic.

My second conclusion is that the fuss over longtime Colts offensive coordinator Tom Moore and offensive line coach Howard Mudd retiring earlier this month because of a change in the league's pension plan is likely to prove to be much ado about nothing.

Manning's unhappiness stems from hearing conflicting versions of what the future holds for Moore and Mudd with the Colts. He has heard that both will return as consultants, something team owner Jim Irsay has said he would like to see happen by the time training camp opens on Aug. 2. He has also heard that there might be a legal hang-up that prevents Moore and Mudd from returning in a part-time capacity by the start of camp, if ever.

On top of that, Manning has expressed discomfort over going through offseason workouts without Moore and Mudd, both of whom joined the Colts with Manning in 1998, as well as seeing a couple of coaching interns come aboard to help on the offensive side.

The reaction is understandable -- especially on top of first-year coach Jim Caldwell taking over after the retirement of legendary Tony Dungy -- but it shouldn't be interpreted as a sign that something is terribly amiss in Indianapolis.

For one thing, the possibility remains that Moore and Mudd will continue working with the Colts as consultants. For another, Manning has long had every bit as much oversight of the Colts' offense as Moore. Theirs was not a standard offensive coordinator-quarterback relationship. Moore would be the first to acknowledge that he mostly "suggested" plays and Manning had the freedom to call what he wanted when he wanted, while often changing plays at the line of scrimmage.

This is not to say that Manning doesn't need Moore. But Manning clearly can have the same relationship with Moore's replacement, Clyde Christensen, who had already been very much involved in all aspects of the offense as assistant head coach and receivers coach, and who has been with the Colts since 2002. Christensen isn't about to attempt to fix something that clearly isn't broken. He'll have no problem finding a way to make it work with arguably the best and brightest quarterback in the game.

Mudd's departure does raise concerns for Manning beyond seeing the Colts lose one of the NFL's greatest tutors of offensive linemen. Mudd also happens to be one of the very best in the game at quickly deciphering defensive signals and relaying them to Manning from the sidelines.

Perhaps his replacement, Pete Metzelaars, won't offer that helpful skill. But Metzelaars has been around Mudd and the rest of the Colts' offensive coaching staff since 2004. An NFL tight end for 16 seasons, Metzelaars brings plenty of knowledge and insight that will help an offensive line, and the Colts should enter this season in better health and with more experience than a year ago, given that three rookies in 2008 (Mike Pollak, Jamey Richard and Steve Justice) have a season under their belt.

The other part of the Moore-Mudd story that took on a cry-wolf feel is NFL Coaches Association executive director Larry Kennan telling anyone who would listen that the duo retired because of the league's decision to allow all of its teams to opt out of the NFL-run pension plan for coaches and other off-field personnel.

That touched off all sorts of speculation that other assistant coaches could follow Moore and Mudd into retirement, and that one team might even see a mass resignation of its assistants to protest the opt-out option, which several teams (except the Colts) have executed. There were dire predictions that the league would start losing position coaches to the college ranks, where the benefits could eventually be better than those being offered by NFL clubs.

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Moore and Mudd did not retire because of opt-out implications. They retired in order to be assured of collecting hefty lump-sum pension payments that, because of the ills of the economy, they were in jeopardy of not receiving if they remained employed.

There have been no other retirements by assistant coaches because few have as many years in the NFL as Moore and Mudd. And, as Houston Texans owner Bob McNair recently told Sirius NFL Radio, people don't change jobs over benefits. Their first consideration is salary as part of an overall compensation package.

We're not seeing the erosion of coaching staffs around the league. Despite the uncertainty involving Moore and Mudd, we have no reason to evict the Colts from their residence among the NFL's elite.

In the past six seasons, they've won 12 or more games. As long as Manning is still throwing and Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark are still catching, the Colts are going to have something to say about who represents the AFC in the Super Bowl.

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