The Third Era of Irsay

Nate Dunlevy looks at the new era of Colts football and how Jim Irsay is determined to put his stamp on it.

Last Monday there was ‘euphoria’ among media members and some pockets of Colts fans over the dismissal of Bill and Chris Polian.

Visions of a kinder, gentler franchise led by a front office white knight who would play nice with everyone, hire a high profile coach and always play the starters 16 games danced in the heads of those who felt slighted or cheated by the last decade of Colts football.

This Monday reality sets in.

Jim Caldwell is still head coach.

DeCosta declined to interview for the GM job. McKenzie was never even contacted.

It’ll likely be a month before a new front office structure is in place.

The Colts are probably going to draft Andrew Luck.

Irsay seems committed to keeping Peyton Manning while he’s at it.

News from West 56th flies fast and free these days as local writers are in sudden demand because for the first time in a decade, people employed by the Colts are suddenly willing to talk. We get candidate names and rumors flying back and forth and contradicting one another on an hourly basis.

Welcome to the 3rd Era of Irsay.

When Colts owner Jim Irsay dismissed Bill and Chris Polian, he took back control of the organizational identity of the Colts. His move last week had little to do with backup quarterbacks, 2-14 seasons, or bad drafts. It had EVERYTHING to do with the fact that as the season unraveled in Indianapolis, the Polians grew increasingly petulant and negative. You don’t turn your back on 10 years of success because of one bad season. At his press conference last week, Irsay didn’t talk about the record being ‘unacceptable’ or demand a return to winning. He talked about culture. He talked about fan and media relationships. He talked about new unified voice.

He is that new voice.

The First Era of Irsay saw Jim run the team as general manager from 1984-1993. For 10 seasons he manned the helm the Colts, leading them to the playoffs just once. Bob Irsay pushed his son aside briefly, in favor of Bill Tobin who brought in Jim Harbaugh and gave Indianapolis two seasons of relevance. When Jim took over ownership, his first act of the Second Era of Irsay was to hire Bill Polian.

Mean Bill guided the Colts to 10 playoff appearances in the next 13 years. Things deteriorated this season however, and Jim Irsay was left with little choice but to move on from the man that had built the Colts into a perennial power. The environment at West 56th had become so incredibly toxic that a change had to be made. It had nothing to do with winning and everything to do with creating a tolerable work environment. It’s too bad, because most of us have gotten used to winning. From everything that has been written on the record and everything I’ve heard off the record, I can’t second guess Irsay’s decision.

I can regret it.

Last Monday, Jim Irsay made a clear choice that winning at all costs wasn’t going to fly any more. The Colts would be remade in his image. No one cares like Jim Irsay cares. He made a promise that the front office would embrace the community the way he has. Mr. Irsay manned up and took the weight of the franchise upon himself. He would be deciding the coach. He would be deciding on Manning. He would be making the first pick in the draft. It’s his team. He’s going to run it the way he wants for a change. The Third Era of Irsay is upon us. The Colts will have a new power structure with one man, one voice at the top: Irsay’s.

What the media has never understood is that fans like winning. They don’t care about the press. They don’t care about access for bloggers. They don’t care about anything but wins. Wins drive eyeballs, clickers, radio dials, and page hits. The Colts are about to be a lot more media friendly, but it remains to be seen whether there will be any wins to go with it. Yes, it’s fun for everyone and their brother to have the whole list of GM candidates just days after the announcement. You know it’s a brave new world when Bob Kravitz is accurately Tweeting the list, breaking Colts news to the world. The flip side of everyone having the story is chaos like Irsay’s odd exchange over Twitter with Adam Schefter.

Meanwhile, the biggest decision to face the Colts in years is upon them. I’m not referring to the decision on the first pick of the draft. I and many others believe that has already been made. I’m not even going to engage in any more debates on that subject. Unless and until I hear differently, I’m assuming the Colts are taking Andrew Luck. Despite Irsay’s vague Twitter denials, I can’t see any outcome but that come April. Luck is coming to Indy.

No, the biggest decision in years is what to do with Peyton Manning. When I read things like “Irsay will decide with his heart…”, I cringe.

Keeping Peyton Manning on his current deal will destroy the Indianapolis Colts.

I don’t say that lightly. No one has spent more time defending and extolling Peyton F. Manning than I have. Outside of Archie and Oliva no one loves Peyton so unconditionally as I do. The facts are, however, that unless the deadline is pushed out or the contract is renegotiated, the Colts would be deciding to keep Peyton and pay his bonus without having any idea if he can ever play again. Beyond that, there will be no way for the Colts to move on if he is kept and can’t play. Peyton will be un-tradeable, uncuttable for three seasons. They will be locked into an untenable situation. It will be disaster. If he gets paid but can’t play the salary cap bomb will leave a crater the size of the early 90s. No one wants to do it, but as things stand right now, it HAS to be done. The consequences of sentimentality could not be more dire.

There have been multiple conflicting reports as to whether the Colts even can renegotiate Peyton’s deal. Some say it can’t be done, others think it can. But short of a major renegotiation or at the minimum a moving of the bonus date, the Colts will be facing a decision that calls for swift heartless action. You can’t spend $28 million on a quarterback that isn’t healthy, and Peyton Manning isn’t close to healthy. You can’t make this decision with your heart. Your heart wants Peyton to ride a blue and white rainbow lined with gumdrops and touchdowns straight to Canton.  To cut the greatest player in NFL history, an icon beloved by an entire state, the man who is responsible for saving the franchise, the best damn player you’ll ever see in your enitre life, you’d have have to be the mother of all cold-hearted bastard sonofabitches.

If only the Colts had someone like that.

The Polians are gone. Jim Caldwell is still coach. Kinder and gentler has won the day.

The Third Era of Irsay is upon us.

Be careful what you wish for.

You just might get it.


On an unrelated note, I just wanted to mention the Kravitz column from yesterday. It was his best work at the Star, but eerily reminiscent of his piece after Dungy retired. Bob spent two years trying to push Tony out the door, then wrote this glowing tribute the day he announced he was leaving. Now, he’s done the same to Polian. Soon he’ll be writing a piece on Peyton.

He should probably try to appreciate these men more while they are actually with the team. Some of us remember how ready he was for the Jim Caldwell era to begin.