Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell’s Stamp on Coaching Staff Complete?

With the news that former Offensive Coordinator Tom Moore has left the team, it occurred to me that a great deal of turnover has taken place since Head Coach Jim Caldwell took over for Tony Dungy in 2009. Many considered the initial changes minor, as Caldwell has consistently stated his opinion that he was taking over a team and staff that was not broken, and a team philosophy that he promised to uphold, but the gradual transition from the Dungy coaching staff to the Caldwell coaching staff has been significant — and could be complete after Caldwell’s third off-season behind the wheel.

Since Caldwell took over the team he has:
Replaced former Special Teams Coordinator Russ Purnell with Ray Rychleski
Replaced former Defensive Coordinator Ron Meeks with Larry Coyer
Replaced former Offensive Line Coach Howard Mudd with Pete Metzelaars
Replaced former Offensive Coordinator Tom Moore with Clyde Christensen
Replaced former Running Backs Coach Gene Huey with David Walker
Added Ron Turner as Quarterbacks Coach
Moved former Quarterbacks Coach Frank Reich to Wide Receivers Coach

Other minor changes and additions have occurred since Caldwell took over. Make no bones about it, Indianapolis is going to win or lose with the group of people Caldwell has had the opportunity to choose. If this group is successful, a great deal of credit should go to Caldwell for putting it together. If the team falters, players struggle to develop, and the last years of Peyton Manning’s career are a disappointment, Caldwell’s legacy will reflect it.

There are some important milestones that are about to occur for the Colts initial coaching changes.

Many of the Colts defensive players will be entering their third season under Coordinator Larry Coyer’s direction. There have been minor tweaks made to the Dungy base Cover-2 scheme since Coyer joined the franchise, including an increased number of blitz packages, changes in cornerback skill set targeting (man-to-man coverage skills have increased in importance), and a move to bigger defensive linemen. Not unlike third-year player development, it is reasonable to evaluate the success or failure of Coyer’s defensive scheme changes throughout and following the 2011 season. Injuries may alter the ability to get a good read on things, naturally, but if Coyer’s way is the way for Indianapolis to improve defensively, that should clear one way or another following the coming season.

Much maligned Special Teams Coordinator Russ Purnell has moved on to Jacksonville and Ray Rychleski will likewise be entering his third year overseeing the group. Popular opinion amongst the fan base was that it was time for Purnell to move on and time for Indianapolis to place more emphasis on improving special teams play. In his first two seasons, Rychleski will get mixed reviews. There were early signs that the coverage units may have improved significantly in Rychleski’s first year, but little has happened to suggest that the return game is significantly better — particularly blocking. Some will point to the numerous injuries in 2010 that could make it impossible to place a great deal of blame on Rychleski, or much of an opinion on his performance at all, as he spent much of the year training new players to fill roles. Still, after 2011, barring a repeat of the 2010 Colts MASH unit, fans should get a good idea as to whether Rychleski was the answer.

Although they are only entering their second seasons as Colts coaches, it is reasonable to expect that Colts fans will have a close eye on the performance of the offensive line and offense in general. Now that Metzelaars and Christensen have officially taken over each unit, respectively, and a lot of attention was paid to the offense in the draft, eyes will turn to them quickly. Will Christensen and Manning work together to get a running game going that does a better job of at least threatening opposing defenses? Will Metzelaars be able to effectively mold two young, and very talented, offensive linemen into a cohesive unit that gives Manning more time and allows players like Joseph Addai, Donald Brown, Delone Carter, Mike Hart, Javarris James, Dominic Rhodes, or Devin Moore have success?

When so much was attention was given to those two units, and so much control and influence of the success of those units has changed hands in a short time, fans will expect to see meaningful results. It may be too early yet to form a final conclusion on either coach, but there is no doubt their seats will warm up very quickly if offensive line performance and offensive balance continues to disappoint.

Head coach Jim Caldwell has done a commendable job of easing into his role as Head Coach after a highly popular predecessor retired. There is reason to believe that giving the replacements time to work with former legends at their position in some instances (Mudd and Moore) was the best move to maintain system stability. There is reason to believe that making some changes gradually to not completely upset the coaching balance and chemistry allowed a healthy transition to occur. In that regard, from the business side of being a head coach, Caldwell should be given an A+ for his professionalism. The only question that remains is whether Caldwell crew will succeed — and 2011 should provide the first round of legitimate review for his first choices.