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LET LOOSE: Colts fire coach Jim Caldwell after 3 seasons

January 17, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Jim Caldwell endured everything thrown at him during his first two seasons as the Colts' coach -- replacing a friend, rebounding from losses and fighting through injuries.

Not having Peyton Manning around in 2011 was just too much.

Caldwell was fired Tuesday, a little more than two weeks after the Colts' worst season in two decades.

"This is obviously a big transitional time for us, but I know we're excited moving forward and it's hard when you say goodbyes to some people," team owner Jim Irsay said. "But it's part of the business."

In Indianapolis, the last two weeks have hardly been business as usual.

The day after a season-ending loss at Jacksonville assured Indy of the No. 1 draft pick in April with a 2-14 mark, Irsay fired team vice chairman Bill Polian, the architect of the Colts' success, and his son, Chris, the hand-picked general manager.

Irsay's nine-day search for a replacement ended last Wednesday when he chose 39-year-old Ryan Grigson as Indy's new GM.

Since then, Irsay and Grigson have met almost non-stop, debating what direction the team needed to go, whether staff changes would fix the problems or whether the team needed to bring in a new coach and possibly a whole new staff.

Things were so clouded Monday that Caldwell even met with former Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo about possibly becoming the Colts' new defensive coordinator, and as late as Tuesday morning, the conventional wisdom was that Caldwell would stay.

Then things changed almost as suddenly as the Colts' fortunes in 2011.

Irsay said he informed Caldwell of the decision about 2 p.m., shortly before the team confirmed the move.

"We just came to the conclusion that this is best moving forward for the franchise," Grigson said, referring to his first major decision in charge of an NFL team. "Mr. Irsay is the steward of this franchise and I'm here to help him wrap his head around these types of decisions. We've been in football our whole lives and a lot of it is about instincts."

Caldwell ends his Colts' tenure 26-22 overall with one AFC title, two division crowns and one bleak season that has left him unemployed just three years after replacing close friend Tony Dungy, the first black coach to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.

"This was a difficult decision," Irsay said. "I wanted to make sure we took all the time we needed to make sure it was the right decision. ... And just like 14 years, ago, it's a big change for the franchise and at the same time, there's players, coaches, many people on the staff that will go into the new day and get on with the work of 2012."

Back in 1998, the Colts brought in Manning, Bill Polian and coach Jim Mora. The team got better fast and, though Mora was gone after the 2001 season, the franchise became one of the league's model franchises.

And it is now headed in a different direction, even if Manning comes back as expected from Sept. 8 neck surgery.

Caldwell -- who won his first 14 games, an NFL record for a rookie head coach, and became only the fifth first-year coach to take his team to the Super Bowl -- won't be there when the Colts resume practice. With fans complaining about game management and clamoring for a change since midseason, Irsay didn't have much choice.

With Manning, the Colts won a league-record 115 regular-season games over the previous decade, tying the league mark for most consecutive playoff appearances (nine), winning two AFC titles and one Super Bowl trophy, the Colts lost their first 13 games in 2011, then won twice in five days and nearly lost the No. 1 draft pick, too.

Without Manning, Indy started 0-8 and was the heavy favorite to win the Andrew Luck sweepstakes at midseason. Caldwell's team lost the next five games, too, before finally winning two straight to avoid becoming the second 0-16 team in league history.

A season-ending loss at Jacksonville, officially gave the Colts the top pick, which is expected to be used on Luck.

Players never gave up on Caldwell and many cited their preference to keep playing for him next season. Manning was one of Caldwell's supporters, calling the coach that helped him win a record-setting four MVP Awards a "friend."

But the disastrous 2011 season was too much for Caldwell to overcome after winning AFC South titles in each of his first two seasons in Indy.

After overhauling the front office, Irsay last week hired 39-year-old Ryan Grigson as his new general manager, then wanted to wait until Grigson had time to evaluate Caldwell's performance.

The decision came Tuesday, setting off the second major search of the month.

"Change sometimes isn't always the easiest transition to make but it's part of this game, part of this league and part of the direction we need to get going in this new era of Colts football," Grigson said.

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