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Business as unusual

Colts step into the unknown with Dungy's new deal

Posted: Tuesday January 22, 2008 1:13PM; Updated: Tuesday January 22, 2008 2:12PM
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Though Jim Caldwell was named the Colts' coach in waiting, how long he'll be waiting for Tony Dungy to retire is anyone's guess.
Though Jim Caldwell was named the Colts' coach in waiting, how long he'll be waiting for Tony Dungy to retire is anyone's guess.

He never left, so it's sounds a bit silly to say I'm surprised Tony Dungy is coming back to the Colts, but that's where my reaction to Monday's news from Indianapolis would fall. Surprised, but far from shocked.

The part that I still can't quite wrap my brain around regarding the Colts' 2008 coaching situation is the notion that it's business as usual in Indy. Yes, in that Dungy is still on the job, just as he has been the past six seasons. But no, in that business as usual for the Colts has never before looked, sounded or been arranged quite like this.

Watching the Dungy news conference late Monday afternoon, I couldn't help but be reminded of a police officer waving traffic past an accident -- "Nothing to see here, folks. Keep it moving.'' -- as I listened to, first, Colts owner Jim Irsay and then team president Bill Polian frame Dungy's recent indecision about his future as nothing more than standard operating procedure in Indy for the past three years.

The only thing is, the facts tend to get in the way. While I think it's great that the Colts aren't losing Dungy, one of the best head coaches in the NFL, it's not typical for Irsay to offer Dungy the freedom to live with his recently transplanted family in Tampa for three or four months of the offseason while continuing to work in Indy.

It's not typical for Irsay to make it possible for Dungy to leave the Colts on Fridays during the season in order to fly home south and watch his son play in high school football games. And it's definitely not typical for the Colts to name Dungy's successor even before they lose their head coach, or to award newly promoted associate head coach Jim Caldwell a $2.5 million annual salary to serve as the team's head-coach-in-waiting.

You can certainly make the case that, in doing so, the Colts took moves that were wise, generous, pro-active and potentially very shrewd in terms of the long-term health and stability of the franchise. I tend to agree with all of that. But this isn't business as usual. Not when Irsay or the Colts have never done any of this before.

Irsay went out of his way Monday to make it clear that Dungy didn't come back for "a victory lap tour,'' adding "this isn't just definitely one year or something like that.'' But it very well could be that, and everyone knows it given that Dungy has made no secret of the fact he views coaching as a year-to-year proposition at this point in his life.

I understand neither Dungy or the Colts would want the '08 season to morph into a distracting farewell tour for their head coach, but that's kind of what they bargained for in this case. To expect otherwise is a bit na´ve. It may be Dungy's last year on the sideline, it may not. But when there's no clarity to the situation, and it's left open-ended, speculation will always rush in to fill the void. See Brett Favre's situation the past three years or so when it comes to the issue of retirement. It's unavoidable, and today's 24/7 news cycle only feeds the interest in speculation.

Someone asked me on the radio early Tuesday morning if this makes Dungy, in essence, a lame duck in Indianapolis in '08? Not exactly, because in this case Dungy can remain in power as long as he cares to, without losing his authority due to any impending deadline.

But how does one describe Dungy's somewhat altered status? No matter how you downplay it, he's still around for at least one more year in part to officially groom Caldwell as his replacement. It's on-the-job-training for Caldwell, and it's of a much more direct nature than, say, Jason Garrett's situation on Wade Phillips' staff in Dallas.

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