Jim Caldwell fits perfectly in the Indianapolis template.
The rookie Colts coach is 11-0, and he had the same reaction about his wonderful start as his predecessor would have had. "I understand the gravity of it, because so many great men have coached in this league,'' Caldwell said after becoming the first NFL coach to win the first 11 games of his pro career. "I am humbled. I am honored. I am fortunate to be in this position. I'm a traditionalist. I admired Vince Lombardi a lot growing up. On the den in my basement is a picture of George Halas, Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers. Being one of the 32 men to be a head coach in this league means a great deal to me.''
So far, the new Caldwell is much like the old Tony Dungy. He's plain-spoken. Players thought he might be a little more fiery, but they've found him to be as thoughtful as Dungy and maybe slightly louder. But not much. When he spoke at halftime in Houston, his team down 20-7, all he talked about was an old football bromide: "We have to take back both lines of scrimmage.'' No screaming. Just a statement of fact. The Colts proceeded to reel off the next 28 points.
It always helps to have Peyton Manning on your side. The Colts have started 13-0 (2005), 9-0 (2006), 7-0 (2007) and now 11-0, and it's clear that he's the greatest asset to the winningest regular-season team of the decade. But what the Colts have done is put a system in place, from the front office on down, that ensures a smooth passage from one year to the next. That's the reason the Colts will prosper for as long as Manning is playing. Check your ego at the door and do what's best for the team.
That's one reason owner Jim Irsay signed Bill Polian's son Chris to be the long-term general manager the other day while Bill was still in place as franchise architect. Irsay didn't want the younger Polian to leave the Colts without a logical successor when Bill Polian steps away from the team in two or three or four years. "We'll continue to build the team with the same kind of philosophy and core values,'' Chris Polian told me. "With fast players who play 60 minutes and who play smart. At the same time, we'll look for new ideas to make sure we don't get stale. We have a great situation here. We've always talked about the Rooneys and the Maras as the role models for how an organizations should be built.''
I asked Caldwell if the Colts would handle the last two or three games of the year differently than they did under Dungy. You're familiar with the national debate about going for the undefeated season. The Patriots went for it in 2007 and got to 16-0, only to lose in the Super Bowl. The Colts have thumbed their noses at it, preferring to be in the best possible physical condition entering the playoffs. That's how Dungy and Bill Polian believed the season should be -- once you've earned home-field advantage, rest your players and be in good position for the second season. Caldwell sounded no different Sunday afternoon when we spoke.
"It'll be somewhat similar to what we've done,'' he said. "Going undefeated was always a secondary goal. I don't think we'll put too much emphasis on that.''
The Colts won't be known as the team of the decade because of their middling playoff success. Eight times since 2000 they've made the playoffs; five times they've lost their first game. Probably the biggest criticism of Dungy as a coach was his practice of resting players for the playoffs each year once there was nothing to play for but the final record. Get ready for more of the same debate this year. Knowing Caldwell, he'll be like Dungy was. It won't faze him.
The 2010 Hall of Fame Class will disappoint a lot of people.
Twenty-five men got their hopes up Saturday, when the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced its semifinalists for induction in 2010. The 44 selectors (me included) will vote by mail ballot for the final 15, who will be announced Jan. 7. Those 15 men, plus two Senior candidates (Dick LeBeau, Floyd Little) will have their cases heard at the Hall of Fame selection meeting Feb. 6, 2010, in Fort Lauderdale. The 25 semifinalists:
Offensive players (11): Quarterbacks -- none. Running backs -- Roger Craig, Terrell Davis, Emmitt Smith. Linemen -- Dermontti Dawson, Russ Grimm. Wide receiver -- Cliff Branch, Tim Brown, Cris Carter, Andre Reed, Jerry Rice. Tight end -- Shannon Sharpe.
Defensive players (9): Linemen -- Richard Dent, Chris Doleman, Charles Haley, Cortez Kennedy, John Randle. Linebackers -- Kevin Greene, Rickey Jackson; Defensive backs -- Lester Hayes, Aeneas Williams.
Special teams (2): Player -- Steve Tasker. Punter -- Ray Guy.
Others (3): Don Coryell, Art Modell, Paul Tagliabue.
The points that strike me 10 weeks before we meet to select the new class:
A maximum of seven can earn entry into the Hall -- five from the 15 standard candidates, and two from the Seniors. Of the 15 modern-era guys, two are locks -- Emmitt Smith and Jerry Rice. That leaves three spots for the other 23 semifinalists, and that means a lot of impassioned speeches will fall short this Hall season.
The Seniors men have a much easier road to election, particularly this year. The 44 voters hear their cases, then vote yea or nay separately on both; an 80 percent yea vote would put Little and/or LeBeau in. The 15 modern-era candidates get funneled in a voting process down to five, then each is voted on individually and must get the same 80-percent to make it.
The next most logical modern-era candidate? I'd make an educated guess of Richard Dent and/or Haley. The selectors have been mindful the last couple of years about the relative paucity of defensive players in the Hall. Because 64 percent of the modern-era enshrinees (those who played in 1960 or after) are offensive players, the board's been looking to fix the inequity; seven of the last 11 players to get in played defense. Of the offensive players next up, I'd say Russ Grimm has the best shot, in part because the celebrated Washington offensive line doesn't have a player in.
Shannon Sharpe might have a better chance than Cris Carter, Andre Reed or Tim Brown. There's only one deserving tight end. There are three logical candidates at receiver, and Carter and Reed could take votes from each other. I sense Carter's slightly ahead of Reed, but that could change at this meeting.
Don't forget Rickey Jackson. I back Jackson, plus he's the sleeper candidate of respected voter Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News, and for good reason. Think of Jackson's candidacy this way: Lawrence Taylor played for the Giants from 1981 to 1993. Jackson played for the Saints from 1981 to 1993. In those 13 years, Taylor had a combined total of 152.5 sacks, interceptions and fumble recoveries. Jackson's total: 149.
It's believed Jackson also had more forced fumbles than Taylor, but those statistics are in some dispute. And though passes-broken-up isn't an official statistic, it's thought that Jackson led all linebackers in his Saints tenure with 118. I'm not saying Jackson was Taylor. I do think he was an impact player who's fallen through the cracks of the Hall process.
I'm frustrated that Ron Wolf or a deserving general manager didn't get to the final 25, and it's also frustrating that the candidacy of Ed Sabol can't get traction. At some point, the Hall has to address the contributors like general managers and others (maybe even commissioners) because players almost always win the battle of on-field versus off-field candidates.
Wolf traded for an overweight party boy, Brett Favre, and against all odds made the biggest signing in the history of free-agency, bringing Reggie White to the relative hamlet of Green Bay when the Packers stunk. Wolf also played a role in building the great Raider teams and nascent Bucs.
Last week, NFL Films had what Steve Sabol (Ed's son and the keeper of the NFL Films flame) called the best player wiring he'd ever seen -- Matthew Stafford beating Cleveland in obvious and audible pain, and it was the 965th reminder of how important NFL Films is in building the legend of the game. There should be a face of NFL Films in the Hall, and that face should be a bust -- the founder, Ed Sabol's.
It's basically a wasted vote to pick Paul Tagliabue on the final 15 ballot. If Tagliabue didn't get in the Hall in the last three years, when he had his qualifications shot down every year in part because voters wanted to wait to see how the current wrangling over a new collective bargaining agreement played out, why would he get in when the league and union are knee-deep in CBA talks?
The Charlie Weis Tote Board.
Spin the spinner: Where will Weis land once he's fired by Notre Dame? Well, eliminate Cleveland in the increasingly unlikely event that Eric Mangini keeps his job. Weis and Mangini coached together in New England but are not pals. I wouldn't be surprised to see Al Davis go hard after Weis, by the way, seeing that the Raiders won't exactly be picking from the Shanahan-Cowher tree of top candidates. But as for offensive coordinator possibilities for Weis, I'd list five teams:
1. New England, obviously. Bill Belichick hasn't given the offensive coordinator's title to Bill O'Brien this year, even though O'Brien has done a good play-calling job lately. Weis was vital to Tom Brady in his formative years, but Brady's all grown up now, so it's reasonable to wonder if Belichick would view Brady as needing Weis after five seasons without him.
2. Carolina. Weis and John Fox are close friends and current Panthers offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson worked under Weis in New England. Carolina's offense needs better quarterback play (actually, the offense needs any quarterback play) and needs to make better use of Steve Smith -- two areas that are strong suits for Weis. Now, if Fox gets fired, scratch Carolina.
3. Kansas City. The Chiefs don't have a coordinator in the wake of the midseason departure of Chan Gailey. GM Scott Pioli and Weis worked together with the Jets and Pats. Not sure if Todd Haley and Weis, both strong personalities, would be oil and water.
4. Indianapolis. Surprised? I don't see it happening, but it's intriguing. Brian Polian, son of Bill, is Notre Dame's special-teams coach, an ace recruiter and is tight with Weis. Colts brass loves Notre Dame and has high regard for Weis, and you can be sure Bill Polian and Manning would love to keep him from returning to New England. But here are two reasons it probably wouldn't happen. Tom Moore, the offensive coordinator for the Colts throughout Manning's 12-year career, seems likely to return in 2010. And when he's gone, it's likely the Colts would promote from within with assistant head coach/receivers coach Clyde Christensen.
5. Chicago. If Lovie Smith returns in Chicago, he may have to sacrifice offensive coordinator Ron Turner to shake up a bad team. Weis would be a candidate.
The UFL shall return ... I think
The weird first year (a trial run, really) of the four-team United Football League ended Friday with Jim Fassel's Las Vegas Locos besting Jim Haslett's Florida Tuskers for the first league title. Cool twist: The game ended in overtime, with the OT rule I love in force. Each team gets at least one possession, and once the second team gets the ball either on a turnover or on a regular possession, the game is in sudden death. "We think it's the most fair way to solve a tie game,'' said Rick Mueller, the league's vice president and general manager. "All four coaches were in favor of it, and with me and [director of officiating] Larry Upson on board with it, that's what we went with. We were basically the Competition Committee.''
The UFL is looking to add two teams and to play a 10-week schedule next year. Look for the NFL -- which has signed four UFL alums to active rosters or practice squads -- to work out a few players, beginning this week. Florida quarterback Brooks Bollinger could catch on, along with running back DeDe Dorsey, wideout Taye Biddle, tackle Rob Pettitti and pass-rusher Josh Savage.
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