Caldwell a good fit for Colts

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 14, 2009

By Michael Marot
Associated Press
INDIANAPOLIS ó Jim Caldwell wants the Indianapolis Colts to be his team. Even with most, if not all, of Tony Dungy’s guys.
It’s a risky business.
One day after Dungy announced his retirement, Caldwell confronted the most difficult question he faces as Indy’s new coach: What will he change in the post-Dungy era?
“He’s very tough to follow,” Caldwell said Tuesday at his introductory news conference. “But I’m not competing with Tony. I want to build on the success we have had and move forward.”
Separating the two coaches is tough enough.
Both are 53 years old, had long careers as assistants and only one head coaching job before joining the Colts. Both openly discuss their religious beliefs and embrace the importance of working in the community as much as they do winning championships.
Yet Caldwell’s first task will be proving he’s more than Dungy’s identical twin.
“I am my own person, and I suspect that I may be a bit more emotional, at times, than him,” Caldwell said. “I worked for him for eight years, and I never heard him raise his voice one time, so I might break that record.”
The Wisconsin native, who turns 54 on Friday, has extensive college credentials.
He coached at seven schools and under some of the game’s biggest names: Joe Paterno at Penn State, Howard Schnellenberger at Louisville, Bill McCartney at Colorado.
At Wake Forest, his only other head coaching job, Caldwell went 26-63 in eight seasons. He believes that experience made him a better coach, and those who have followed his career contend Caldwell is the right man for the Colts.
“Jim was one of the best assistant coaches I’ve ever had at Penn State,” Paterno said. “I thought he did a great job as the head coach at Wake Forest, and Jim will do a great job as the head coach of the Colts.”
Caldwell takes over a team that has been to the playoffs seven straight seasons, won at least 12 games in six consecutive seasons and has won five of the last six AFC South titles. He has a solid foundation with three-time MVP Peyton Manning, 2007 Defensive Player of the Year Bob Sanders and bookend Pro Bowlers at receiver and defensive end.
Of course, the combination also dramatically increases the stakes for a first-time NFL head coach like Caldwell.
Owner Jim Irsay and team president Bill Polian believe Caldwell will produce similar results despite making changes.
And after watching Caldwell the past seven seasons, particularly the past 12 months as Dungy’s hand-picked apprentice, they believe the transition from Dungy to Caldwell is comparable to the move San Francisco made in the late 1980s when Bill Walsh handed the reins to George Seifert.
“I really think it is kind of like that,” Irsay said. “It’s really about saying, ‘We’ve been great, but we need to be better, push it harder, do the things we need to do to make us better.’ That’s what I’m excited about.”
Irsay has given Caldwell a four-year contract. While not providing financial details, Irsay acknowledged Caldwell would get a pay raise comparable to what other first-time NFL head coaches make.
Caldwell joined Dungy’s staff in 2001 as Tampa Bay’s quarterbacks coach, then moved with Dungy to Indianapolis in 2002. Since then, he’s been in charge of Manning and backup Jim Sorgi, although his duties expanded last season when he was made the successor-in-waiting.
He scripted the offseason practice schedule and participated in the draft prep work and draft day meetings.
Dungy said Monday that Caldwell saw enough to propose a few changes already, though the new coach declined to elaborate on those thoughts as Dungy watched from the back of the room.
Caldwell has already made one decision. Former Buffalo Bills and Carolina Panthers quarterback Frank Reich, who spent last season as an offensive team assistant, will be elevated to quarterbacks coach. Caldwell is still meeting with other staff members before deciding whether to make additional moves.
Clearly, though, those who know Caldwell best believe he will not try to emulate Dungy’s style, only his success.
“We have a saying around here, ‘Next man up,’ and Jim is the next man up,” Dungy said Monday. “He’s not going to try and do it like I did it. He’s worked for some great people, and he’s going to put his stamp on this team and they’re going to win.”