by Kent Sterling
There are few things that get good coaches and general managers fired more quickly than not controlling and then meeting expectations.
It should have taken the Indianapolis Colts three years to rebound from the pit of despair in which they cratered in 2011. That 2-14 campaign was an exercise in misery from which many franchises never rebound, but the prize for their woeful performance was the #1 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft and he made a profound difference.
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Choosing once per generation quarterback Andrew Luck at number one set the course for one of the most dramatic turnarounds in the history of professional sports. Finishing 11-5 in 2012 set the stage for fans to buy into the myth that 2011 was a simple aberration.
They believed – despite the spare parts gathered on both sides of the ball to accompany Luck – that the Colts would take a step forward this season. Early season performances, and a 6-2 record at the season’s halfway mark caused fans to indulge in dreams of a deep playoff run.
Never mind the injuries and holes all over the field (and not those created by an offensive line), the Colts were 6-2, and that’s halfway to 12-4 – likely good enough for a first round bye come January.
The Colts were then exposed by an improving Rams team in a 38-8 drubbing. Three days ago, the Arizona Cardinals embarrassed the Colts 40-11. With five games left in the 2013 season, the once very secure stranglehold the Colts had on the AFC South suddenly appears tenuous.
Fans are getting nervous, and that means they begin looking for someone to blame, and those accusatory eyes usually land on the guys in charge.
The problem isn’t that the Colts aren’t very good right now. No, it’s that fans were duped by the 6-2 record into believing they were.
Smart executives make certain that winning can’t occur before a team is ready. Look at Chicago Cubs President Theo Epstein. During the past two seasons, as the Cubs started to play with some cohesion and purpose, Epstein dealt all the valuable parts.
Gone were Matt Garza, Scott Feldman, Alfonso Soriano, David DeJesus, Geovany Soto, Ryan Dempster, Paul Maholm, and others during the last two seasons in July sell-offs. Some brought solid prospects, and others not so much. What the Cubs really did was manage the expectations of the media and fans who are now conditioned to hope for 70-92 in 2014 as they await the arrival of the kiddie corps expected to make the team competitive in 2016.
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Success in 2016 will likely equate to a .500 record for fans, and given that 2016 is the last year in Epstein’s five-year deal, that makes a lot of sense.
The Cubs have virtually no pitching at all – no one posted double digit wins in 2013 – but they are shopping the reliably mediocre Jeff Samardzija. Building for the future at the expense of the present is a good way for Epstein to motivate owner Tom Ricketts to throw a couple of extra years on his deal at $5-million per.
The Colts are building for the present at the expense of the future. Worse, Grigson and Pagano not only have made moves that have fans excited, but have made owner Jim Irsay a believer that they can win now. Yikes!
Grigson and Pagano need to be right or the chorus of fans led by their mercurial owner will rise in volume. The Colts need wins beginning this Sunday at home against the only AFC South team that has any chance to catch them. A loss will pull the Titans to within one game with four to play, and the fans calling for a coaching change will begin to sound less like kooks, if only because there will be more of them.
The sins of the Colts front office aren’t in the drubbings the team has suffered at the hands of the Rams and Cardinals, but in the unexpected wins that gave fans hungry for wins hope that they would continue uninterrupted, just as they did from 2003-2009 when the Colts never lost more than four games in any season.
The final five games of the season will either bring redemption for the Colts, or see the season that looked like it might end with a Super Bowl completely unravel.
That’s what makes an NFL season so much fun for fans – the narrative of a season is unknown until it ends. What seems a sure thing never is. It might drive coaches and front office types crazy, but fans look forward to each week’s games like the next chapter of a great novel.
Meanwhile, we will amuse ourselves with the tweets from the guy leading the band of crazies into hysteria:
Must find a way 2 win Division,no excuses,no explanations..hide weaknesses,accent strengthens/We gotta get our heads out of r butts-WAKE UP!
— Jim Irsay (@JimIrsay) November 26, 2013
As I was reading today’s posts, I was amused by the “Chuck Pagano Dumbass” tag, as well as “Fire Chuck Pagano”, or something similar, which led me to this article from almost 2 years ago.
I must say Kent, after reading this post, I’m tempted to max out the company line of credit and take you on a weekend guy’s getaway to Vegas! As I read each paragraph several times so as to not miss even the smallest detail, I was stunned at how absolutely correct you were, right up to and including the Cubs of all things.
My Twitter timeline (@TheDailyBulldog) is awash daily with speculation on why Andrew Luck is playing so poorly. When (not so much if) Chuck will be fire. Will Grigson’s neck be on the chopping block as well, and why and how did all of this happen after 3 11 win seasons and consistent post season advancement each year. Tweet after tweet of conjecture and angry diatribes from fans and highly paid antagonists like Skip Bayless on down the line to local “in the know” bloggers of modest stature, speaking of Luck’s regression, and how he’s now proven himself to be more Matthew Stafford or Eli Manning than Peyton or Brady.
So much deafening white noise, and then I stumble upon this post, and suddenly, all is quiet. Sanity in the midst of an unthinkably insane season chock full of fan disdain and gnashing of teeth. If I may quote you, 2 years ago, you pointed out how Grigson and the organization had “built for the present at the expense of the future”, as opposed to the polar opposite, as has taken place in Chicago under Theo’s leadership.
I could opine for another 2000 words, citing example after example of the various “Grigano Follies” as I like to call them of late, but that’s completely unnecessary. All that any of your readers / listeners need to do is revisit and absorb this post and ponder everything that’s happened over the past 23 months and the resulting impact on a mortgaged future that was not only over-leveraged, but that featured an adjustable rate mortgage that’s now on the rise at maximum velocity.
You want answers folks? Here are your answers. And Kent gave them to you a full 23 months ago. Tremendous vision Kent, I truly am impressed at your wisdom and insight, and your ability to see this coming. Of course, the devil is in the details, and none of us could have foreseen the specifics of what has been a nightmare of a fractured (or partially subluxated) organization and once in a generation throwing shoulder 2 seasons down the line, yet here we are, just as you said.
A once proud and historic franchise era, now a nearly forgotten, faint and distant memory as the current incarnation of “The Horseshoe” swirls the drain, yet again maintaining a Crisco-fingered grasp on first place in what may prove to be the worst division in the history of professional football.
Why you might ask? Because having already, for all intents and purposes, secured the services of No. 12 when the interview process began, “Grigano” likely told the owner what he wanted to hear in order to secure their current positions, with emphasis on “current”. That they could, and would, “leave no stone unturned” to “build the monster” that could, and would, win now and potentially yield a Super Bowl during Luck’s rookie contract.
Meanwhile, 3 hours or so up I-65, Theo has taken the long view, making some unpopular decisions to move talent early in order to set the table for a historic run in the not so distant future. Has a title been celebrated at Wrigley yet? No, but they’re closer than ever, and in this man’s opinion, they’ll have that celebration soon.
Can the same be said of Pagano, Grigson and Irsay? While nothing is impossible, judging by what my eyes reveal to me on the field this season, I would posit that it would require an act of God and a whole lot of luck (both the man and the unpredictable good fortune of decisions made and bets placed)for that to happen in downtown Indianapolis any time this decade.
As a former commercial real estate financier and private equity fund manager, I can attest to the fact that leverage will do one of two things. Make you wildly successful, and quickly, beyond your wildest dreams, or it will bankrupt you and set your organization back 5 – 10 years. Which one of those two scenarios is playing out on West 56th Street? I’ll leave that to everyone to decide for themselves.
if a million monkeys wrote posts on the Colts on a million typewriters for a million years, one of us would hit the nail on the head.
Yes, there’s the million monkey school of thought as well. Certainly a much briefer one than my novella. And that concludes our search from the monkey in the haystack.