It’s difficult to know the motives of someone as unconventional as Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay.
On Monday, Irsay tweeted that he gave his lieutenants an “earful” after Sunday’s poor preseason opener against Buffalo. My first instinct was to dismiss the notion that Irsay really was upset by the performance. After all, it’s the preseason. Who really cares?
And with so many starters either not suiting up or barely playing, how much can you really tell about a team?
Under former President Bill Polian and coach Tony Dungy sub-par preseason performances were the norm. But Polian and Dungy are long gone, and some may have noticed this isn’t the same Jim Irsay that governed during those times.
Irsay is no longer willing to sit in the back or side seat and let his general manager call all the shots.
In a way, it’s ironic to some Colts fans and followers that Irsay is making a big deal about a preseason loss. After all, he let Polian and the Colts coaching staff call the shots in 2009, when the Colts threw away a chance at an undefeated season by laying down against the N.Y. Jets in the team's 15th regular season game. Irsay has smartly noted the backlash that move sparked among fans. A backlash, by the way, that still smolders in some circles.
It’s true that any preseason game is a long way from the significance of any regular season game, but Irsay is eager not to seem disconnected from the fans again—as Polian was in 2009. So he’s not about to act unconcerned about any game—preseason, regular season or otherwise.
There’s likely something else at play here. As long as Polian was around, there was always the feeling—rightly or wrongly—that Irsay was not really in charge.
Irsay has greatly matured as an executive since he hired Polian in 1997. Irsay probably had a lot more to do with decision making during Polian’s tenure than he was given credit for. Remember, in 2002, it was Irsay’s call to hire Dungy, not Polian’s. Some close to the organization have said Polian wasn’t all that wild about the hire.
Still, as Polian appeared to rule with an iron fist, making many decisions concerning draft choices and free agency, the appearance that Irsay was a mere observer lingered.
The matter of who was in charge was settled when Irsay fired Polian and coach Jim Caldwell following the 2011 season. Irsay also fired Polian’s son, Chris, who was seen by some as the heir to Bill’s presidential throne.
I believed Peyton Manning in 2011 when he said he was surprised by Polian’s firing. There were more than a few who were under the misguided notion that Polian was indispensible.
Irsay’s “earful” was about establishing two things. First, that he’s as upset as anyone when the Colts don’t play well, no matter the situation. Suffice it to say, there will be no more laying down of arms if the team is undefeated—no matter how locked up its playoff position is.
And secondly, Irsay wants General Manager Ryan Grigson, Coach Chuck Pagano and, most importantly, the Colts fans to know he’s firmly in command.