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Selecting the next Indianapolis Colts head coach and constructing a coaching staff is a lot more like putting together a puzzle than building a skyscraper.
Building a skyscraper in many ways is a much more straightforward project. You find a cornerstone and build a foundation and the rest on top of it.
With a puzzle, you not only have to find the right center piece, but all the pieces that fit perfectly around it.
Tony Dungy, a defensive specialist, struggled to get to the top of the mountain until he was paired with offensive guru Tom Moore. The success of any head coach has as much to do with his coordinators as his own ability to diagram Xs and Os and motivate players.
Every coach—due to the position he played as a player and/or his past experience as a coach—has a specialty, either defensive or offensive. And any NFL owner or general manager worth his salt knows he has to have a yin to go with his head coach’s yang.
Colts owner Jim Irsay gets a lot of notoriety for going with the guy who gives him the best gut feeling. If only it was that easy.
Irsay isn’t simply bringing guys in and asking them which is their favorite Beatle or what they think of the White Album.
Irsay and Colts General Manager Ryan Grigson are asking not only about the prospective coaches’ philosophies—on and off the field—but also about the contacts that candidates have within the NFL and the staffers they can bring with them and the coaching staff they can build around them.
The process to evaluate all that takes some time. Dungy and Moore almost came together by accident. That’s not going to happen this time.
So when Irsay and Grigson talk to Baltimore defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, they have to be assured they will be able to hire an offensive mind to give the team a well-rounded attack.
And when they talk to Montreal Allouettes’ Marc Trestman, an offensive-minded guy, or Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, they have to make sure they can assemble the type of defensive staff that allows them to compete for championships.
That’s one reason why college coaches are a big gamble. Most of them simply don’t have the contacts within the NFL to help them build the type of well-rounded pro-style support crew needed to succeed. That’s one reason Oregon’s Chip Kelly and Ohio State’s Jim Tressel become long shots to land NFL head coaching jobs.
Of course, there are exceptions, Jim Harbaugh being chief among them. But Harbaugh is not your ordinary college turned NFL coach. First, he still has contacts from a long career as an NFL player. Second, he had contacts through his brother, John, Baltimore’s head coach.
Harbaugh did bring some coaching talent with him from Stanford that by all accounts has done very well in San Francisco. But Harbaugh is the exception rather than the rule.
Selecting the right coach and assembling the needed support crew is a job that takes a crystal-clear vision of football and human nature.
Othewise, you get a puzzle that simply doesn’t snap together and a picture that if not completely nonsensical is certainly ugly.