Colts owner Jim Irsay has flown under the radar.
(I assure you, it felt even stranger for me to type that than it did for you to read it. Stick with me for a minute, though.)
The NFL’s quirkiest owner, one that is never afraid to speak his mind — or regurgitate famous rock lyrics — in 140 characters or less; one whose list of Hollywood celebrity friends ranges from Rob Lowe to John Mellencamp; the owner who famously spent over $2.5 million on Jack Kerouac’s original “On the Road” manuscript is not getting enough attention for the unimaginable success of his upstart Colts.
You all know the story of these Colts by now: From 2-14 to 11-5 in one year. One of the greatest QBs who ever lived kicked to the curb to start anew with a player, who, in a lot of ways, could turn out to be the new and improved Peyton. The future Hall of Fame executive, Bill Polian, meeting a similar fate, with his replacement, Ryan Grigson, walking away with Executive of the Year honors in his first-ever GM job.
The head coach, Chuck Pagano, who beat Leukemia and returned to the sidelines in the span of one NFL season. The interim coach and Pagano’s good friend, Bruce Arians, who not only kept the young, injury-decimated, often overmatched team afloat, but helped it unite behind a cause to go on a run, winning eight of 11 games without Pagano en route to a postseason berth.
This is the time of year in the NFL when men are honored for those achievements. My stories on Grigson and Arians, PFW/PFWA’s Executive and Coach/Assistant Coach of the Year, respectively, will go up on our site later this week. Yet, in the process of working on those stories, it dawned on me that the man most responsible for allowing them to be written, Irsay, hasn’t really been properly acknowledged.
Had the Colts found a way to knock off the Ravens during wild-card weekend, setting up a dream matchup between Peyton and Luck, perhaps he would have been highlighted more. After all, it was Irsay who made the bold — and unpopular to some — decision to exile the man who put his club on the map for a chance for a fresh start.
It was Irsay who identified Grigson as the man most ready to fill the huge shoes of Polian and undergo a complete overhaul.
At the time of Grigson’s hiring, many in league circles thought it was a move made for show, and Irsay was the club’s de facto GM. We know for sure now that is hardly the case — and Irsay deserves credit for trusting his instincts and empowering a man who would have to learn on the fly.
There is no question Grigson feels he and the Colts wouldn’t be where they are today without having such a tremendous resource in Irsay.
“Then you throw in an owner, who — he’s been here since he was 11, and the wealth of knowledge that he has that I draw from is priceless,” Grigson told PFW last week. “And I go to him on many occasions — and he lets me do what I want — but I want to know his opinion sometimes, because it has such depth behind it. So that was such a tremendous blessing coming into this as a rookie GM.”
The easy explanation for the Colts’ success is Luck. He consistently made the players around him better, amazed the coaching staff with his learning capacity and, most importantly, thrived in crunch time.
Grigson was the man behind the curtain. He churned a flawed roster each and every day and stuck to his core beliefs, never wavering when making a move that might have had outsiders scratching their heads.
Pagano laid the foundation. Arians carried the torch. Both men deserve a ton of credit for coaxing so much more out of a young, rebuilding team than it had any business accomplishing.
Irsay was the orchestrator. None of the rest could have occurred before he set the wheels in motion.
He gets a lot of flak — and a lot of it he brings upon himself. What Irsay hasn’t gotten lately, at least from my perspective, is the credit he is due for being bold, for turning a vision into something real essentially overnight.
Take a bow, Mr. Irsay. The people you put in place are getting the lion’s share of the accolades, but those people are in position to receive praise because of you.