Indy Needs To Hear A New Voice

By Bob Kravitz
Updated: January 5, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS — It’s time for coach Tony Dungy to follow his heart, return home to Tampa and his family and the next chapter in his life, and it’s time for the Indianapolis Colts to hear a new voice.

Dungy knows that, and my sense is he has known that every time he has made an in-season trip to Tampa to see his family. Every time he stepped back on the plane to return to Indianapolis, he left a little piece of his heart behind.

Now it’s time to go.

It’s the best thing for Dungy, who has considered retirement at the end of each of the past five seasons, only to be talked back onto the sideline.

And yes, it’s the best thing for the Colts, who have gone about as far as they can with Dungy and his staff.

As much as we all respect and like the man, the numbers cannot be ignored. In seven playoff seasons here, Dungy’s teams were one-and-done four times. Twice, after advancing in the playoffs, they got rolled in New England, barely competitive in either game. And, of course, they won a Super Bowl.

It’s not just his record here. He had the same reputation in Tampa, where he built what had been a laughingstock of a franchise into a perpetual contender. He had to leave before the Bucs got over the top and won a Super Bowl under Jon Gruden.

Nobody can take away that one shining moment with the Colts. Dungy will always hold a special place in Hoosiers’ hearts, not only because of the Super Bowl (well, mostly because of the Super Bowl) but because of all the good works he did in the community.

But there’s the nagging sense that during a stretch of six straight seasons of 12 or more wins, the Colts, blessed by at least three future Hall of Famers and probably more, ought to have more than one Super Bowl appearance to show for it.

Listen, nobody is kicking Dungy’s backside out the door. Nobody is packing his bags for him. But sometimes, well, you just know it’s time. And the Colts have reached a point where they need to know that their coach is in it for the long run and is not an eternal year-by-year proposition.

“He’s got to have his heart in it to stay,” Manning told the Los Angeles Times after Saturday’s game. “That’s (Dungy’s) deal.”

Now, is Jim Caldwell the right guy? Simply stated, he has to be.

Because he’s owner Jim Irsay’s and team president Bill Polian’s choice and has been for months now. They committed to him last year and now it’s incumbent upon them to see it through.

At the same time, the Colts should understand turning to Caldwell will be a tough sell. He’s an unknown commodity and comes with the reputation of being Dungy Lite. Go ahead and dream of Bill Cowher or Mike Shanahan, but with the domineering Polian in charge, the Colts will never have a high-profile, independent-minded head coach.

Right now, angry, frustrated Colts fans want a spittle-spewing, butt-chewing SOB who will inspire this team to play as well in the playoffs as it does in the regular season — and I don’t blame them. They don’t want soft-spoken. They don’t want even-keel.

But that won’t happen.

What I would like to see, though, is for the coddling, enabling, everything-is-all-right culture to change in this organization, and that begins with Polian. In his world, the running game is fine, and Marvin Harrison is fine, and the defensive tackle spot is fine without any big guys, and Manning can never do anything wrong, and the media are always the convenient bogey men whenever the message gets skewed.

The Colts spend more time trying to cover up Manning’s knee injuries than they do fixing their abysmal special teams — 10 years and still lousy — or bolstering their wretched running attack.

They kissed Harrison’s backside all season after it was clear his game was gone. And where was Harrison in San Diego? Three catches for 20 yards? Give me more Anthony Gonzalez. Heck, give me Roy Hall, for that matter.

There’s just this smarmy, we’ll-do-things-the-way-we-always-do-them-and-show-you-we’re-smarter-than-you culture with this franchise, and it has left it short of achieving the greatness it should have achieved long ago.

It’s time for Dungy to follow his heart back to Tampa, back to prison ministries, back to working hands-on with troubled young people. This has been a mission of his for years; he even spoke of doing more important work than coaching a football team early in his tenure in Indianapolis.

He always loved the NFL coach’s pulpit — that was one of the things that lured him back — but now, he wants to make a more direct impact on a society in which too many young black males are incarcerated and too few graduate.

“There are some other things I’d like to do,” Dungy said Sunday. “If there was any one thing, it’s probably doing something more hands-on with young men. We’ve got such a crisis right now . . . But on the other side of the coin, you’ve got a great platform as a head coach of an NFL team. You’ve got to balance that out.”

It’s time. For Dungy to go. For Caldwell to begin. To start the next chapter.