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The transition was supposed to be seamless. Jim Caldwell was the hand-picked successor to Tony Dungy, and the Colts’ juggernaut would keep on rolling. And then, of all things, changes to the NFL’s pension plan all but forced the retirement of offensive coordinator Tom Moore and offensive line coach Howard Mudd. Chaos broke out in Indy—well, what passes for chaos when Peyton Manning is at the helm—and there’s still a degree of uncertainty.
For the moment, it sounds as if Manning and the organization are on the same page going forward. There’s also a very good chance Moore and Mudd return to the team as “consultants”, though whether that will help with the continuity or simply undermine new OC Clyde Christensen and new line coach Pete Metzelaars remains to be seen.
But before hitting the panic button on a franchise that has rolled out six consecutive 12-win seasons, let’s stop for a moment and take a look at what these changes really mean.
First and foremost, no matter who the Colts brought in to replace Tony Dungy would have a tough act to follow. That Indy has had the luxury of grooming Caldwell—who followed Dungy from Tampa to Indy in 2002—as assistant head coach from 2005 speaks to a smooth transition. The team has known it was coming and has worked with Caldwell in a near-head coach capacity for the past four years. Is he Dungy? No, but few are. So all things considered, the change at the top shouldn’t be cause for concern.
And truth be told it wasn’t until the coordinators started dropping that we were all that concerned about the changeover in Indianapolis. Moore has been the only coordinator Manning has known, and the two clearly had a comfort level in developing a game plan and executing it on Sundays.
But Christensen isn’t being thrown into the fire unprepared. He’s been a coordinator before, at the college level and for the 2001 Buccaneers. Christensen has been with the Colts since 2002 as the team’s wide receiver coach; he’s also been heavily involved in Indy’s third-down and red zone package development, so he and Manning should have a feel for what each other is looking for out of the offense.
And of course it’s Manning who ultimately calls the plays at the line of scrimmage; if he’s comfortable with the voice in his ear making recommendations, there should be little if any drop off in the Colts’ offensive efficiency.
If you’re looking for a quibble, consider that Indy struggled to run the ball last year and vowed to make fixing that a priority in 2009. In Christensen’s one year as an NFL coordinator, however, his Bucs ranked third in the NFL in passing attempts (with Brad Johnson and Shaun King pulling the trigger) and 25th in rushing attempts from a backfield headed by Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn. Strangely, the Bucs’ running game produced 17 touchdowns (second in the league) as opposed to just 13 TD passes (28th). A bit of red zone foreshadowing, perhaps?
Similar to the Moore-to-Christensen transition, the departure of Mudd is less problematic than it may at first seem on the surface. Metzelaars has served under Mudd for the past five seasons, and last year he stepped in as Mudd’s replacement for a three-game stretch while Mudd underwent surgery to alleviate hip pain from a previous procedure. So again, there’s a familiarity both with the personnel and the system. And again, with Jeff Saturday back for another season the Colts have a coach on the field to help with the transition.
“The main cogs in terms of operating the program are in place, have been in place, and we’re prepared to do this,” Colts president Bill Polian said in an interview with an Indianapolis radio station after Moore’s and Mudd’s retirements were announced. “It’s just a transition that we would rather not have made, but we knew full well that it’s likely we were going to have to.”
“They’re the best at what they do, and we will miss them greatly,” Polian continued. “But we were prepared for this to happen. We’ve been dealing with this almost since February 1. We will have a smooth transition, but we will miss them greatly.”
And if Moore and Mudd return as consultants, Indy may not even miss them.
If this were any other organization, any other quarterback, the panic button would already have been worn to a nub by worried fantasy owners. But this is Manning’s offense whether it’s Moore or Christensen in his ear, and it’s Saturday’s line in front of him be it Mudd or Metzelaars molding the unit. And the Manning/Saturday tandem has six straight 12-win seasons of credibility.
Concern? Sure. Panic? Hardly. Unless you want to start one amongst your fellow league members in hopes of snagging Manning or another Colt for yourself.