INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard learned one key lesson from his previous coaching search.
Patience pays off.
On Tuesday, two days after the Colts completed a 4-12-1 season and locked up the No. 4 overall draft pick, Ballard told reporters he would not rush to hire a new coach and could wait until after the Super Bowl if it meant getting the right candidate.
“A lot of times what happens is you get a vision of what you want, like you’ve made your mind up and you might ignore somebody that’s really good right in front of your face,” Ballard said at his annual season-ending news conference.
“We’ve got a very detailed process put together on the traits and attributes we’re looking for in a head coach, don’t care what side of the ball, and then, be patient, take your time and make sure we have a thorough interview with everybody.”
Back in 2018, Ballard didn’t get his man until February though it wasn’t by design.
Josh McDaniels initially agreed to take Indy’s job then backed out after New England lost the Super Bowl to Philadelphia. Ballard then began a new search and chose Frank Reich, who led the Colts to two playoff appearances before he was fired Nov. 7.
Now, the Colts are searching for Reich’s successor.
But aside from confirming interim coach Jeff Saturday will interview for the full-time job, Ballard declined to identify any other specific candidates.
Indy has reportedly sought permission to interview Detroit’s offensive and defensive coordinators, Ben Johnson and Aaron Glenn, Philadelphia offensive coordinator Shane Steichen and Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris.
Of course, there are also rumors swirling about Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, Peyton Manning’s predecessor as Indy’s quarterback.
Ballard said he would consider college coaches.
The current pool would put Indy in compliance with the Rooney Rule’s framework, something team owner Jim Irsay promised to do after drawing criticism for the unusual midseason hire of Saturday who had been working as an ESPN studio analyst. Saturday won his coaching debut at Las Vegas then lost the final seven games.
Ballard blamed himself for putting Reich, Saturday and the Colts in the poor predicament.
“Look, I failed,” he said. “I’m not going to sit up here and make excuses. I failed a lot of people, highly disappointed about where we’re at, how the season went. I never take lightly what’s at stake here. It’s not the wins and losses. People’s lives are on the line. Players’ families, coaches’ families, front office, people in this building. And I don’t ever take that lightly.”
He’ll use a similar philosophy as he embarks on a coaching search that could take weeks. Still, one thing is clear.
“I’ll lead the search. Ultimately, Mr. Irsay makes the final call,” Ballard said. “There are 32 teams, 32 owners, they own the team. We give them our thoughts, and Mr. Irsay’s a good listener, and ultimately, he’ll make the final call, but he’ll lean heavily on our work and what we do.”
What would make the Colts’ job more attractive?
Perhaps a higher draft pick to ensure the Colts get the new, young franchise quarterback they’ve coveted since Andrew Luck’s surprise retirement in August 2019. Ballard said he would be willing to make a deal to move up — for the right player.
“I’d do whatever it takes,” he said. “If we thought there was a player that we’re driven to get, that makes the franchise and the team better, that’s what we would do.”
Ballard declined to evaluate the quarterback draft class that is expected to be led by 2021 Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young of Alabama, two-time Heisman finalist C.J. Stroud of Ohio State and Manning Passing Academy grad Will Levis of Kentucky.
Indy still has two veterans, 37-year-old Matt Ryan and 33-year-old Nick Foles, and 24-year-old Sam Ehlinger under contract next season.
Releasing Ryan and Foles could create about $19.5 million in salary cap room.
Ryan finished tied for second in the NFL with 18 turnovers last season, was benched twice and injured his throwing shoulder in October. Foles started twice but suffered a season-ending rib injury in a New Year’s Day loss at the New York Giants.
While most outsiders expect the Colts to draft Ryan’s eventual replacement, Ballard said he hasn’t decided what to do with Ryan or Foles because he has a bigger decision to make first.
“I had a good talk with Matt (on Monday). We will work through that,” Ballard said. “It’s about our head coach. Our staff is evaluating the roster. Right now, the priority of the organization is to get the right head football coach.”