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Colts’ Secret to Success? Consistency

                    Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning

Indianapolis Colts team owner Jim Irsay indirectly got into the construction business even before the first concrete was poured for the team’s new stadium currently under construction, Lucas Oil Stadium.  By way of explanation, what I meant by that statement was that Irsay laid the foundation for the successful Colts team that you see every weekend.  And it all began with Irsay.

Irsay hired Polian as club president back in 1998; he also advocated the selection of Peyton Manning as their number one pick that same year.  He also hired Tony Dungy as head coach in 2002.  So maybe now you see the pattern developing here?  The pattern of continuity.  Ever since those pillars were put into place, the Colts have played 5 seasons.  And along the way, they have showered the NFL landscape with milestones along the way:

  • The 2006 world championship, a summit 16 of the league’s 32 teams have not ascended.
  • Five consecutive AFC South titles.
  • Five consecutive seasons of 12 or more victories, the first time that has been achieved in the NFL’s 88-year history.  For that matter, the Colts are the only team in league history to win 75 percent of its games five successive seasons. (Also bear in mind that schedules went from 12 to 14 games in 1961 and from 14 to 16 in 1978.)
  • Sharing a place alongside the Green Bay Packers of 1929-31 as the only teams to start three consecutive seasons 7-0 or better: 13-0, 9-0 and 7-0, from 2005-07.
  • The Colts are the only NFL team to keep its starting quarterback and its offensive coordinator and line coach, Tom Moore and Howard Mudd, together for the past 10 seasons.

The Colts, despite their achievements, go through the problems that other small-market teams go through.  And yet they achieve more than the Washington Redskins – who make a lot more revenue than the Colts; they also compete with the New England Patriots – the NFL’s second-most profitable franchise.  The Colts thrive even through this salary cap era, when teams sometimes make bad personnel decisions on good players.  Roster turnover exceeds 30% as a result.

As with all teams, players come and go; sustaining excellence is like a moving bull’s eye but is achieved through consistency.  Polian and his staff tend to stick to evaluation tools and systems that Polian has used in his 30+ years in the business.  He also has one of the largest scouting staffs in the NFL – and to stick to the continuity theme here – all 9 scouts have been with the Colts for at least 6 years. 

The coaching staff – except for perhaps Leslie Frazier – is pretty much unchanged.  The same can be said for the offensive, defensive and special teams schemes that they teach and execute.  Another issue that comes up on occasion: Why don’t the Colts spend money on free agents?  Short answer – they do.  The difference being is that they spend on their own free agents – while proven, it can also be costly.  Since 2002, the Colts have paid out more than $150 million in bonuses on long-term contracts – money paid to players that Irsay and Polian deem vital to the team’s long-term success.  Players such as Manning, Freeney, Brackett, Harrison and Wayne, Saturday, Mathis and Diem.

Those bonuses are spread out during the length of those contracts, hence they count against the salary cap.  The guaranted money is paid up front and also prorated over the term of the contracts.  But it is paid directly out of the owner’s pocket – which takes commitment (How many owners do you know who pay bonuses out-of-pocket?).  While the Colts have been consistent, they have also been exciting, offense-wise.  How so, you ask?

Well consider this: they have had a top-four offense each of the past 5 seasons; they have also played 5 of 14 games during primetime this season.  And anyone in the media knows that winning teams on network TV equals killer ratings.  Another factoid: the Colts are one of only 16 teams that have been able to back up their titles with .750 or better football the following season.  And they’ve done it this season playing in arguably the toughest division in the NFL.  And they have also done it with key players being injured along the way – Freeney (5 games and counting) and Harrison (9 and counting) automatically come to mind.

With the AFC South already won, the Colts have the luxury of resting the wounded, refining their game and getting ready for the long playoff run.  Sound familiar?  They’re only 2 games from a return visit to the Super Bowl (by virtue of a bye week and a game at the RCA Dome).  Assuming everything falls into place, the AFC Championship game will probably be held at Foxborough, MA (home of the Patriots).  This season could have even more meaning than last year’s Super Bowl season, so it bears watching. 

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One Response to “Colts’ Secret to Success? Consistency”

  1. ColtsFanSince1958 says:

    COLTS = Built to Last. I firmly believe the AFC Championship will be played in Indy…after New England loses.

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