When the Indianapolis Colts lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars on January 2, I was ecstatic. As time expired on the Jags' victory, the Colts finally delivered some glimmer of hope to their fans who have suffered through this dismal season, landing the first pick in the 2012 NFL draft. As a Blue and White die-hard since the Colts arrived on the scene in 1984, I have never been more disappointed in a season than I was in this one, but that top pick is at least a decent consolation prize for what we all hoped would be another Super Bowl run. Now, the onus of shaping this franchise for the next decade or more lies squarely on the shoulders of owner Jim Irsay. His decisions in the next month or so will go a long way toward determining whether the Colts can return to elite status anytime soon, and whether they can remain there.
The big question, of course, is whether the Colts will take Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with that first pick or trade the selection for what is assumed to be a king's ransom. I would overwhelmingly prefer that Indianapolis select Luck, because he does indeed to be a very special talent, one who could carry the Colts for years to come. That move is all the more attractive to me because quarterback Peyton Manning is still trying to heal from summer neck surgery, and he is owed a huge bonus next spring. Manning is a legend around these parts, but he is starting to look like a liability for the future.
Before we get to the decisions surrounding Manning and Luck, though, Irsay needs to consider the men who are currently running the show. If this year has taught us anything, it's that Manning's supporting cast has not been all that strong. That cast was put together by vice chairman Bill Polian and general manager Chris Polian, so it's not unreasonable to question whether the father-and-son duo is the right combination to lead the Colts into the future. I'm inclined to thing they'll stick around, but I wouldn't be heart-broken if they are shown the door. If Irsay wants to ditch the Polians, he should do it as soon as possible to let a new braintrust have a real shot at building the team.
The one area of leadership that seems the most clear-cut, but probably isn't from Irsay's perspective, is the head coaching slot. Simply put, Jim Caldwell is not an elite coach and fumbled his way through most of the 2011 season. Indianapolis deserves a field leader who can take a band of NFL players and mold them into a reasonably competitive unit, something Caldwell did not do this year. This is the move that can, and should, happen almost immediately, and Caldwell's status a month from now will tell us a lot about where the Colts are headed.
The winter of 2012 has all the signs of kicking off the most interesting Colts off-season in recent memory, and the moves made between now and May will have far-reaching effects. If this franchise doesn't look significantly different then than it does now, we could be in for a long stretch of losing seasons.
Adam Hughes was raised, and still lives, in rural Indiana. He has been a Colts fans since the team arrived in Indianapolis on a snowy morning in 1984. The Blue and White eventually replaced the Chicago Bears as his #1 team, and Super Bowl XLI was a dream come true.