FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Ladies and gentlemen, introducing the best coach in the NFL this season, Mr. Jim Caldwell.
Deal with it.
He won't entertain and bark like Rex Ryan. But you spend time talking to him, as I do every week on Sirius NFL Radio, and you will come away from the conversation both informed and impressed.
And there are a few things you need to know about the only coach who hasn't lost a game this season when his starters played the entire game.
Jim Caldwell is NOT Tony Dungy.
Jim Caldwell is NOT Bill Polian's puppet.
Jim Caldwell's demeanor, Xs and Os and attention to detail are vital to the Colts' being in the Super Bowl and being favored to win it.
Let's examine ...
Caldwell and Dungy
Caldwell and Dungy are good friends. Dungy was in Indy for the playoff wins against the Jets and Ravens. But I think Caldwell has done an excellent job staying true to Dungy's formula for winning and his level-headed approach while really mixing things up and doing things his way. And that's a delicate balance, one that Caldwell has tight-roped successfully.
For example, one of the first things Caldwell did when he took over as coach was bring in a new defensive coordinator. Ron Meeks ran Dungy's system. Both men believed in the "Tampa 2." Caldwell, an offensive guy but a Dungy disciple, replaced Dungy's man with Larry Coyer. Colts president Polian has since confirmed with us that this was solely a Caldwell decision, one where he went away from the Dungy principles.
The result has been amazing. Sans Bob Sanders and dealing with a plethora of injuries all season long, Coyer's defense has been strong, aggressive and opportunistic. The Ravens and Jets couldn't run on the Colts. And as Dwight Freeney told me last week: "The biggest difference between this year and last year is how we pressure the quarterback. It's fun playing for Coyer." The Colts defense still doesn't get the credit it deserves.
And I asked Caldwell on Monday if he called Dungy for advice before the Super Bowl, on how to deal with media day, distractions or anything else. He said he hadn't talked to Tony about those things. Caldwell gave Dungy plenty of credit for the Colts' success this year, saying, "I took copious notes working under Tony in preparation for getting my shot," but it most certainly went noted they haven't discussed the minutiae of the Super Bowl.
Caldwell and Polian
The assumption is Polian told Caldwell not to play his players for four quarters down the stretch. The reality is Caldwell had full autonomy. Sure, he picked Polian's brain. Who wouldn't? He's one of the best executives in sports history, and Polian and Caldwell have an excellent relationship. Weeks before the Week 16 decision, Caldwell stressed the key was "availability" for the Super Bowl. Believe it or not, the coach was in command.
I don't think this word choice is used enough to describe Caldwell. He is intense. He loves football. Caldwell believes in tight, organized, no-nonsense practice. Caldwell used the word "spirited" in describing the team's practice before the stars left to go to the Pro Bowl. And Caldwell made a point to mention how these Pro Bowl players deserved the right to be recognized and the team got in its work before they left on Sunday.
Some coaches bristle when asked about injuries. The big story here in Florida is the health of star defensive end Dwight Freeney.
We asked Caldwell on Monday to separate fact from fiction.
"He has a third-degree sprain, and he's questionable at this point," Caldwell said. "So he's working extremely hard at trying to get it back in shape. He's down in Miami. The report is accurate in that sense. He is down in Miami. He is certainly getting treatment and things of that nature. We have one of our guys down there with him from our staff, and also he's working with some other folks as well."
And Freeney doesn't need to practice to play against New Orleans.
"The thing about Dwight I'd like to say to you, I think you guys understand, is that there's been many weeks where he's had some situations that have looked like he would not be able to play, but he's been able to battle through it and not only play, but play well," Caldwell said. "So he's a quick healer, and we're praying for the same thing to happen this week as well."
This is a huge deal. Caldwell told us Saints quarterback Drew Brees has "the uncanny knack and ability to place the ball where he wants. Pressure is part of our plan."
If Freeney isn't 100 percent, and that seems impossible, that is a severe dent in the plan.
Polian was incensed when we spoke before championship Sunday that Caldwell didn't get more votes for Coach of the Year. And he's right. But Caldwell doesn't search for the limelight. In an interview, he will give credit to his assistant coaches. When talking about leadership, he will reference Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, Ryan Diem, Ryan Lilja, Robert Mathis and Gary Brackett, among others. Caldwell said having Manning on his side is a "unique advantage."
Caldwell doesn't seek credit, but he has earned it, with a rookie season as an NFL head coach for the ages.
And frankly, it's about time he got more due for a spectacular job and balancing act.