Super Bowl: Caldwell’s experience helps Colts reach title game
By MICHAEL MAROT
AP Sports Writer
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Jim Caldwell has always liked the strong, silent coaches.
Perhaps that’s because it is self-descriptive.
“I’m not an individual that’s gifted with golden-throated oratory,” the Indianapolis Colts coach said Thursday. “We like to keep it simple and straight forward and I think our team responds to that.”
Caldwell’s style fits perfectly in Indy, where fans revere Midwest values and despise big-city arrogance.
Nobody’s complaining about the results.
After taking over for Tony Dungy, Caldwell set an NFL record by winning his first 14 games. He became the fifth rookie coach to reach the Super Bowl and he’s one win away from joining San Francisco’s George Seifert and Baltimore’s Don McCafferty as the only first-year coaches to win the Lombardi Trophy.
What’s more impressive is that Caldwell is winning his way.
He preaches humility. He demands perfection. He shows compassion. When he runs out of words, he cites passages from the Bible or Chinese proverbs or books to make his point — and it’s not just coachspeak.
“Often times I use things that mean something to me, that I can relate to and hopefully they can understand why it means something to me,” he said. “I do it often. I read as much as I possibly can. I am constantly in search of knowledge. I think, particularly in the game we play, communication is key and you have to find ways to be creative in that area.”
Even if you make those points privately.
Some in Indianapolis thought Caldwell would be a virtual carbon-copy of Dungy. Not so.
Caldwell changed defensive coordinators and special teams coaches within weeks of replacing the Super Bowl-winning coach. He brought in bigger defensive tackles to stop the run and told players he intended to keep their legs fresh.
At training camp, Caldwell took a tougher approach. He benched left tackle Tony Ugoh for the versatile Charlie Johnson. Three months later, he replaced right guard Mike Pollak with the unheralded Kyle DeVan.
The transition, announced in January 2008, went smoother than anyone imagined.
The Colts responded with another division title, a 23-game winning streak and were in position for a perfect season in Week 15, which could prompt other successful franchises to follow Indy’s model.
“From continuity’s sake it could be good, but it can be costly,” Colts owner Jim Irsay said. “I had to pay Jim much more immediately than he would have been making in the position he had been in. I think in some organizations you’re going to see, if there’s been a lot of success and there’s a clear candidate, you may see a team protect their guy.”
However, the wins may come with greater significance.
Four black head coaches and two black general managers have now reached the Super Bowl in the past four years. Dungy, Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin and Giants GM Jerry Reese were all on winning teams.
This year, the questions about black coaches have dissipated dramatically. Last week, in Indy, Caldwell took only two questions about the issue, a major change from four years ago when Dungy and Lovie Smith were the first black coaches to reach the NFL’s biggest game.
“The fact that it is not a big subject is a sign we’ve made progress,” said NFL executive vice president of football operations Ray Anderson said. “But we still want the Rooney Rule in place so there isn’t any slippage.”
Another sign of progress: Black coaches are starting to getting more chances in college, too.
“When you see the success Tony Dungy, Love Smith, Mike Tomlin and Jim Caldwell have had, it makes things a lot easier,” said Floyd Keith, executive director of the Black Coaches and Administrators. “That means we’ve come forward as a culture and the quality of a coach and a person is the thing that’s being judged. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.”
Caldwell has never considered himself a trendsetter.
Instead, the man who grew up in Beloit, Wis., who coached in Carbondale, Ill., who worked with championship coaches such as Joe Paterno, Bill McCartney, Howard Schnellenberger and, yes, Dungy has been focused on one thing.
Finishing the job done in Indy in his own eloquent way.
“This game, which I’ve said before time and time again, does not take great speechmakers. It’s not inspiration by exhortation,” he said. “There’s an old passage in the Bible that says ’When words are many, sin is not absent. He who holds his tongue is wise.’ So I kind of like to hold my tongue as often as I can.”