The NFL Offseason is here, and the Indianapolis Colts have a lot of items on the agenda to address. Their future direction hangs in the balance. Whatever moves they make will either raise expectations back to a quick return to the playoffs, or prepare the fanbase to be patient in a new era of rebuilding.
Black Monday Aftermath
The first Monday after the NFL season concludes, struggling NFL teams typically decide that they want to go in a new direction in their front office and coaching staffs. While the Colts were early to the Black Monday tradition by firing Head Coach Frank Reich midseason, last Monday marked the end of Jeff Saturday’s term as interim head coach of the Colts. Whether he gets other coaching offers (OL positional most likely) or the Colts decide to keep him around for another year as Head Coach is another matter entirely.
Regarded as one of the best drafting GMs in the NFL, Chris Ballard would be a hot commodity for other teams if released by the team, be that as a GM or a high ranking front office member in the scouting department. However in spite of his drafting success rate, Ballard has been unable to build a consistent winning football team. With only 2 playoff runs in 6 years, no Divisional Championships, and a 45-52-1 record overall, patience has grown thin amongst a contingent of the Colts fanbase. His lack of success in 2 out of the last 3 post-Luck retirement off-seasons are directly related to his most recent failures in the veteran QB trade market (Reich’s handpicked QB Carson Wentz, and Ballard’s choice of Matt Ryan) most notably. For the time being however, it appears the Colts will keep Ballard as they look for their next Head Coach.
The Head Coach Hunt
Who will be the next Coach for the Colts? Meet the Candidates:
Jim Harbaugh, Head Coach, University of Michigan
Can the Colts lure Jim Harbaugh from Michigan and out of the clutches of other coach needy NFL Teams? The Former Colts Quarterback has had a storied coaching career with a variety of offensive systems. His stints include at Stanford with Andrew Luck in a West-Coast Offense, the 49ers with a RPO style offense with Colin Kaepernick, and Michigan with a spread + RPO style offense with Shea Patterson. Harbaugh’s ability to adapt his scheme to best fit the talents of his QB potentially opens the door for any of the top 4 QBs in the 2023 Draft class to find success in Indy.
Sean Payton, retired Head Coach, New Orleans Saints
Could the Colts trade for an unretired Sean Payton? The Super-Bowl winning Head Coach from the Saints retired for only one season and is poised to make his return to the NFL. However due to him still being under contract with the Saints until 2024, the only way to acquire him would be via trade.
Considering the enormous trade cost that it could take to acquire Payton, if he were to cost similar to the Bill Belichick or Jon Gruden trades, this scenario remains unlikely barring the Saints taking a deal below Payton’s market value.
The Offensive Coordinator Trend
Will the Colts go for an up and coming OC? There are plenty to choose from: Mike Kafka from Giants, Shane Steichen from Eagles, Ben Johnson from Lions, Kellen Moore from Cowboys, Ken Dorsey from Bills, and Eric Bieniemy from Chiefs. Of these 6 candidates, the Colts have interview three: Steichen, Johnson, & Bieniemy.
2. #Eagles OC Shane Steichen
Steichen has overseen the Eagles’ offensive rise since taking over play-calling duties during the 2021 season and has a good reputation going back to his days with the Chargers.
Has coached the likes of Philip Rivers and most recently, Jalen Hurts. pic.twitter.com/tdzHWuW8fZ
— Noah Compton (@nerlens_) January 10, 2023
Steichen’s previous work includes being the Chargers QB coach from 2016-2019 before becoming the interim OC in 2019 and being promoted to OC in 2020. He then was hired by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2021 as their OC where he has coached under Nick Sirianni. He took over play-calling duties midway through 2021 and retained that role in 2022, guiding the talented Eagles Offense to be ranked 3rd in both scoring and yards.
I’ve been really impressed w/ Ben Johnson this szn
1st year OC helped guide Goff to a career best year, had a very diverse scheme that was top 5 in scoring despite a lack of top end skill talent heading into the yr.
— Jay Robins 🧾mark (@RobinsLucas) January 10, 2023
Ben Johnson’s resume has less experience, but is still an impressive one for the young up and coming Lions OC.
With only 1 year as an OC, he took the Lions Offense from the 25th ranked unit to the 5th ranked unit. He also did so without wholesale personnel changes. The only notable offensive free agent signing was WR2/3 DJ Chark and the only early offensive pick they made in the 2022 Draft was WR Jameson Williams who was out the first 11 weeks from a collegiate ACL injury and whose impact once he returned was limited to just 1 catch (which was a 41 yard touchdown) on the season.
Using a scheme he created collaboratively with Dan Campbell to incorporate various different ideologies and concepts paired with his own play-calling, Johnson transformed the almost entirely same group of players of 2021 on offense into a top 5 unit. This caused breakout years for 2nd year WR Amon Ra St. Brown (1,100 yard season) and veteran RB Jamal Williams (led the league in rushing TDs with 17), as well as one of the most impressive seasons of Jared Goff’s career (which include being under the tutelage of Sean McVay, and having numerous top tier talent players surrounding him).
Andy Reid and Eric Bieniemy are mad scientists pic.twitter.com/bMohU2Fac7
— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) January 7, 2023
Eric Bieniemy’s resume and connection to Chris Ballard make him an intriguing candidate. The Kansas City OC since 2018, Bieniemy has helped guide the Chiefs offense to be one of the most consistently dominant in the NFL. The former RB coach for the Chiefs back when Ballard worked in Kansas City too, there is a tangible professional connection there between the two. Bieniemy has been a popular name in the last several cycles, as he has interviewed for 15 different head coach positions with 14 teams before this cycle. However he has yet to get a HC job offer, possibly due to his past off the field incidents. The resume and connections are there, but the questions about his off-field decision-making and character need to be answered.
Should the Colts go for Steichen, Johnson, Bieniemy, or any other top OC, the hope is they would redesign the Colts offense to help guide the next Colts QB to success.
The Defensive Coordinator Candidates
Should the Colts shift to a defensive minded HC? Candidates this year include Leslie Frazier from Bills, Dan Quinn from Cowboys, DeMeco Ryans from the 49ers, Raheem Morris from the Rams, Aaron Glenn of the Lions, or Ejiro Evero from the Broncos. Of these 6, three have so far interviewed for the Colts coaching search: Morris, Evero, and Glenn.
The Aaron Glenn celebration set to the Cupid Shuffle… pic.twitter.com/JprSBwZ5q3
— Ben Heisler (@bennyheis) January 9, 2023
Aaron Glenn is a former New York Jets scout (2012-2013), turned secondary/DB coach (2014-2015 Browns, 2016-2020) before landing the job of DC for the Lions in 2021. Unlike his fellow Lions coordinator Johnson, his unit has yet to achieve much success, ranking 31st and 28th in scoring D in his two years as DC. A possible longshot Head Coach candidate, his experience coaching with both Johnson and Payton should be noted if either becomes the Colts coach, as he could follow either of them were to land the Colts Head Coaching job.
Raheem Morris is the only one of the three defensive minded coaches interviewed so far who has any prior Head Coaching experience. The HC of the Buccaneers from 2009-2011, this stretch did include a 10-6 record in 2010 led by Josh Freeman having a career year at QB and Morris rebuilding the Bucs defense into the 9th best in the NFL. However the other two years saw the Buccaneers as one of the worst teams in the NFL, including 2011 where they regressed to be the worst defense in the NFL.
— Kevin Hickey (@KevinHickey11) January 14, 2023
Since then he has bounced around as the DB coach for Washington (2012-2014), Wide Receiver coach and offense/defense Passing game coordinator for the Falcons (2015-2019) with brief stints as assistant head coach (2016 & 2019), before becoming DC and interim Head coach for the Falcons in 2020 in which he took the 0-5 Falcons to a 4-7 finish, and then most recently becoming the Rams DC from 2021-2022. His vast experience and connections could build an interesting coaching staff should the Colts go for a retread HC to be given a 2nd shot. Hiring a fired former Buccaneers HC the last time worked wonders, could lightning strike twice?
Ejiro Evero has been a long-time NFL assistant coach, starting his NFL journey in 2007 as a defensive quality control coach for the Buccaneers. After working as an assistant offensive and defensive coach for the 49ers from 2011-2015 and a defensive quality control coach in 2016 for the Packers, he became a safety coach for the Rams from 2017-2020 before becoming their defensive pass game coordinator as well in 2021. Evero finally got his chance as a DC in 2022 for the Broncos, maintaining a solid unit throughout the season. He has been a hot candidate this cycle so far, netting interviews with the Broncos, Texans as well as the Colts.
We hear a lot about head coaching candidates at this time of year and their qualifications, based primarily off of statistical performance. I’ll say, firsthand, nobody I had the chance to talk to this year impressed me more, from A to Z, than #Broncos DC Ejiro Evero.
— Louis Riddick (@LRiddickESPN) January 12, 2023
Should the Colts take a shot on this up and coming defensive coach? Or could they kick the tires on Raheem Morris to have a shot at redemption? Or could they surprise us with giving Glenn a shot? Perhaps another defensive coach will be interviewed later that blows management away?
The Promote From Within Candidates
The Colts could look internally for their Head Coach opening. In-house options include either keeping Saturday or promoting ST coordinator Bubba Ventrone.
Saturday might not be the most popular option among the fanbase after his 1-7 stint as the interim head coach last year. But the legendary legendary former Colts Center has one important fan in Jim Irsay. He has been confirmed to be a candidate and could return to the HC role. Perhaps given the ability to shape a coaching staff to his likeness and gather more experienced play-callers on offensive staff would be beneficial, while Saturday serves as a primary motivator for the team? It is unclear how this scenario would shake out, but him being a candidate shouldn’t be discounted.
NEW: The Colts are interviewing an in-house candidate for the HC job, as they’ve completed an interview with ST Coach Bubba Ventrone.
Today, I look at his history in the league and talk about a potential staff he could build: https://t.co/oY5QNtPnqZ
— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) January 11, 2023
Bubba Ventrone is a rising star as a ST coach. Coming from the Bill Belichick coaching tree, the former Special teams ace turned coach endeared himself to many during 2021’s Hard Knocks that followed the Colts throughout the respective season. He has led the Colts Special Teams units to be one of the most consistently disciplined and excellent units in the NFL. With 4 Pro Bowl ST players in his 5 seasons as the ST coach, all of which were undrafted players, it is clear he has a knack for turning players from raw coal to star diamonds there. A players favorite and beloved in the locker room, Bubba could make the rare ST coach to head coach jump at some point. Perhaps his time is now with the Colts?
The Coaching Carousel Competition
While there is no shortage of options of who the Colts could choose as the next head coach, there is a potential shortage of Head Coach positions available league-wide. As of right now there are only 5 openings: Colts, Panthers, Cardinals, Texans, and Broncos. In addition, the Los Angeles Chargers job could be open due to Brandon Staley’s inconsistencies, inability to rebuild the defense, and most notably, their historic collapse to the Jaguars in the Wild Card round. Staley’s future status remains to be seen, but his potential firing could definitely add increased competition in the Head Coach market.
In 2022 however there were 10 HC openings. The as of now 5 openings can be in the Colts’ favor as there will be a smaller handful of teams with these job openings looking at a wide range of candidates. But the competition is still going to be intense to lure these various coaches for the select openings. Expect even more interviews to take place as the playoffs continue, but the Colts will have a solid case for a coach to want to land here:
- 11th most cap space in the NFL (can get to Top 5-7 if they move on from Matt Ryan)
- 4th overall pick & 9th most total draft capital
- Numerous recent former All-Pro / Pro-Bowl level talented players on the roster to either build around or trade to free up cap and add draft capital
- A GM with a strong drafting record to help give the coach young pieces to work with annually
Time will tell if these factors will lead to the Colts getting their top candidate in this coaching cycle, and if he will be the right man for the job.