Justice Is Served

January 25, 2010 5:03 PM

Under the radar: Colts coach fine being there

I see Colts coach Jim Caldwell as the Rodney Dangerfield of the NFL coaching fraternity, but the slights that Caldwell has had to endure almost make the late comic seem LeBron James-like in the acclaim his work got.


Caldwell should be as fortunate. For it's hard to find a Super Bowl coach who has had a lower profile than his.

Under the radar?

Caldwell is like a stealth bomber; he doesn't make a blip on the radar. When his profile does show up on the screen, it will be the first time it does.

Get respect?

Caldwell was probably the person Aretha Franklin, the "Queen of Soul," had in mind when singing her signature hit  about "R-E-S-P-E-C-T."


For all he wants is a little respect. Not that Caldwell has bemoaned his invisible profile. Invisibility appears to suit a Colts coach well. For his predecessor Tony Dungy also flew under people's radar. Nobody seemed to give Dungy his due, even after he had bagged a Super Bowl. 

He always looked like an afterthought -- never linked to Peyton Manning or applauded for his astute use of the talent he had helped assemble. When Dungy turned over the coaching reins, he didn't increase the job's profile. The man he handpicked might as well have been his clone.

Being Dungy's clone shouldn't be a bad thing, and when you've achieved the same kind of success that Dungy did, your name should be on the "A list" for magazine covers and for interview spots on the nightly sports shows.

But even after rolling through the NFL season with a 14-2 record, all Caldwell hears is the lingering discussion over why he decided not to chase perfection. Instead of going for 16-0, he rested Manning & Co. once the Colts had locked down home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

How do you not try to win every game? How do you turn your back on making history?

It takes no Yale historian to figure out what Caldwell cared for most. He wasn't chasing perfection, though he'd have taken perfection had it led him to where he is today: a win away from a Super Bowl ring.

NFL history includes just one 16-0 regular season - the Patriots two years ago. History taught sports fans how little that perfect record meant after the Pats lost to the Giants in the game that mattered most.

The drive to perfection didn't bring the Patriots anything more than frustration at the end of the road. No Super Bowl, no real place in sports history - at least no place where the Pats wanted to be.

Ask Tom Brady what was more important: a 16-0 record or winning the Super Bowl. Ask Brady if he would trade that perfect record for Eli Manning's diamond-studded Super Bowl ring at season's end.

Brady's answer would be the same as Caldwell's. The history that costs most in football is made in late January or early February and not on the icy, frigid tundra of late November and December.

History tells us that getting to a championship isn't as hard as winning it.

Caldwell understands that history well, which is why I'm puzzled that he took so much criticism for losing two meaningless games at a 14-win run. That's all media have talked about, second-guessing him and not applauding him for taking the Colts into the postseason with all hands healthy.

But that's what happens when media take their eyes off the target. They look at piddling issues and often ignore the broader, more textured themes that shape history.

As every NFL coach who is heading for the Super Bowl does, Jim Caldwell sees history in the long view a lot clearer than the people who pour over it in the short view. For the latter group tends to snap a hasty picture of today, disregarding the context and what incomplete information the picture might hold.

In the short view, Caldwell disappointed some people. He didn't chase perfection as they thought he should.

So what?

To them, 16-0 season was worth the stretch, even if it meant putting all of his players at risk of injury.

To coach in the NFL, a man can't listen to outsiders who claim to know more then he does, if he expects to keep his job. If the coach succeeds - never a sure thing -- he will succeed on his terms, not on anybody else's. The outsiders have nothing at stake, but an NFL coach has his job and his legacy on the front lines.

In that regard, Caldwell might be better off staying under the radar. Let scrutiny go to Brad Childress, Andy Reid, Wade Phillips, Rex Ryan, Bill Belichick and the other 24 coaches who will be watching the Super Bowl live from their armchairs.

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