To the national media he was a big question mark.
He's been silent almost all year despite giving a weekly press conference.
He's an after-thought when discussing reasons the Colts are 7-0.
His name only comes up when it's time for the obligatory, "Everything looks the same, what's different?" question to the players.
It's time to give him his due.
Jim Caldwell has been splendid this season. That may sound like an obvious statement given the Colts' early season success, but even if you take the wins off the board as the product of 18 and a superior roster, there is plenty of evidence that Caldwell is doing a fine job.
1. The Colts have shown no panic or regression in end of half/end of game scenarios.
You see it every week in the NFL. Teams screw up timeouts, two minute drills, two point conversion attempts (see Sparano against the Jets this week). Through seven games, the Colts have yet to make any mistakes in this area. They routinely fly up and down the field at the end of the half. They never waste a timeout they may otherwise need. These are the kind of details that have a lot to do with Manning, but also reflect on the head coach. The team is calm and collected in the pressure moments. There have been no wasted challenges (Caldwell is 2 for 2 this year). There's no signs of stagnation or laziness in the nitty gritty details of the game. That means you have the right guy wearing the headset. Those are the things that go to crap quickly in this league when the head coach isn't qualified. They are the difference between winning and losing games.
2. The veterans are playing harder than ever.
Reggie Wayne and Dwight Freeney are already legendary Colts. Their names will be remembered for years in Indianapolis, but despite all their accolades, they have shown up and played hurt in recent weeks. This means several things: yes, they are special men, real leaders, but also that they are properly motivated by their coaches. There was no thinking, "We'll we're 6-0, and the 49ers are weak, we'll take the week off". Instead, they went out and performed, and the Colts wouldn't have won the game with out them. Don't fool yourself into thinking that this kind of thing happens on every team. It doesn't. These guys respect their teammates and the coaching staff. For Caldwell to take over a veteran team with strong personalities and keep them playing at an unprecedented level is incredible. Does Manning look hungry? Does Wayne look hungry? Do you think they would seem that motivated if they didn't believe in their coach? This team believes it can win the Super Bowl. That means they believe in Caldwell. It's easy to say, "we expect that from everyone! They get paid a lot of money!" Getting paid a lot of money is what keeps some guys from putting their bodies on the line when they are dinged up. Vets in places like Oakland are not playing as hard as vets in Indy. They aren't taking the same chances with their bodies.
3. He's made the tough calls.
No coach will ever be as aggressive as I want, but I have almost no complaints about Caldwell's choices through seven weeks. He went for the big first down week one against the Jags. He called for (or at least approved since it was the first play of the fourth quarter) the half back pass on Sunday. He made the right call in going for it on fourth and inches this past Sunday. Most of the time when I list my 'worst call' of the week after the game, it's a 50/50 call that is highly debatable. He's shown me that he's not ultra-conservative and that's all I ask. I want to go into a game against Belichick knowing my coach will at least consider going for it on fourth and 1 from the 40.
4. He hasn't engaged in any power struggles.
He didn't come and try to 'put his stamp' on the team by changing things that didn't need changing. You don't see him talking trash with Channing Crowder. He hasn't 'called out Manning' in the press to show he's in charge. He's been utterly ego-less in his management of this team. He's not getting a lot of credit, but you get the feeling like he doesn't need it. This is the key...he's already part of the system. He helped build this. He's been here through it all. He doesn't need to rebuild the foundation, because he helped lay it. I'm sure he takes great pride in everything Indy has done since 2002, because he was here for every day of it. He may not have been chief architect, but he was hammering away for the past seven years.
5. The team has had comebacks and blowouts
Indy now has two fourth quarter comebacks (Miami and SF) and has managed a tricky schedule (back to back prime time road games) and aced two chances to have 'trap games'. Perhaps the one lone test Caldwell has to pass is the 'big game'. That's coming soon enough (two weeks). The team has been well prepared each week to deal with all situations they've faced. That's all you can ask of a coach.
Hey, it has to count for something.
Ultimately, this season will be judged by what happens in January. Caldwell still has a lot of hurdles in front of him. You can color me a believer, however. The 2009 Colts still have some question marks (especially up front on offense).
Head Coach is no longer one of them. I'm don't think it ever was.