The least popular man in blue these days has to be Curtis Painter. Friday night's two touchdown performance aside, the mention of Painter's name draws amusing facial reactions from fans. There's no diversity of opinion on Painter at all. He has no defenders.
Judging by the reactions of fans, there is another person with the organization almost as unpopular. This man does not deserve nearly the level of derision, however.
There are many opinions of Caldwell floating about central Indiana right now, most of them wrong. In fact, I know just by writing a piece defending him, I'll have a bevy of irate readers. The distaste for Caldwell creates a visceral reaction among many fans. Caldwell's actual coaching sins are not legion, but they've been high profile: he mismanaged the final drive of the first half in the Super Bowl, tried a 51 yard field goal with Matt Stover, called timeout against the Jaguars and Jets.
I myself have been critical of Caldwell's philosophy of football at times. He lives in a world where his offense and defense are of equal strength and frequently makes strategic decisions to 'trust' his defense even though it merits no trust. He is not alone in this school of thought. It's highly popular among NFL coaches. Coaches tend to be over conservative.
While I don't think Caldwell is perfect in that regard, I don't understand the vitriol hurled at him. Most of it involves the following myths:
1. Caldwell is stupid.
He most certainly is not. He's a well-read and thoughtful individual. He didn't call timeouts against the Jags and Jets out of stupidity. He called them because he was taking a calculated gamble. There's a difference between being wrong and being stupid. Caldwell decided to put the game in the hands of his defense. Against the Jets, he figured the Jets were already in field goal range (true) and wanted to give his defense a chance to get a sack to push them back. It didn't work out, but it certainly didn't cost Indianapolis the game (their win probability was already low at that point).
A stupid coach is a coach who gets the rules wrong, or makes knee jerk decisions. Caldwell is making reasoned decisions based on a bad set of starting points. He frustrates me because I know he's more than capable of understanding the data on things like fourth down aggressiveness, but like so many coaches, refuses to trust the math.
2. Caldwell is a stiff.
This is also patently untrue, but if fans believe it, it's his own fault. Jim Caldwell is utterly unhelpful and unengaging in press conferences. He speaks in a soft voice, says nothing, and runs out the clock.
That's not who he is.
If you watch tape of him in the locker-room or with players, he comes across as dynamic and engaging. Caldwell clearly has the allegiance of his players who play hard for him. The 2010 Colts could have folded up shop, but they didn't. It was fascinating to see the way he got them ready to play even for the third preseason game. This is a man who knows how to coach and manage personalities. Running an NFL team is partly about tactics, and partly about keeping 53 men pulling in the same direction.
Jim Caldwell is a leader of men, and in this respect, he's an outstanding coach.
If fans have the wrong idea about him, then that's his fault, however. He has chosen to portray a certain persona to the press, and it's hurting his standing in the community. Honestly, this goes much further than Caldwell, and speaks to the general disdain the Colts have for the media. In general, fans don't care that the Colts spit on the local media. Many fans have a strong animosity towards the press. They don't want to hear reporters complain that the team isn't nice to them. In this case however, Caldwell's lack of engagement is not hurting the press as much as it is hurting himself.
3. Caldwell is Polian's lap dog.
A reader actually suggested this week that Bill Polian likes to hire passive coaches.
You can say a lot of things about those four men, but 'passive' isn't one of them. I believe wholeheartedly that Caldwell's voice is being heard loud and clear at West 56th. This point relates back to the previous one. Fans hear Caldwell's dead fish pressers, and assume he's just a puppet.
If Caldwell is a puppet, he'd be the first puppet Bill Polian ever hired to be his coach.
4. Caldwell is bad guy for forcing out Moore and Mudd.
Teams change coaches. It happens all the time. The Colts promoted Caldwell internally and kept most of the existing staff on during the transition. For Caldwell to slowly go about remaking the staff and replace veteran coaches is completely normal.
Fans who wanted guys like Cowher or Gruden are naive if they think Moore, Mudd, or Huey would have survived that change.
Coaches bring in their own people. It's SOP in the NFL, and Caldwell deserves the right to do the same. The Colts gave their coaches more time after the transition than they normally would have had.
I don't love Jim Caldwell. I like him, though. I'm not sure if he's a top 10 coach in the NFL, but I think he's in the top half. He gets ripped far more often than he deserves by Colts fans, however.
If Peyton Manning is healthy, Jim Caldwell will likely lead the Colts to the playoffs for the third straight year.
Something tells me, that unless he wins a Super Bowl, however, fans in Indianapolis will never forgive or embrace him.