Colts’ GM Chris Ballard must balance winning now, and building the right way

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – As Chris Ballard continues to settle into his role of being the man in charge of returning the Indianapolis Colts to NFL relevancy, he finds himself dealing with a delicate balancing act.

On one hand, the first-year general manager is committed to getting the franchise on firm footing from a personnel standpoint. And that’s going to require a degree of patience since there’s only so much that can be done in one offseason to address the various roster and positional deficiencies.

“I know we all want instant coffee right now,’’ Ballard said during a Wednesday break from the NFL Scouting Combine. “But that’s not reality. It takes time to build a team. It takes time to build a locker room.

“Those guys gotta grow together and come together. I don’t know any championship team that didn’t have a great locker room and grow together. It’s just hard to throw people into the locker room and expect a winner. It doesn’t work that way.’’

And therein lies the rub.

The NFL is not an environment that leans on patience. Fan bases grow restless at the first glimpse of slippage and the first whisper of gradual progress being required.

That’s certainly true on the local scene, where fans’ angst is high after they watched the Colts suffer through another 8-8 season that saw them miss the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1997-98.

Owner Jim Irsay was unwilling to stand pat. He kept coach Chuck Pagano, but fired general manager Ryan Grigson Jan. 21 and replaced him with Ballard.

Now, it’s up to Ballard to pull the Colts out of their two-year funk. Sooner would be preferable to later.

“I’m not going to set unrealistic goals,’’ Ballard said. “Look, every year is precious. Every year is an opportunity to win.

“To me, there’s no such thing as rebuilding. Everybody’s trying to win, and that’s the approach we’ll take.’’

Again, more of the same won’t be tolerated by the fan base, or the owner for that matter. The last time the Colts failed to make the playoffs in three consecutive seasons occurred when simply making the playoffs was a reason for a parade. It was a seven-year drought from 1988 to ’94.

As Ballard fielded questions Wednesday, his underlying themes continued to work their way to the surface.

Creating strong competition at every position is and always will be a cornerstone.

Speed and toughness are paramount, and that involves the offense and the defense.

The preferred method of roster growth is draft well, develop the players and re-sign them when the time comes.

A few additional takeouts from Ballard’s 17-minute back-and-forth with the media:

  • Defensive tackle David Parry, who was arrested over the weekend in Scottsdale, Ariz. on a variety of alcohol-related charges: “We’re working right now just to get all the details . . . and I don’t want to comment on that until we get all of the details and all the facts. Me and David did visit. He was waiting for me on Monday and we visited. I’d like to keep that private between me and him.’’
  • His early working relationship with Pagano: “Really good. Him and the staff have been outstanding to work with. We had some internal discussions and some hard discussions about players. To take another step you have to have honest conversations. And you can’t be scared to have those honest conversations.’’
  • What are the keys to continuity between a general manager and head coach?: “Two things: honesty and respect. You’ve got to be willing to be honest. You can’t let problems lay out there and not address them. And then both sides have to respect the work that each one is doing. Look, I’m not a coach. I don’t spend 24 hours a day scheming up, trying to find ways to get a guy in position. Likewise, coaches don’t spend 180 days on the road digging on a player. If you don’t have honesty and you don’t have respect for each other’s job, then it’s hard to make it work.’’
  • Taking a chance on a player with off-field issues: “We’re going to research every player. We’re going to vet every player. We’re going to go A to Z to see what the problems are and see if it’s something we want to manage. That’s an organizational decision from Mr. Irsay, from the rest of our ownership down to our marketing. How’s it going to impact our fans? We have to weigh all of that before we make a decision on a high-risk character guy.’’
  • Punter Pat McAfee’s decision to retire: “I didn’t get a chance to know Pat and haven’t yet. I look forward to meeting him. Pat was a great player for the Colts and people keep asking the question, ‘Hey, are you disappointed?’ Yeah, I was disappointed. But also on the other side of that, I was happy for Pat because Pat found his life’s work. When a player’s career ends, when the cheering stops, when the camaraderie of the locker room ends, they’ve got to have something that they’re passionate about. So I’m happy for Pat McAfee. As for finding (his replacement), he’s a difficult guy to replace. We’re working on it.’’

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.


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