INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – After weeks of speculation and unsubstantiated rumors, clarity with the Indianapolis Colts came in two crisp sound bites from Jim Irsay.
“Ryan Grigson is no longer with the franchise,’’ he said Saturday evening, firing his general manager after five seasons that intermixed success with failed personnel decisions.
Jimmy Raye III, the team’s vice president of football operations, will handle personnel matters until Grigson’s successor is named. He’s on Irsay’s list of candidates.
And the status of coach Chuck Pagano?
“He’s our coach for 2017,’’ Irsay said. “I hope Chuck can be our coach for many years to come. He is our coach this year and going through this process and interviewing general managers and having whoever the new general manager come in and work with me – to evaluate where we’re at – will play a big role in that in the long term.
“But for 2017, Chuck is our coach.’’
So ended 20 days of uncertainty that had settled over a franchise that’s been on a steady decline since reaching the AFC Championship Game following the 2014 season. The last two seasons have been similarly substandard: 8-8 records and missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1997-98.
Irsay’s frustrations intensified as the Colts meandered their way through last season, and he weighed his options over the last three weeks.
It was reported he had approached Jon Gruden and Peyton Manning.
“I know there was reports that there was negotiations about Peyton being the general manager and Jon Gruden being our head coach,’’ Irsay said. “That’s not true. I’m not going to talk about every person I talk to in evaluating our program, but that was never something that was in the cards, so to speak.’’
Irsay was pressed on the possibility of Manning being included in the general manager search.
“I wouldn’t say he’s in the picture,’’ he said, adding the two have talked at length about Manning’s plans following his retirement after the 2015 season. “But there was never any serious negotiations or anything like that from him coming in to be a general manager.
“I’d welcome the opportunity for him and I to talk about that possibility some day, that he would play some role in our organization.’’
Saturday’s press conference was in stark contrast to the one held 12 months ago. The day after the Colts beat Tennessee to finish 8-8 and amid speculation Pagano wouldn’t return, Irsay signed Pagano to a four-year contract and gave Grigson a three-year extension.
At that time, Irsay stressed he was tying the two at the hip.
“I untied ‘em,’’ he said. “It was in the best interest of the franchise. Chuck did not ask for Ryan to be fired, it wasn’t ‘Me or him’ or anything like that. Neither did Ryan.
“My decision was based on what’s best for the Horseshoe, what’s best to make us the best football team on the field.’’
Pagano wasn’t available for comment, but issued a statement through the team.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity Ryan gave me,’’ he said. “We shared many great memories, moments and victories together over the past five years. I wish nothing but the best for Ryan and his family moving forward.’’
Irsay praised Grigson, named the 2012 NFL’s Executive of the Year in his first year as general manager, as someone who “just gave his sweat, blood and tears’’ to the franchise.
“I don’t look at Ryan’s time as a failure,’’ he said.
Since 2012 and including the playoffs, the Colts are 52-34 with three trips to the postseason.
However, Grigson’s personnel moves have been spotty. Among his significant misses are trading the team’s 2014 first-round pick for running back Trent Richardson; failing to benefit from investing more than $100 million in high-profile free agent acquisitions (LaRon Landry, Andre Johnson, Art Jones, Gosder Cherilus, Donald Thomas, Ricky Jean-Francoise); and whiffing on the entire 2013 draft class, including first-round pick Bjoern Werner. The team cut 2015 third-round pick D’Joun Smith in September and the jury remains out on wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, the ’15 first-round pick.
The decision to fire Grigson, Irsay insisted, “was gut, intuitive, instinct from looking at where we were and where we are as a franchise. I think that we needed a change. Intuitively you get the feeling when the timing’s right where a change will help.
“I really felt the time was right to make a change. We needed some new direction just in the vision of our football program. That’s from talking to a lot of people and giving it a lot of thought.’’
Grigson’s dismissal drew immediate reaction on Twitter from a handful of players. Privately during the last few seasons, players had been critical of Grigson’s handling of them.
Pro Bowl punter Pat McAfee’s tweets were most biting.
First: “Thank God.’’
Then: “‘Unwarranted Arrogance’ just ran into a brick wall called karma.’’
And this from former Colts linebacker Jerrell Freeman: “Well that took longer than expected . . .’’
Former standout wide receiver Reggie Wayne used his role as NFL Network analyst to criticize Grigson’s personnel record, and his twitter account to react to Grigson’s firing.
“Now we can play ball . . . !’’ he wrote.
Wayne shared the following on the NFL Network:
“There were a lot of little things that (Grigson) did here and there that were a little awkward. … A lot of those guys (in the Colts locker room), they won’t say anything, but Pat is Pat. He’s going to speak his mind. And Pat hit it right on the head. He was a different cat. … He walked around and tried to put fear in people, and that ain’t the way you do it.
“One thing about players, if they like you and they love you, they will lay it on the line for you. And if you walk through there, and you’re showing signs of arrogance, guys are going to see through that and they’re not going to lay it on the line for you.”
Irsay addressed what had been considered a less-than-cordial relationship between Pagano and Grigson.
“There’s been a lot of relationships over the years where the general manager and head coach aren’t the best of friends,’’ he said, “but professionally they move forward and excel. So you don’t always need (a good relationship).
“Both of these guys have great affection for each other. That may shock you guys . . . but there is a lot more affection than you guys even know. However, we’re in the business of professional football and that’s the business of winning.
“It’s about winning and you do everything you can to make sure you’re in the position to win, period.’’