KRAVITZ: Spurned Ballard takes the high road, but man, he really wanted to hit McDaniels hard

Colts general manager Chris Ballard addressed the media Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018, one day after Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels backed out of their agreement to become the Colts' new head coach. (WTHR Photo/Ben Reiff)
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Bob Kravitz

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) — For roughly a half hour, Colts general manager Chris Ballard was the picture of restraint, resisting any and all temptation to say something incendiary about Josh McDaniels after his shocking decision to back out of his commitment with the Indianapolis Colts. He wished McDaniels well. He called him a very fine football coach. He did everything but give him a verbal hug and an FTD floral bouquet.

And then, after the final question in Wednesday’s press conference was asked and answered, the unvarnished truth slipped through Ballard’s lips as he prepared to leave the lectern:

“The rivalry is back on,’’ he said.

He didn’t drop the mic. But he could have.

Ballard could have unloaded on McDaniels, and he would have been hailed as a civic hero if he unloaded on McDaniels, but he took the high road instead, refusing give McDaniels the satisfaction of knowing he sent the Colts into a state of utter turmoil. This press conference wasn’t so much about McDaniels’ decision, which Ballard insisted came completely out of left field, but it was more of a pep rally for heartsick Indianapolis fans.

We’ll be OK, Indy. Trust me. We’ll be OK. Tough people get through tough times.

The whole time, though, he was biting his tongue and swallowing his anger.

When he said, “I wish (Josh) well,’’ what he wanted to say is, “I hope Belichick stays for another five years. And when he does retire, I hope Tom Brady retires too, and the Patriots turn into an also-ran franchise run by that evil little twerp.’’

When he said he doesn’t necessarily feel betrayed by McDaniels (riiiight), what he wanted to say was, “That weasel strung us along for more than five weeks, he talked like he was fully committed to joining the Colts, and then, like the spineless cur that he is, he backed out.’’

The only real hint of his honest emotions and passions came at the very end of the press conference when, without any provocation, he went the mic-drop route and said, “The rivalry is back on.’’

McDaniels had agreed to come to Indy and was cleaning out his office and saying some final goodbyes Tuesday when owner Robert Kraft and coach Bill Belichick put the full-court press on him. His deal was sweetened and it’s safe to assume he was given certain assurances he would be Belichick’s successor once the legendary coach retires.

Then, around 7:15 p.m., he called Ballard.

The conversation didn’t last long. Breakup talks rarely do.

“He said he had bad news for me,’’ Ballard said. “I just said, `I just need a yes or no answer. Are you in or out?’ We went around for a minute and he said he was out and I said, `OK, we’re going to move forward. I wish you the best of luck.’’

Asked if he tried to persuade McDaniels to change his mind, Ballard shook his head.

“There was no persuasion … So I live in a black and white world. Either you’re in or you’re out. I didn’t want the explanation. …’’

Asked if he had any indication that McDaniels might be having second thoughts, as Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio reported last weekend, Ballard responded, “No. None at all.’’

Now McDaniels is radioactive, except in New England. On Wednesday, Bob LaMonte, the agent Ballard and McDaniels share, dropped McDaniels as a client. “My word is my bond,’’ LaMonte was quoted as saying. “Once you break that, there’s nothing left.’’

There have been a host of theories as to why McDaniels spurned the Colts, and most of those theories are specious.

Like, “It was Deflategate Revenge’’ – nonsense. The Patriots made this move for understandably self-serving reasons. They feared a massive brain drain from Foxboro, faced with the prospect of losing both coordinators and several highly-respected assistant coaches. They saw their quarterback succession plan walk out the door when they dealt Jimmy Garoppolo; they weren’t going to lose their coaching succession plan.

Like, “McDaniels was concerned about Andrew Luck’s health.’’ Again, nonsense. Nothing has changed on the Luck front since the Colts and McDaniels began talking shortly after the end of the season. It’s not like it became clear in the last 24 hours that Luck’s arm was falling off. If McDaniels had deep concerns about Luck’s status, those subjects would have been broached early and often in the interview process.

“Let’s talk about Andrew because there’s a lot of rumors,’’ Ballard said. “Everybody is an expert…I’m going to listen to Andrew, who I absolutely believe in and trust. I’m going to listen to the doctors that he is talking to and dealing with. And I’m going to listen to the guy who is training him right now.

“At this point, we feel very strongly that Andrew is in a good place. He doesn’t need surgery…His strength is good. He is working on his throwing motion and he’s working on his arm speed right now. He has not picked up a football, but he is throwing a ball, working on arm speed…He’s going to do everything right to get himself ready to play and I’m very confident, and he’s very confident, that he’s going to come back and prove a lot of people wrong…’’

Like, “McDaniels didn’t work for a `loopy’ owner like Jim Irsay.’’ The national perception of Irsay is completely different than the local perception. He is not meddling. He does not overstep his bounds. There is a reason that men like Bill Polian, Tony Dungy and others have come to Indianapolis; it’s to work for Irsay who, unlike most of his fellow owners, understands football. Yes, he’s got his demons and his idiosyncrasies, but he’s fully committed to winning championships and is willing to pay whatever it takes to return the Lombardi Trophy to Indianapolis.

The Colts look foolish here, and while most of this is not their fault – this one’s on McDaniels, for the most part – there were some missteps along the way.

For one thing, it was foolish to sign assistant coaches to contracts without having a hard-and-fast paper commitment from McDaniels. The Colts say they will keep those coaches, but it feels like this has the potential to be a very uncomfortable situation. Head coaches want their own guys. These won’t be the new coach’s own guys. Awkward.

Second, the Colts were quick on the trigger, announcing the agreement and setting up the press conference without McDaniels having signed on the dotted line.

“I’ve thought a lot about that,’’ Ballard said. “But I was very confident. That’s on me, that’s not on our organization. That’s on me. I was very confident that a deal was in place and we were going to move forward and having a press conference today.’’

So where do they go from here?

They go to Philadelphia, and they starting talking seriously with Eagles’ offensive coordinator Frank Reich. Understand, Reich is not the primary play caller in Philly — that’s head coach Doug Pederson — but Reich obviously played a huge role in game-planning the Eagles’ seismic Super Bowl upset over the favored Patriots. Reich strikes me as the one name the Colts could easily sell to he fans. He’s worked in Indianapolis. He’s been an NFL quarterback. And he cut his teeth on the offensive side of the ball.

Dan Campbell? Zzzzz.

Leslie Frazier? Zzzzz.

It’s been a season of waiting. A season of waiting and wondering. We spent the whole year waiting for Luck to return, which he never did. We waited five weeks for McDaniels to come aboard, only to have him back out in the last hours. Now we wait some more.

In the meantime, Ballard holds his tongue and swallows his anger. He went high, but you’d better believe, he wanted to go low.