INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - Colts owner Jim Irsay sat down with some media folks Tuesday to talk about the upcoming season and some other issues related to his team.
The occasion was a three-hole golf tournament at the team’s practice complex, one that featured four PGA pros and Colts’ players Pat McAfee, Adam Vinatieri, Ryan Kelly and Dwayne Allen. The tournament winners, specifically J.B. Holmes and Vinatieri, earned money that will go to Autism Speaks and the First Tee program.
Here’s a transcript of the Q&A.
(Note that Irsay sat down twice with reporters, first before the tournament and then again after the tournament. The really good stuff, the stuff you definitely want to read, came after the tournament, so we'll start with that first):
Are you more comfortable now with the working dynamic between Ryan Grigson and Chuck Pagano?
"No question. I think they've grown together. You guys don't realize about [former New York Giants GM] George Young and [former coach] Bill Parcells and the type of friction that existed for those championship teams. Look, friction is out there. [Former Colts GM] Joe Thomas, [former Colts head coach] Ted Marchibroda, 1975-76-77, I was at the Milwaukee Yacht Club with both of them and my dad when Ted was threatening to resign. So I've seen it firsthand.
"But it's a good working relationship; both have matured. I am banking on the investment of what I put into Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson. There's been a lot of time, money and many hours of investment and conversations and mentoring and talking to these guys and that's what I'm banking on. Of course, you have to have the right people and Chuck proved – PROVED – he can be tough. He fired guys that were friends of his. That's a hard thing to do. That was the first time he's had to do something like that, to [former Colts defensive coordinator] Gregg Manusky, who's a good man and a good coach, by the way.
"...I really believe fire makes the diamond....Ryan and Chuck are closer than ever and more understanding of each other's positions more than ever. They're giving each other more room to operate. It's a great working relationship and yes, it's grown."
Did you know on Jan. 4 (the day after the final game) that you were going to retain Grigson and Pagano?
"There was no question that going into it, it was something that the three of us, together, OK, and separately – remember that – man to man, me and Ryan, me and Chuck, I had to vet it through and hear it thoroughly where we were at. Once I heard that, you have to understand this, both men, both men insisted upon the other man to be hitched to them. Not at my demand by any stretch. At their request, strong request.
"...[In] this case, organically, it came together. It showed me, the football gods -- whatever you want to call it, the powers that be -- created this correct synergy that said, 'OK, Ryan Grigson and Chuck Pagano, they are going to be our guys going forward and there is no question about it.'
"When they met man-on-man, for about an hour and a half, let me tell you – tears fell, voices were raised, but they both came out different people. And when they came to me, they insisted that they be chained together. If the ship were to sail in to find the Statue of Liberty, shining so bright, or the cold dark Atlantic Ocean on the bottom, they would be together. So, let's hope it is the Statue of Liberty and more visits to Canton, Ohio."
Does Pagano now have more input on personnel moves?
"I believe Ryan has decided, without me forcing, has decided to let Chuck have his way on many things he wants and Chuck on the opposite side of the coin, respects Ryan's vision and Ryan's point of view.
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"We have had guys that haven't been able to make it here. Ted Marchibroda used to talk about the circle. You have to fit into my circle when it comes in terms of guys that maybe aren't character guys, that 365 days a year are just on the right side of the coin. Maybe they have a little fringe moment, but they fit within the circle, meaning that you have a tolerance for certain type of behavior. And I think that Ryan has a higher tolerance than Chuck, but Chuck has upped his tolerance and his patience, and the big thing I try to do about both Ryan and Chuck is to bring down their blood pressure as game time comes along on Sundays.
"I told Chuck, '...You go up to Colt [Anderson] and you say, "Hey, you don't snap that ball if you don't like the look. If there's nothing but green space in front of you, you snap it, but if not, you either take delay of game or you take a timeout. Don't you dare snap that ball. Do you understand?"' Those conversations have to be had. They take poise. It takes experience and it's a flashpoint moment where it's easily said here, but you have to have an innate way to have a learning curve that develops that. I believe Chuck has that. Only time will tell.
"Again, Chuck, I don't know if you guys have noticed, he's tried to create a tougher team in training camp. We practiced long and hard and that's Chuck. Chuck wants a tougher team. So time will tell. Again, I'm banking on the investment we've made in both of these men. I think it's going to pay off. In the end, you guys know me, it's about winning. I make decisions....This is about winning. It's not about being cruel, it's about professional football. We have to win in our business. So you try to make sure you're making the toughest decisions needed to win. And I think Ryan and Chuck understand that. And going forward, they've become better than ever at their positions and they're going to have to be. Our division has improved."
Before the tournament, Irsay answered questions about this year’s team:
What are your expectations for this year’s team?
"My expectation is we find a way to beat Detroit. Our motto is this: Find an excuse to win. Find an excuse to win. Which actually comes from a Navy Seal who was in a firefight in Afghanistan and was the only one of his group to make it out. We have to bond together. We tried to have a tougher training camp, create a tougher team. We like the attitude of having young, hungry guys.
"We appreciate the Mathis' and the Gore's to give us leadership, but look, we have to offensively at least score 24 [points] Sunday. The offense has to carry us while the injured young defense finds its way and gets it footing. And that means protection for Andrew [Luck], no question about it. But I love our additions on the offensive line, and right now I really expect with [offensive line coach Joe] Philbin much better protection, and for Andrew to have a much better season.
"I think our three wideouts will put pressure on people with their speed. We're excited about keeping Dwayne Allen. We think [Erik] Swoope comes along the line of Marcus Pollard, a little different body type but he's proven he can be a guy who can contribute. We love Chester Rogers, we love Josh Ferguson as changeup guys with big-play ability. My expectation is-- this is the Indianapolis Colts, so the expectation is to be playing January in the playoffs."
What's your level of concern with the offensive line, especially after Chuck Pagano pulled Andrew Luck after the first half of the Eagles preseason game?
"I'm concerned like any fan, like anyone. Look, everyone has to get their game at a high level. [Anthony] Castonzo...he needs to stabilize. He's a great kid who puts a lot of pressure on himself. We just want him to play his game. He's an outstanding player left over from the Polian regime. Him and [Jack] Mewhort, we really believe that's the strong side. [Ryan] Kelly is mature beyond his years. We think [Denzelle] Good gives us something special: a 360-pound guy who can move. We have a lot of options at tackle with [Joe] Haeg, [Le'Raven] Clark and [Joe] Reitz. I think we can get it stabilized, but obviously the Eagles game was concerning and until we prove otherwise, we're going to get tested on every play. If we protect Andrew, good things are going to happen and you guys know that."
How much importance are you placing on the season opener at home against Detroit?
"It's a big game. We know we go to Denver, we know we go to London. The Jaguars are used to going there (London). They beat us soundly in Jacksonville and Denver speaks for itself. So no question, looking at home game, this and San Diego, we've got to take care of business. I mean, you have to. We know we have to go out and win this game. It's a big game for us; no other way to put it. But look, Ryan [Grigson] knows what he signed up for, Andrew knows what he signed up for and Chuck [Pagano] knows what he signed up for. And we have to get it done."
After investing heavily in free agency the first few years of the new regime, are you in a new phase now that you’ve had to pay Andrew?
"No question, this is a whole new chapter that's been turned. Obviously, you have Andrew's new contract, Chuck's new contract, Ryan's new extension, and that speaks to the direction this franchise is going from the top. Look, it was very exciting and historic to have Chuck heroically fight his disease, to have Bruce Arians prove he's a great head coach in this league and then become a playoff team after 2011 – and then on to bigger things in the [AFC] Championship Game. But now, there's no question, people are wondering, 'Who is this team? Who are going to be the core players?' Mathis is still here, Gore is still here....We know there's not a lot of time for guys we're depending on who are great veterans. We need guys to step up, guys like Kelly, to become the new leaders for the second half of the decade.
"So it's a new chapter. We aren't division champs, Houston is, so we have to go out and reprove ourselves. And people are wondering, 'Who are they? A 7-9 team that needs more draft picks and maturation? Or is this a team that has the right mix of some vets and young people who can go out and win the division and continue to get better?' Only time will tell.