- Indianapolis Colts’ owner Jim Irsay has issued an apology for the team’s late season collapse in an open letter to fans.
- The Colts failed to make the playoffs due to back to back losses at home against Las Vegas and at Jacksonville.
- Irsay met with coach Frank Reich and general manager Chris Ballard immediately upon their return from Jacksonville on Sunday night.
Every NFL season ends with no shortage of pissed off owners and disappointed/angry fans. The late season collapse of the Indianapolis Colts has produced both and for good reason–the team controlled its own destiny with two games remaining, needing only to win one to clinch a playoff berth. The team whiffed them both including an ugly season ending domination at the hands of the woeful Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Colts failed to make the playoffs for the fifth time in the last seven seasons and this time they had no excuses. The Colts stumbled out of the gate, starting 0-3 but quickly found their footing winning 7 of their next 10. On Christmas Day, the Colts stood at 9-6 needing only to win one of their next two games to clinch a playoff spot. They held a 4 point lead against Las Vegas heading into the fourth quarter at home on January 4 only to lose 23-20 on a Daniel Carlson 33 yard field goal with no time remaining. A tough loss against a playoff bound Raiders team is one thing, their season ending domination at the hands of the Jacksonville Jaguars quite another. The Colts were humiliated by the worst team in the league, falling behind 26-3 en route to a 26-11 defeat as -14 point road favorites. Jacksonville controlled the game statistically but settled for four field goals to go along with two Trevor Lawrence touchdown passes. The game was nowhere near as close as the final score would suggest.
Indianapolis became the first team since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger to face a ‘win and you’re in the playoffs’ situation in the final game of the season only to lose to an opponent with the worst record in the league. That is definitely a recipe for both a pissed off owner and a seething fanbase. Pissed off owner Jim Irsay wasted no time in addressing the debacle, dragging head coach Frank Reich and GM Chris Ballard into a meeting on the Sunday night following their return from Jacksonville. Irsay was smart about it, demanding change and accountability all while emphasizing that Reich and Ballard will both be drawing paychecks this fall. His message was received loud and clear as this fawning quote from Reich demonstrates:
“I love his approach and how demanding and holding us all accountable, but also showing support as an owner that he wants to do whatever it takes to get our organization to the top, to get our team to the top. It was a good conversation, a supportive conversation, but also demanding and wanting answers and wanting to hold us accountable.”
With his coach and GM put on notice, Irsay then turned his attention to his team’s seething and disappointed fan base. There’s plenty of boneheaded owners in the NFL who struggle to understand the mood of their team’s supporters leaving them angry and miserable year after year (see New York Jets, New York Giants). Irsay is one of the sharper owners in the league and he quickly went public letting fans know that he ‘feels their pain’ while taking ultimate responsibility for his bumbling team’s late season swoon:
When we started 0-3, we knew the rest of this season would be an uphill climb. We all were hopeful we could dig our way out of the hole and reach the playoffs, and we should have. But we ended our season in perhaps the worst way possible and missed our chance to compete for history.
The buck stops with me, and this experience makes me even more determined to bring Indiana a contending team. We are already working toward the future, and I’m going to do whatever it takes to put us in a position to win next year and for years to come.
As always, thank you for your support of the Colts in 2021. This was a rough way to end our year, but this bad taste will fuel and motivate us even more for next season. I promise you there are some exciting days to come.
This is some high level boss behavior on both counts. He gives Reich and Ballard their marching orders and some ‘tough love’ and then re-embraces the fan base. When he says ‘the buck stops with me’ the message is obvious–if the coach and GM don’t deliver they’re history. It’s smart for Irsay to take ultimate responsibility and on a macro level this is true–he’s the one with ‘skin in the game’ financially. At the same time, an owner isn’t going to ‘fire himself’ after a disappointing season. Depending on how you do the math, the Colts had roughly a 97% chance of making the playoffs with two games remaining. When Irsay talks about the team ‘ending their season in the worst way possible’ it’s not mere hyperbole.
The fanbase has an owner that ‘gets it’ and now it’s the responsibility of Reich and Ballard to deliver. Irsay’s high level strategy for dealing with the situation is just ‘hella smart’ and the message has already made it through to the players. Check out this comment from Pro Bowl defensive end DeForest Buckner:
“The team we had and the resilience that we showed this season, it’s tough. But we do have a lot of pieces coming back – a lot of main pieces coming back – and obviously it’s going to be a different team.”
“But trusting in (Chris) Ballard and Frank (Reich) and the rest of the coaching staff that obviously we’ll find the pieces that we need to move forward and become a better football team and take that next step. I believe we’re going to make those moves this offseason.’’
That’s basically what Irsay said–his players have already assimilated the message and are on the same page. Change is needed but Ballard and Reich are still in charge. The ‘chain of command’ is intact, no power struggle in the front office or locker room, yet the challenge for the team to ‘get their sh*t together is delivered emphatically. I’ve always been a fan of Reich’s dating back to his days as a player and think he’ll respond. Ballard must now give him the personnel he needs but there’s a lot of talent on hand. Irsay has also established the ‘mood’ for the 2022 season which makes it easy for pending free agents–and the Colts have a lot of them–to decide whether they’re in or out.
Jim Irsay, like any number of other NFL owners, had the team passed down to him by his father. It’s clear, however, that he learned a lot from his dad–Robert Irsay built his fortune through hard work in the decidedly un-glamorous heating and air conditioning business. Not sure what Jim’s role was within the business but it’s obvious that he inherited some of his notoriously cantankerous father’s street smarts along with a NFL franchise worth a reported $3.2 billion USD.
Irsay is an interesting character–he’s had his ups and downs including struggles with the bottle and drugs. He’s had several brushes with the law related to these demons. In 2014, he had a relapse at which time Colts’ beat writer Bob Kravitz wrote this assessment:
“He has two big problems, besides the obvious drug issue: He’s crazy rich and he has lots of free time. That is a dangerous cocktail for a man with a genetic predisposition to substance abuse.”
“That doesn’t make him a bad man, just a troubled one, one who has been in and out of rehab on multiple occasions, one who needs to get himself some help again if he wants to be alive for the Colts’ next Super Bowl.”
Irsay did have excellent taste in shirts during this otherwise difficult phase of his life. He was wearing the shirt above in his mug shot so it probably isn’t a favorite even though it’s completely badass.
Irsay has moved up to suits, displaying the same good taste. He’s also got a downright insane collection of pop culture memorabilia including items such as the original manuscript of the Alcoholic’s Anonymous ‘Big Book’, the shoes Muhammad Ali wore against Joe Frazier in the ‘Thrilla in Manilla’, and a yellow cloud guitar previous owned by Prince (above). Google ‘Jim Irsay’ and ‘guitars’ and check them out. Unless Cheap Trick’s Rick Neilsen buys a NFL team no other owner will ever touch his guitar collection.
I really don’t know much about Irsay beyond what he’s done as the owner of the Colts but I hope he’s doing well. He’s still here and that’s a good sign. He’s definitely an interesting guy and that’s not at all a common characteristic of NFL owners. Irsay is on a very short list of NFL owners that I’d enjoy having lunch with if the opportunity ever arose (Mark Davis, Jerry Jones are two of the others–possibly the only others). So best of luck to you and the Colts on the offseason and 2022, Mr. Irsay.