Peyton Manning, Jim Irsay deny rift; Do you believe them?

January 27, 2012

Over the last month, the Indianapolis Colts have completed a massive overhaul of their front office and coaching staff in the wake of a miserable 2-14 season. On Jan. 2, team owner Jim Irsay fired vice chairman Bill Polian and general manager Chris Polian, then last week the team cut ties with head coach Jim Caldwell. Wednesday’s hiring of former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano a full-scale makeover that many believe will include cutting ties with franchise quarterback Peyton Manning. As the Early Lead’s Cindy Boren reported:

Peyton Manning and Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay continue to talk at, around and about each other, doing everything but seriously talking to one another about Manning’s future as their Irreconcilable Differences Tour rolls on.

The latest installment, after last week’s Rob Lowe erroneous tweet about Manning’s imminent retirement, featured fallout from an Indianapolis Star interview earlier this week in which Manning said that the Colts’ upheaval in the front office and coaching staff had “everyone walking around on eggshells.” On Thursday, Irsay chose to address that interview, after introducing new Coach Chuck Pagano at a press conference. He did so by calling the quarterback “a politician.”

“I don’t think it’s in the best interest to paint the horseshoe in a negative light, I really don’t,” Irsay said. “The horseshoe always comes first, and I think one thing he’s always known, because he’s been around it so long, is that, you know, you keep it in the family. If you’ve got a problem you talk to each other, it’s not about campaigning or anything like that.”

By the end of the first week of March, Irsay must decide whether to pay Manning, a four-time MVP who missed the 2011 season because of neck surgery, a $28 million bonus or lose him to free agency — assuming he is physically able to play. And Irsay has left no doubt that the decision will be his; Pagano and General Manager Ryan Grigson will escape that PR hit and will be free to rebuild the franchise, presumably using the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft on Andrew Luck.

Manning, in his first public comments about the Colts’ changes, said the atmosphere wasn’t conducive to healing. Clearly, his use of the expression “walking on eggshells” rankled Irsay.


On Friday, Irsay and Manning issued a joint statement on the Colts’ team Web site, dismissing the notion that a rift had developed between them. As the AP reported:

Peyton Manning and Colts owner Jim Irsay insist they are just fine after a week filled with complaints and comments suggesting a rift had developed following one of the most miserable seasons in team history.

“We would like to dispel any misperception that there might be any hard feelings between us,” the two said Friday in a statement issued by the team. “Since 1998, we have enjoyed a great relationship, based upon mutual respect and trust. We have always been able to talk and address matters we’ve faced over the years, not just as owner and player, but as friends.

“We had a long talk today and we want to assure Colts fans everywhere that we are both committed to maintaining our close relationship and to working together through any challenges the future may bring.”

That would be welcome news to Colts fans, who first watched Manning publicly complain about the down-in-the-mouth atmosphere at team headquarters and then two days later saw Irsay call out his franchise quarterback at a news conference intended to focus on the new head coach.


But earlier this week, there seemed to be clear friction in Indy, with the still-recovering Manning at the center of it all. As Cindy Boren reported:

If Peyton Manning is finished in football, it’s news to him.

In an interview with Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star, the Indianapolis Colts’ quarterback did acknowledge that upheaval within the franchise is disconcerting and that his own future, with the Colts and in football, is uncertain. The vibe right now in Indy? Very weird.

“Everybody [is] walking around on eggshells. I don't recognize our building right now. There's such complete and total change,” Manning said.

The Colts are in a state of flux, with the firing of Bill Polian and Chris Polian in the front office and Jim Caldwell as coach. Ryan Grigson is the new general manager and owner Jim Irsay has promised that a coach will be named soon.

“One of the things about football is, it’s a relationship business. Sometimes guys get fired, it goes across the ticker, ‘Jim Caldwell got fired’ and that’s that. But when it’s every day in a relationship business ... with Bill [Polian], with Marvin [Harrison], Edge [James], guys who retire, get cut, traded or fired, it’s just really hard. I don’t think I have an emotion for it.

“The new [management] team doesn’t have a relationship with these guys like I do, and I know a lot of players feel that way about them [the departing coaches], too,” Manning said. “I mean, it’s 20 degrees, it’s snowing, the building is absolutely empty except when you see coaches cleaning out their offices. I guess it’s the reality of the football world, just not something I’ve had to deal with very often. But I’m in there every day, so I have to sit there and see it. Everybody’s being evaluated and I’m no different. It’s not the best environment.

“I just want to pay tribute to all those guys. It’s unfortunate because so many of them have been such a big part of so many big wins here, and this is so ... sudden. Their keys didn’t work the next day. There’s no other way to do it? I don’t know. That’s hard to see, all these people leaving.

“And I may be behind them. Who knows?’’

More from Washington Post Sports:

Peyton Manning opens up on future, upheaval

Rob Lowe cites ‘pretty darn good source’ for tweet

The Polians are out

Jim Caldwell is out

Peyton on Eli Manning in Super Bowl XLVI: ‘I couldn’t be more proud’

Eli addresses talk of Peyton-to-the-Jets

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