With the New England Patriots mum as always, it was left to Indianapolis Colts General Manager Chris Ballard to explain just how the Colts were left holding the bag after Josh McDaniels decided this week to remain with the Patriots — roughly 24 hours before he was to be introduced as the Colts’ next head coach.
Ballard’s closing words at his Wednesday news conference indicated some of what lies below the surface. As he left the affair, the GM told reporters, “The rivalry is back on.”
The two franchises have something of a contentious history, including most notably the Deflategate drama the Colts prompted after a 2015 loss to New England in the AFC championship game. Ballard’s closing line, though, was the closest he came to saying anything critical about the Patriots on Wednesday.
“We were disappointed. Unquestionably, we were disappointed and surprised,” Ballard told reporters, after McDaniels opted to keep his job as New England’s offensive coordinator. “We had an agreement in place, had two interviews. Both went very well. [We were] very confident even Tuesday morning. Then I got a call Tuesday evening saying he had changed his mind and was going in a different direction.
“We’ll keep moving forward,” Ballard said. “Just know this, just know this. Obstacles happen. That’s what makes this league great. That’s what makes football great.”
The decisive phone call came around 7:15 p.m. on Tuesday and lasted “around five minutes,” Ballard said.
“I’ve got bad news for you,” McDaniels told him. “I just said, ‘Are you in or out?’ ” the GM recalled.
When the reply was “out,” Ballard said he wished McDaniels luck without asking for more information.
“I live in a black and white world. Either you’re in or you’re out,” Ballard said. “I didn’t want the explanation.”
The news came after a very difficult few days for the Colts, after the death of linebacker Edwin Jackson and Uber driver Jeffrey Monroe in a roadside accident early Sunday morning.
“To be very honest with you, after Sunday’s events, with the passing of Edwin Jackson and Jeffrey Monroe, this wasn’t even on my mind,” Ballard said in his opening remarks. “It was a very difficult couple of days talking with the families and with our players.”
Urging everyone to “keep in perspective what’s important,” the general manager went on to discuss the team’s coaching situation. He was asked whether the uncertain physical status of quarterback Andrew Luck was a factor for McDaniels.
“I’ll say this and I’ve said this since Day One: It’s never about one guy,” Ballard said. “It’s never about one guy. It’s about the team.”
As he now reopens his coaching search, Ballard said he won’t panic, and that like all NFL general managers, he has a list.
“We will get the right leader for the Indianapolis Colts,” he said. “I am very confident in this.”
The McDaniels reversal was a head-spinning development, coming two days after the Patriots’ loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl. New England’s deep playoff run delayed the coaching announcements for two other franchises. The Detroit Lions wasted no time in announcing Monday that former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia would be their next coach, and the Colts did the same with McDaniels.
But when McDaniels arrived at Gillette Stadium to clean out his office, owner Robert Kraft convinced McDaniels to stay in New England with a late pitch, according to Boston media reports. Kraft pulled off a similar trick 18 years ago, getting Bill Belichick to back out of a deal to coach the New York Jets with a sales pitch that ended up costing the team a first-round draft pick. McDaniels was also in the running to coach the San Francisco 49ers a year ago, until Kraft gave him a raise.
The latest drama leaves McDaniels returning to a team that, presumably, will enter another season with both Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, who will turn 41 in August. It also leaves him without an agent; The Washington Post’s Mark Maske confirmed that Bob LaMonte — who also represents Ballard — terminated his relationship with McDaniels on Wednesday.
One day, when Belichick leaves, the top job appears most likely to belong to McDaniels. He’d better hope that Kraft doesn’t make another last-minute move with someone else when that time comes.
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