Manning, Colts: Where do they go from here?

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Manning, Colts: Where do they go from here?

From Comcast SportsNet
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Jim Irsay has big plans for the Colts' future. He just hasn't worked through the details yet. Two weeks after overhauling the front office, Indianapolis took the next big step in its major housecleaning project Tuesday -- firing coach Jim Caldwell after three seasons. "This (search) is something that's going to start immediately and I really think we're going to get a coach that's going to lead us going into the future, and I think it's a bright future," Irsay said Tuesday. "It's tough to change and go forward, we've had such excellence and greatness here over such a long period of time and that's what I expect us to do again." Irsay is following the same plan he installed after the 1997 season. Back then, a season-ending loss on the road allowed the 3-13 Colts to clinch the No. 1 overall draft pick. The next day, Irsay fired the general manager and the head coach and eventually changed quarterbacks. It could happen again with a little more deliberation. The day after losing at Jacksonville to post their worst record (2-14) in two decades and wrap up this year's No. 1 pick, Irsay fired team vice chairman Bill Polian and his son, Chris, the Colts' general manager. Last week, Irsay hired 39-year-old Ryan Grigson as the replacement for the Polians. Since then, Grigson and Irsay have been in almost constant meetings debating the future of the coaching staff. On Monday, Caldwell and former Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo met in Indianapolis about the Colts' defensive coordinator job. Most took it as an indication Caldwell would be retained. That was still the conventional wisdom Tuesday. Eventually, Irsay and Grigson proved the pundits wrong. Irsay said he told Caldwell of the decision at about 2 p.m., shortly before the team confirmed the firing. "We've talked about where we want to be more balanced," Irsay said. "We want to be excellent on defense and more consistent, and I think that's something that we're looking at as part of the vision. I don't think the guy has to be offensive or defensive or anything like that. It's a heavy lifting process right now." It's unclear where the Colts will turn next. Yes, Grigson acknowledged, he has a short list of candidates. Not surprisingly, he didn't say who was on the list, which could include names such as Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, Eagles offensive coordinator Mary Mornhinweg and perhaps Spagnuolo. Neither Grigson nor Irsay provided a timeline for the hire. "We want leadership. Leadership is important," Grigson said after making his first big decision in charge of an NFL team. "We want strong leadership, and we want someone who shares his vision in this new era of Colts football. We want the best man and the best leader and the man that gives us the best way to go." One thing they did agree on: The future didn't include Caldwell After winning his first 14 games, an NFL record for a rookie head coach, and becoming only the fifth first-year coach to take his team to the Super Bowl, Caldwell did a masterful job guiding the injury-plagued Colts through a thicket of injuries and back to the playoffs in 2010. But those successes all came with Peyton Manning, who led the Colts to a league-record 115 regular-season wins in the previous decade and a record-tying nine straight playoff appearances. This year, with Manning out the entire season, the Colts lost their first 13 games. Among players and coaches, Caldwell was universally well-liked. The list included Manning, who won all four of his record-setting MVP Awards with Caldwell on Indy's staff, as well as perennial Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday. "I think coach Caldwell has done a very good job. He has gotten the most out of his players, and we play hard for him each and every week," Saturday said before the season finale. "We haven't necessarily played well, we've made mistakes and done things, but they have, oftentimes, been things that we've talked about in coaching meetings." Outsiders often saw it another way. Fans frequently complained about Caldwell's game management, and some critics referred to Caldwell as a "puppet" of the Polians. Many never forgave Caldwell for pulling the plug on a perfect season in a Game 15 loss to the Jets in 2009 and pointed to the midseason firing of defensive coordinator Larry Coyer and the long delay in replacing Curtis Painter with Dan Orlvosky at quarterback as decisions that should have come much earlier. Irsay and Grigson did not characterize Caldwell's 1,099-day tenure the same way as fans. But with Grigson already searching for a new coach and presumably preparing to take Andrew Luck with the No. 1 pick, the questions now turn to Manning, who had his third neck surgery in 19 months on Sept. 8. The Colts still are not saying much about Manning's recovery, and Grigson has not yet spoken with Manning, who is owed a 28 million bonus in early March. "We're not even there with anything regarding Peyton Manning just yet," Grigson said. "We have to know about his medical stuff, first. There's so many things there." Caldwell ended his Colts' tenure 26-22 overall with one AFC title, two division crowns and one bleak season that has left him unemployed just three years after replacing close friend Tony Dungy, the first black coach to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. "This was a difficult decision," Irsay said. "I wanted to make sure we took all the time we needed to make sure it was the right decision. ... And just like 14 years, ago, it's a big change for the franchise and at the same time, there's players, coaches, many people on the staff that will go into the new day and get on with the work of 2012."

Three takeaways: Third line leads the way for Sharks

Three takeaways: Third line leads the way for Sharks

SAN JOSE – In an important rebound performance, the Sharks handled the Winnipeg Jets fairly easily in a 5-2 victory at SAP Center on Monday afternoon. They put an end to a stretch of losing five of seven (2-4-1), and have now won three of their last five (3-2-0). Here are the three main points we’re taking away from the game…

1 – Third line leads the way

We focused on Joel Ward in our primary game recap yesterday, as Ward’s performance and the play he made on the second goal stood out. But Ward’s linemates Timo Meier and Chris Tierney also put an end to lengthy scoring streaks, as Meier got a goal for the first time in 13 games and Tierney got one for the first time in 14 games.

All three players had two points, with a goal and an assist each, while Tierney and Ward were each a plus-three (Meier was a plus-two).

“Obviously for a forward you want to score goals but sometimes you just have to be patient,” Meier said. “It’s my first season in the NHL and [I’m trying to] stay patient, work hard and just keep going and do the little things right. I know it will build up to success if I do the little things right.”

Tierney was in need of a strong game maybe more than anyone else, as he continues to fill in on the third line for an injured Tomas Hertl, who still has no official timeline to return. Tierney had just one point, an assist, since scoring that goal against the Senators on Dec. 14 headed into Monday.

He liked the way his line was working.

“Both those guys on the wing are big heavy guys,” he said. “They get in the corners, they win puck battles. They go to the net hard, they get pucks out of our own end. It’s pretty easy.”

Here’s one stat we missed on the postgame sheet, too: Ward was a perfect nine-for-nine in the faceoff circle.

2 – Don’t underestimate the goaltending

While everyone got a laugh at Martin Jones’ failed try at an empty net goal in the closing seconds, Jones was as important a player the Sharks had on Monday. The Sharks looked like they were taking some time to get into the game, perhaps unaccustomed to the early start, and Jones made some point-blank saves to keep it scoreless before Ward’s shorthanded score. 

"They came out ready to play,” Pete DeBoer said of the Jets. “The first five minutes Jonesy made some big saves, allowed us to kind of get our legs going. And then I thought we really started to play.”

On the other end, goalie Michael Hutchinson wasn’t nearly as sharp. He was off his angle on Ward’s goal, and on Brent Burns’ power play goal, he failed to read the shot going wide and it deflected in off of the back of his skate. 

I tweeted before the game that it seems like there are more NHL teams than usual that are dealing with goaltending problems these days. In fact, the Jets got so desperate after Monday’s game that they recalled former starter Ondrej Pavelec from the AHL. The Sharks clearly don’t have that problem, so long as Jones remains healthy. Jones’ importance to this team simply can’t be overstated, and it was proven again on Monday.

3 – Slowing down the Jets

Several players spoke about how the Sharks were able to slow down the Jets, who possess some pretty speedy players, after that initial push. Winnipeg beat the Sharks twice last season in three meetings.

“I just thought once we got pucks in [deep], [we had] some poise to hold on to it and make plays, just slow them down a little bit.” Ward said. “They’re a fast team obviously, really good on transition. If we could play in their end a little bit and frustrate them a little bit mentally, we’d get some chances.”

Jones said: “I think after the first 10 minutes we really started taking over the game. We did a good job slowing them down. They’re a really fast team with some good forwards. We did a great job through the neutral zone, kind of eliminating their speed.”

49ers Mailbag: Shanahan the overwhelming favorite, if he wants it

49ers Mailbag: Shanahan the overwhelming favorite, if he wants it

The 49ers have interviewed six head coach candidates and nine prospects for the general manager position.

During the search, 49ers executives Jed York and Paraag Marathe admitted to candidates that mistakes were made and the roster is in shambles. They have also promised all the resources necessary and plenty of patience in fixing the problem, according to multiple sources.

Three of the 49ers’ six original coach possibilities – Sean McVay (Los Angeles Rams), Sean McDermott (Buffalo Bills) and Anthony Lynn (Los Angeles Chargers) -- have already taken jobs elsewhere. Perhaps the top candidate, New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, decided against uprooting his four children from the East Coast and remain in the no-lose situation of working with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady for at least another season.

That leaves Kyle Shanahan and Tom Cable as the last known candidates for the job. And this is where we go to our 49ers Mailbag to answer questions submitted on our Facebook page:

Do you think Kyle Shanahan will be our next coach?‬ (Praize Rodriguez)
I’m not able to predict how strongly Shanahan, 37, wants to become a head coach at this stage in his career. But it appears to be his job if he wants it.

The 49ers decided to wait on McDaniels and Shanahan. McDaniels announced on Monday that he has removed himself from consideration. That leaves Shanahan as the overwhelming favorite for the job. Really, he is the only legitimate candidate for the job.

Cable is regarded around the league as a good coach. In the right circumstances, maybe he will again get the opportunity to be a head coach in the NFL. But the 49ers might be the worst fit, considering what occurred when he was in the Bay Area as the Raiders coach. Cable's time with the Raiders ended with allegations he punched an assistant coach, breaking his jaw, and had a history of domestic violence.

The 49ers will be able to speak again with Shanahan after the NFC Championship. If the Atlanta Falcons lose, they can get the deal done immediately. If the Falcons advance to the Super Bowl, they must wait until after the game to make things official.

The last team to wait for a Super Bowl coach was the Atlanta Falcons, who ended up with Dan Quinn, who signed a contract in the early morning after the Seattle Seahawks’ loss to New England in Super Bowl XLIX in February 2015.

That worked out pretty well.

Who would be the best GM fit if the 49ers hire Kyle Shanahan?‬ (Brad Peltier) ‬
The 49ers were the only team with a general manager opening this offseason after firing Trent Baalke. With no competition, the 49ers compiled a strong list of interviews for the job.

Assuming Shanahan wants the coach job, he will be able to meet with the finalists for the general manager position and see which of the remaining candidates he believes is the best fit for his philosophy on building a roster.

York and Marathe set out two weeks ago to find the best pairing of coach/general manager, so their input and direction during the final phase will be pivotal, too.

Arizona’s vice president of player personnel Terry McDonough looks like a strong fit. McDonough is believed to have Shanahan ranked at the top of his list of coaches even though the men have never worked together. McDonough has experience on the pro and college scouting sides, and he has helped build one of the top defenses in the NFL with the Cardinals.

Green Bay director of football operations Brian Gutekunst also has extensive history as a college scout, and he impressed the 49ers with a strong interview on Jan. 5. There is also some buzz about Minnesota assistant general manager George Paton and Seattle co-director of player personnel Trent Kirchner.

Who do you think will be the defensive coordinator if Shanahan takes the job?‬ (Ryan Cruz)
The 49ers last year received permission from the Houston Texans to interview linebackers coach Mike Vrabel for the position. Vrabel’s stock has only risen after the Texans ranked first in the NFL in total defense under coordinator Romeo Crennel. Vrabel turned down Chip Kelly's job offer.

Vrabel’s name surfaced for the first time this offseason as a head-coaching candidate, though he did not receive a formal interview. This would be a good opportunity to Vrabel to, in essence, be the head coach of the defense while Shanahan’s focus is solely on the offense. This could be a tempting situation for Vrabel because Shanahan's offense does not present the same issues and concerns that defensive coaches had working on the other side of Kelly.

Another strong candidate to join Shanahan’s staff as defensive coordinator is Falcons’ secondary/senior defensive assistant Marquand Manuel. Manuel played eight NFL seasons as a defensive back and worked with Falcons coach Dan Quinn at the University of Florida, then Seattle before moving onto Atlanta.

If Shananahan is coach, is Kap pretty much done in SF?‬ (Juan Ito Heredia)
Of course, that decision on what happens with Colin Kaepernick and the remainder of the roster will be up to the new head coach and general manager.

But one of the 49ers’ main selling points is a fresh start and a clean break from how things have happened in the past. That means the head coach will be free to choose his own staff. That means the general manager can structure the scouting department as he chooses.

That also means, of course, that the coach and general manager will have all the power to assemble the roster.

It is difficult to believe any new coach and new general manager will not want to hit the reset button and start over at the quarterback position.