|The Manning situation remains unresolved, but it's nearly certain Indy will draft Luck. (Getty Images)|
The Indianapolis Colts are looking for a coach at a delicate time. They're coming off a 2-14 season, Peyton Manning is holding the team hostage with a $28-million ransom due in March, and his best teammates are getting old. And the Colts' owner? He's a loose cannon.
Who would want this job?
Anyone with common sense. Because it looks like the best NFL coaching job to come open in years.
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It's Andrew Luck, stupid. If he is who we think he is, then he's the best quarterback prospect in almost 30 years. Which means he should someday be the best quarterback in the league, and the NFL is a quarterback's league. The rules have evolved so much in favor of the passing game -- from protecting the quarterback to allowing his receivers to run free -- that the game's best passers almost always reach the playoffs.
This ain't Dan Marino's NFL, is what I'm saying.
And soon, to Andrew Luck.
The last time a job came open that looks as good as the one in Indianapolis, that job was ... also in Indianapolis. It was 2009, when Tony Dungy retired. Assistant Jim Caldwell had never been more than a position coach -- other than his eight years in charge at Wake Forest, when the Deacons went 26-63 -- but the Colts promoted him to head coach because, well, let's be honest: This is a quarterback's league, and Peyton Manning was the quarterback, and everything would be fine so long as Caldwell didn't rock the boat. He didn't, and the Colts went 14-2 and reached the Super Bowl.
Otherwise... this almost never happens. A new coach almost never gets paired up immediately with a great quarterback, because great quarterbacks don't get their existing coach fired. Usually this sort of pairing is a fluke. Packers coach Mike McCarthy has never claimed to have known -- how could he? -- that Aaron Rodgers would turn into an MVP candidate.
When Bill Belichick went to New England in 2000, he drafted Tom Brady -- but not until the sixth round. Brady was a project, not a sure thing, and in any event the Patriots' franchise quarterback was Drew Bledsoe. Brett Favre? Mike Holmgren inherited him in 1992, but didn't know what he had. Only when Don Majkowski was injured in the third game of the season did everyone start to find out.
Sean Payton got the Saints job in January 2006 -- before San Diego insulted quarterback Drew Brees by offering him an incentive-laced contract. Brees took his free agency to the open market, signed with the Saints in March, and the rest is history.
Point being, coaches almost never take a job and know, just know, that they'll have a franchise quarterback. But whoever takes the Colts job will know it, or at least have reason to believe it. Whether or not Luck pans out isn't the point. The point is, he's going to be in Indianapolis -- and scouts say he's the best quarterback prospect since John Elway in 1983 -- and in today's NFL, you don't need a lot more than that.
Defense and 1,000-yard running backs are now optional in the NFL, as the Patriots (and Packers and Saints) proved this season. Maybe you can't win a Super Bowl without a great defense -- the Patriots are still in the hunt -- but the Packers won 15 games and the Saints won 13. None of those three teams got even 700 rushing yards from a single running back, either. What do they have in common? All three have a superstar at quarterback.
Just like the Colts are about to have.
There are questions, sure. The Manning situation must be dealt with, and dealt with coldly. As popular as he is around town, Manning cannot be given his $28-million roster bonus due March 8. It wouldn't even make sense to renegotiate that down to a manageable number, not if it means keeping Manning for the 2012 season and hoping his thrice-repaired neck can withstand the pounding of the position, all the while stashing Luck on the sideline. Manning has to be cut loose, and the Colts look ready to do so after jettisoning his allies at coach and general manager.
The owner is way out there, but he's only troublesome when he gets on Twitter and says silly stuff. Or when one of his B-list friends, Rob Lowe, tweets that he's "hearing" from "my people" that Manning will retire. Irsay has referred to Lowe as a "bud" and "bunker friend." Two tweets before rocking the world with his Manning retirement rumor, Lowe had sent a tweet to -- you guessed it -- the Colts' owner. Add it up, and you might be inclined to deduce that Lowe's "people," the ones from whom he's "hearing" about Peyton's retirement, are named Jim and Irsay.
In any event, the free-spirited owner is a detail that can be managed -- and so is everything else that faces the Colts' next coach. Supporting players are available through trades, the draft and free agency. They're spackle in today's NFL, something to fill in the gaps around the greatness that scouts expect of Andrew Luck. If in three years the spackle is in place and Luck is ready to become the best quarterback in the NFL, the Colts would have the most attractive coaching job in the league.
Which means that's what they have, right now.