Manning, Colts: Where do they go from here?

645100.jpg

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."

Report: Cubs preparing to roll the dice with Brett Anderson

Report: Cubs preparing to roll the dice with Brett Anderson

The Cubs are preparing to roll the dice with Brett Anderson, hoping the talented, frequently injured pitcher can stay healthy and provide insurance for their rotation.

Anderson posted a telling message on his Twitter account on Monday night, hinting at what would be another offseason check mark for the defending World Series champs.

The physical for the agreement — first reported by Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports and MLB Network — won't just be a formality as Anderson underwent back surgery last March and appeared in only four games for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season.

But Anderson fits on paper as a left-hander who will turn only 29 on Feb. 1 and won't have to carry front-of-the-rotation responsibilities or feel Opening Day urgency on a team with five projected starters.

The Cubs had been willing to gamble around $6 million on Tyson Ross, who recently signed a similarly structured one-year deal with the Texas Rangers as he recovers from surgery to address thoracic outlet syndrome.

The calculus would essentially be the same with Anderson. The Cubs have to factor in last year's grueling playoff run into early November, this season's sky-high expectations, the organization's lack of high-end, upper-level pitching prospects and the uncertainty surrounding the 2018 rotation.

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

Anderson finished sixth in the 2009 American League Rookie of the Year voting with the Oakland A's, but he's reached the 30-start mark only one other time and never accounted for 200 innings in a single season.

Anderson underwent Tommy John surgery in the middle of the 2011 season, and the injuries piled up from there, dealing with a strained right oblique, a stress fracture in his right foot and a broken left index finger.

Anderson had such a fragile reputation that he accepted the one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer from the Dodgers after a strong platform year in 2015 (10-9, 3.69 ERA). The Dodgers only got 11 1/3 innings out of Anderson, who didn't pitch during a playoff run that ended at Wrigley Field in the National League Championship Series.

The Cubs stayed exceptionally healthy while winning 200 games across the last two seasons and need to be prepared in case John Lackey sharply declines at the age of 38 or Mike Montgomery experiences growing pains while transitioning from the bullpen.

Whether or not Anderson is ultimately the answer, the Cubs will be looking to place a sixth starter into their plans.

"I don't know if a six-man rotation on a permanent basis is the wave of the future," team president Theo Epstein said earlier this winter. "But we certainly endorse it on a temporary basis as a nice way to pace guys for the whole season.

"We can get them some rest, whether you do it in April to preserve depth and ease guys into the season, especially after a deep October and November run. Or after the All-Star break in the summer to kind of get through the dog days and give guys a little bit of a breather as you ramp up for the stretch run.

"I think it would be tough to pull off all season long. But it's something that (could certainly work) in the right spot."

The start of preseason brings the return of hope for the Fire

The start of preseason brings the return of hope for the Fire

A year ago there was hope surrounding the Fire. Hope that general manager Nelson Rodriguez, entering his first offseason with the club, and new coach Veljko Paunovic could spark a turnaround at the club. Those new faces, coupled with an overhauled roster, meant there was hope that things could be better.

Rodriguez and Paunovic had not yet failed with the Fire so there was still that hope that they had a magic touch.

That eroded as the season unfolded and the team’s shortcomings were quickly apparent. The reworked defense seemed to be improved, but the midfield was typically overwhelmed.

Now, after the Fire finished last in Major League Soccer for the second consecutive year, that innocent hope that a new coach and general manager bring is gone. Fans have seen Rodriguez and Paunovic fail and, even though they inherited a team that was not an easy one to turn around, there will be more skepticism.

This year there is hope again, but instead of coming in the form of new management, it comes in the form of accomplished players. Juninho (a three-time MLS All-Star and three-time MLS Cup winner), Dax McCarty (an MLS Best XI selection in 2015) and Nemanja Nikolic (the leading goalscorer in the Polish Ekstraklasa in 2015-16) on paper make the Fire a better team. Can they mesh into a cohesive team that will actually perform better in matches?

“You’d like to think so,” Rodriguez said on Monday at the team’s media day at the PrivateBank Fire Pitch on the North Side. “It’s an inexact science, or at least for me it is. I know others will be more brash and saying it’s all there and all the pieces are together. Until they’re on the field, until they’re in the hotel rooms, until they’re off the field at team meals you never really know.”

[RELATED: Dax McCarty tweets thank you to Red Bull fans]

Rodriguez did say that this group is “very different” than last year’s.

“You can talk about all these clever ways to change culture, but the best way to have a winning team is to have winners as part of your team,” he said. “With those four guys (including goalkeeper Jorge Bava) at least we’ve added certified winners.”

So with two former MLS All-Stars arriving in central midfield, arguably the team’s biggest weakness last season, and a proven goalscorer, the pieces are there for the Fire to be better. Now it’s up to Paunovic to put the pieces together in a winning way.

“Obviously we have high expectations because we believe we did this job so far in offseason by the acquisitions that we had and the guys that are still to come,” Paunovic said. “It’s going to be a better team, more competitive.”

Even with the additions, the roster isn’t finished yet. Two trialists are in camp with the Fire, right backs Drew Beckie and Boyd Okwuonu. Beckie is a 26-year-old Canadian who played the 2016 season with the Carolina Railhawks in the North American Soccer League. Importantly, Beckie has a green card and would not count against the Fire’s international roster spots.

Okwuonu, 23, was drafted by Real Salt Lake in the second round of last year’s draft but was not retained. He has represented the U.S. at youth levels, including as a part of the Olympic qualifying team last year.

Right back has been an opening on the roster since Rodrigo Ramos’ loan was not renewed and no player has been added to fill that spot yet so those two could be fighting for a contract. Rodriguez said further additions to defense and midfield are still possible.

“Preseason is going to tell us where we have to improve,” Paunovic said. “Of course, theoretically we all know that there are a couple of spots still to reinforce and a couple of spots that we have to improve. For us now during all this time we are open to all the possibilities.”

The roster appears to be better, but even Rodriguez admitted he had hope last year.

“I was confident last year and the results of last year were bitterly disappointing and utterly unexpected by me," he said. "I have to believe our roster is better, whether that roster comes together the way we imagine, time will tell.”