On what is usually a quiet day for players and coaches around the National Football League, who usually have Tuesdays off, there was certainly a lot of news coming from the league this week.
First came reports that the Jacksonville Jaguars had fired coach Jack Del Rio and that the team had been sold to Illinois businessman Shahid Kahn. The sale of the team, though, won’t be finalized until a vote of NFL owners on Jan. 4.
Then came the news that the Indianapolis Colts had fired defensive coordinator Larry Coyer and that backup Dan Orlovsky will start at quarterback in Sunday’s road game with New England.
Coyer, a long time friend and confidante of coach Jim Caldwell, has been in charge of the Colts’ defense since the start of the 2009 season. He replaced longtime coordinator Ron Meeks when Caldwell took over as head coach after Tony Dungy’s retirement.
“We’ve made an organizational decision [Tuesday] afternoon, we actually made it [Monday] night, to relieve Larry Coyer of his duties as defensive coordinator. Mike Murphy is going to take over those responsibilities of certainly manning the defense but also handling his linebacker coaching duties as well,” Caldwell said during a hastily called press conference.
“The move was made to improve our production and obviously our communication as well. As we, and when I say we I’m talking about [vice president] Bill [Polian] and [vice president and general manager] Chris [Polian] and I have had discussions, and certainly came up with the best move for us at this particular point in time. We feel this is the most effective and realistic way of moving forward and getting ourselves in position to win games. We certainly appreciate everything that coach Coyer has done for us over the three years and appreciate all of his efforts and hard work because he really was certainly a strong team member.”
Murphy, who has been with the team since 1998, will take over as defensive coordinator for the remainder of the season. He has been a defensive coordinator on the college level at Idaho State (1976) and at the pro level (the Canadian Football League’s Saskatchewan Roughriders from 1979-83). This is his first NFL coordinator assignment.
The timing of the decision to jettison Coyer and replace Curtis Painter with Orlovsky is interesting. The Colts had a bye prior to last Sunday’s home game with Carolina. That would have seemed like a more opportune time to make changes rather than waiting until a few days before a rough road trip to Foxborough.
“There’s never a good time, never a good time to make a move like this, whether it’s early, late or after the season. It’s difficult. You’re dealing with individuals in their profession and also families as well. But this was the best decision and best time for us to make a change and make something happen,” Caldwell said of Coyer’s dismissal.
“We tried, we waited, we took a look at different situations, we had two particular weeks to prepare for this particular game [with the Panthers], thus here we are. So we’re looking at the future now, obviously, trying to make certain that we look forward and talk about the immediate future of this next game coming up this weekend. We’ve got to get ready to go.”
From a personal side, removing Coyer from his coaching staff hurts. The two have been close since Caldwell played for Coyer as a defensive back at Iowa. He was also a graduate assistant coach under him for one year at his alma mater.
“It’s not an easy day," Caldwell admitted. "I’ll be honest with you. Anybody that would tell you any differently is coldhearted and callous. That’s not me. I’ve known him a long time. He coached me in college. Good man. Hard worker. And I certainly appreciate everything he has done for us.”
There will be some changes in terms of scheme and personnel with Murphy running the show on defense. The Colts coach, though, didn't want to get into specifics.
“Certainly you’re going to see some things that change a little bit. I’m not going to go into the details of what those things are because I don’t want to certainly give our opponents any advantages in that regard, but you’ll see some adjustments," he said.
“But overall, the core of our principles in terms of how we run our [defense], and in essence this is also getting back to some of the things we used to do and do well.”
The Colts' new defensive coordinator is well respected in the team's locker room and has close relationships with several key players, including defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.
"Murph certainly understands the system extremely well. He’s been in it. He coached it at its inception, when it was first put in here, and he’s a guy that has a good breadth of the defense just overall in terms of calls," Caldwell explained.
“He’s always relayed the calls into the game. He’s been integral and certainly involved in the game planning week to week. He’s at a position where he has to know, and particularly the linebackers -- they’re like quarterbacks -- so they know everything. They know what’s going on in front of them; they know how to adapt, and also what’s going on behind them."
As for Orlovsky taking over as the team's starting quarterback, the Colts coach said the timing was right for such a move.
"After evaluation and taking a real good look at him, I think Curtis [Painter] had a couple of good weeks to really get it under under his belt. We had two solid weeks in terms of [bye] week and then going into the[Carolina] ball game," Caldwell said. “[Curtis] did some things better but overall not quite what we were looking for."
Orlovsky — who grew up and attended high school in Shelton, Connecticut and played at the University of Connecticut — will be returning to familiar territory this week. He has completed 14-of-21 passes for 122 yards in limited playing time this season.
"He’s a guy that certainly is comfortable within the framework of the [Colts' offensive] system. He’s also a guy that’s been around the league a while so he’s able to adjust and adapt to different systemic problems that you may have or see from a defense, give you different looks. He can adjust to those very easily," Caldwell said.
"I’m anticipating he’s got a nice strong arm. We’re anticipating that he’s going to be accurate as well and that’s key. The big thing, obviously, is to stay away from turnovers and he’s got to play smart and not scared.”
The Indianapolis coaching staff will most likely pare down the team's offensive system in order to best utilize Orlovsky's abilities.
"We will do adjustments according to his strengths. That’s one of the things that you have to look at and certainly have to evaluate. So what we’ll do is let him do the things that he does well within the framework of our offensive system," Caldwell said.