NFL Analysis: Why Did Colts Fire Gene Huey?


Already, theories are flying about the internet regarding the Colts' decision to part ways with running backs coach Gene Huey.  Considering that not 1 in a 100 Colts fans even knew who he was (or that we had a position called 'running backs coach') yesterday, the sudden interested and outrage is surprising.

The move was a shocker in part because of Huey's long tenure as a coach.  It caught Huey himself off guard.  What makes this great fodder for conversation is that there are a half dozen ways to explain the move.  Among the popular theories:

1.  Huey is a scapegoat.  Phil B Wilson popularized this one on Twitter yesterday.  It certainly makes sense.  Indy hasn't run the ball well in three years.  The team is fresh off a disappointing playoff loss, firing the running backs coach could be seen as a way of blame shifting. The team can't fire all the backs or all the linemen, so they fire a coach. The decision was delivered by Caldwell (per Huey's words).  It's easy to connect the dots.  However, unless the Colts come out and blame Huey (even indirectly) for something, we can't say with any certainty that this is what happened.  There are other explanations that are just as plausible.

2. Huey wasn't doing a good job.  While no one (except apparently Caldwell) goes from being a good coach to a bad coach overnight, Huey has been on the job in Indy for 19 years.  It's undeniable that Donald Brown has struggled to pick up the offense, and by all accounts he's a bright guy.  Javarris James, for all his touchdown vulturing, averaged less than three yards a carry.  If Huey didn't have such a long tenure, no one would be defending him now.  I personally have blamed the line more than running backs, but perhaps the Colts don't see it that way.  It's not implausible that Huey just wasn't getting the job done.  Over time, people can become complacent and slow down.  Just because someone was good in the past doesn't mean he's been good recently.  Maybe Huey deserved to be let go.

3.  It's about the money!  The lockout could be coming soon.  The Colts may choose not to renew contracts of any non-essential staff.  Huey may just be seen as replaceable, and it didn't make sense to pay him for a job he might not do next year.  The Colts have been operating on a tight budget (judged by the front office staff layed off in recent years).  Huey appears to have a soft landing (not that there is such a thing for a man forced to uproot his family and move) in Minnesota.  Huey seems to be in a position to withstand the decision better than others.  The Colts might have let him go just to cut salary, and Huey was 'non-essential' personnel that was also older and more expensive than a younger replacement.  It happens in every business.

4.  It's a sign of the times.  Caldwell just finished his second year and is continuing to assemble HIS coaching staff.  The Colts have been slowly turning over the coaching staff. There was no great upheaval as many long time coaches stayed on for Caldwell's rookie season.  Last year, the Colts added a new OC and line coach.  This year, it's the running backs coach.  Not everyone is well suited to work with everyone else.  Coaching staffs are not just about talent but personality and fit internally.  It could just be that Huey's dismissal is part of the natural shaking out that happens with regime change, but in the case of the Colts, it's been more gradual. If Huey had been let go two years ago, no one would have noticed.  True, he's survived multiple regime changes with the Colts, but that's rare in the NFL.  Coaching staffs turn over.  It's normal and not headline news.

5. There's a strategy change coming.  Some have suggested that the Colts might be moving toward a new style of back and runner.  Already, they've been slowly shifting away from a zone blocking scheme.  The Colts have lost in three straight postseasons thanks to an inability to pick up one tough yard.  Indy might be moving away from the 'sattilite back' mode that they've used for almost 20 years to a more pound up the middle style designed to get that last critical yard.  The Colts could be replacing Huey because they are going after a new kind of back for a new element of the offense.  One yard in San Diego and Indy wins.  One yard in the Super Bowl and Indy wins.  One yard against the Jets, and the Colts might well have won. 

The point is that we have NO IDEA why this happened. If it's petty blame shifting, then Caldwell should be ashamed of himself.  If it's a long overdue change in philosophy about short yardage running, then fans should be praising the move.  If it's just another casualty of the labor war, then fans should be disgusted by it.   People want to be upset at Caldwell right now because they blame him for the playoff loss.  Everyone is assuming the worst, but that's not called for at this point.

We don't know why it happened, and until we know more, we should reserve judgement.


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