Ryan Grigson had some huge shoes to fill when he succeeded Bill Polian as Indianapolis Colts general manager. The shoes fit.
Grigson's first season has resulted in a playoff berth and one of the greatest turnarounds in NFL history, from two wins last year to 10 this year heading into Sunday's regular-season finale against Houston.
Excluding the decision to release Peyton Manning and pick Andrew Luck first in the NFL draft – decisions put into place by owner Jim Irsay – here's how I'd rank Grigson's best moves so far:
1. Hiring Chuck Pagano
Grigson met with then-coach Jim Caldwell and his staff before deciding on an almost clean sweep of the staff. The search commenced on finding the right man to lead the new era of the Colts. Pagano had a strong reputation as a defensive coordinator and assistant coach – as evidenced by the outpouring of support when he was diagnosed with a form of leukemia.
Pagano immediately built camaraderie within the team that came to the forefront when his illness hit. The way they played for him when he wasn't physically there says a lot.
The only thing left is to see how Pagano manages games, since he's only coached in three this season.
2. Naming Bruce Arians the interim coach
This was Pagano's idea, but Grigson had to sign off on it. Given that Pagano had coached only three regular-season games in his first stint as a head coach, Grigson had to trust that Pagano's instincts were right. The move turned out perfect. Arians maintained Pagano's vision for the team, and pushed all the right buttons.
3. Drafting well
Even if you take Luck out of the equation, Grigson made some bold and effective moves in the draft. Some questioned drafting two tight ends, Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, but Allen proved he was a great acquisition, setting a team record for catches by a rookie tight end. Fleener has had some moments.
T.Y. Hilton and Vick Ballard were both quality picks that met with some question from outsiders initially. It's hard to imagine where the team would be without them. Both look to be long-term assets. LaVon Brazill remains a work in progress and Josh Chapman remains a mystery.
4. Re-signing Reggie Wayne
Wayne's return served two purposes: 1) He's still one of the best receivers in the game and he was able to help Luck and the younger receivers develop, and 2) He gave the fans a connection to the glory days.
The latter point was a bonus, and couldn't be considered a primary reason to bring Wayne back. But the fact is, there were some shell-shocked fans when Manning left and Wayne's return (along with that of Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney) eased the pain.
5. Signing Jerrell Freeman
This was one of Grigson's first moves, landing the former Canadian Football League linebacker, and few people took much notice at the time. It was one of those offseason moves that every team makes, stockpiling players for training camp.
Freeman merely stepped in when Pat Angerer went down and became the team's best linebacker and leading tackler. He has a drive that epitomizes the Pagano staff's direction, especially on defense.
6. Signing Cory Redding
Again, this was a Pagano suggestion that Grigson backed. Redding's arrival brought a player who knew the defensive scheme and mindset Pagano and coordinator Greg Manusky wanted to implement. Redding played with the Baltimore Ravens and had their defense-first intensity.
He's vocal and extroverted, always bringing the adrenalin to a boil before games. Redding's closeness to Pagano spilled over to his teammates, too.
7. Releasing the big-name guys
On March 9, two days after an emotional farewell to Manning, the Colts released Joseph Addai, Gary Brackett, Melvin Bullitt, Dallas Clark and Curtis Painter. The first four were integral parts of the team's recent success.
At the time, it felt like ripping a Band-Aid off an open wound for Colts fans. But it was the right thing to do in order to move forward with a new team. Addai, Brackett and Bullitt haven't played or been on a roster since. Brackett has been a huge public supporter of the Colts even since he was released. I could see him returning as a coach someday.
8. Finding complementary players
These players aren't stars, but they have been able to fill roles while the team is building. Grigson traded for offensive lineman Winston Justice and signed wide receiver Donnie Avery and cornerback Darius Butler to fill roles. All have started and helped win games.
Another example would be safety Tom Zbikowski. I'm not sure he's a long-term starter for the Colts, but his background with the defense and relationship with Pagano during their Baltimore years was a plus in implementing the system.
9. Trading for Vontae Davis
This one remains controversial, given that Grigson surrendered a second-round pick for the Miami Dolphins cornerback. Davis has been hurt on and off and burned at other times. But the last few weeks, he has played his best football and the potential for him to be a quality starter remains there.
The fact Grigson was willing to deal in-season for a starter reflects his goal of winning now, and Colts fans have to embrace that.
10. Instilling a “win now” philosophy
Grigson refused to buy into the idea that the Colts needed two or three years to return to a contending status in the NFL. He made sure the coaching staff knew he expected to win now and he made sure the players knew that.
Grigson has not been afraid to make moves, to change players, to make the business decisions that might not be the most popular.
At 10-5, he's done most things right. It'll be fascinating to see where he and the Colts go in Year 2. But that step can wait for now.