The Indianapolis Colts need saving. The organization has an interim head coach with no collegiate or professional coaching experience and no quarterback of the future. The Matt Ryan trade has been a total flop, and the mid-season switch to Sam Ehlinger was an even bigger disaster. Indianapolis entered the 2022 season with playoff expectations. It is now December, and the team has less than a one percent chance to reach the postseason.
How can Jim Irsay win back the confidence of the Colts faithful? He needs to make a big swing to attract two former Indianapolis quarterbacks back to the organization. Those two quarterbacks are Jim Harbaugh and Andrew Luck.
From Sunday: With his old team the #Colts having an opening for a head coach, NFL teams are doing homework on Jim Harbaugh again and at least a few key people believe he'd consider it. https://t.co/GuNcagl6Yt
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 5, 2022
Jim Harbaugh’s stock will never be higher than it is right now. He has flipped the narrative of his stint at Michigan, dominating Ohio State in consecutive years en route to College Football Playoff appearances. Teams will undoubtedly be interested in the former San Francisco 49ers head coach. Harbaugh has flirted with NFL jobs in recent years, most notably interviewing with the Minnesota Vikings this past offseason. Some may ask why Harbaugh would leave the Wolverines after his recent success. He is coaching at his alma mater, is a back-to-back Big Ten champion, and has nearly unlimited job security. However, the Colts opening is no ordinary vacancy.
Irsay has already shown a fondness for bringing former players onto the coaching staff, hiring franchise legend Reggie Wayne as the team’s wide receivers coach and hiring Saturday as the interim head coach. Harbaugh was the Colts’ starting quarterback for four seasons from 1994-1997. He led Indianapolis to the playoffs in 1995 and 1996. He won the NFL Comeback Player of the Year and AFC Player of the Year awards in 1995, and the team inducted him into their Ring of Honor in 2005.
Unlike Wayne and Saturday, Harbaugh has a long and successful career coaching in college football and the NFL. He led the 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance in the 2012 season, losing to his brother John’s Baltimore Ravens 34-31. That alone gives Harbaugh the credibility for another shot at coaching in the NFL if he wants it. His ties to the Colts franchise make the hire a no-brainer for Indianapolis. Irsay should prepare to offer Harbaugh whatever it takes to return to the organization, this time as their head coach.
If Indianapolis is able to sway Harbaugh to leave Ann Arbor, there is one more phone call they need to make. That call is to Andrew Luck. He has stayed largely out of the public eye since his abrupt retirement in the 2019 preseason. Recently, Luck opened up to the football world in an ESPN article.
The piece outlined Luck’s difficult decision to step away from the game three years ago. He was finally ready to talk about the way his career ended, and explore his relationship with football. Luck was still playing at an elite level. He won the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year award in 2018 before retiring, throwing for 4593 yards and 39 touchdowns while leading Indianapolis to round two of the playoffs. That phenomenal season was not enough to shake three straight years of injury-riddled seasons, and Luck ended his career prematurely.
Luck was only 29 years old and had been in the league for seven seasons when he shocked the NFL community with his sudden departure. He was considered a generational prospect at Stanford and in the 2012 draft. Luck was one of the faces of the NFL during his career in Indianapolis. His retirement was a difficult pill for Colts fans to swallow, especially as the Colts have failed to find a stable replacement at quarterback.
Time for the Colts to heal old wounds. Three years later, it is time for the organization and fanbase to reconcile with Luck. In the article, Luck revealed that he regrets how things unfolded but is at peace with his decision. He has been very open about football’s impact on his mental health and personal relationships. Soon to be a father of two, Luck has gained a newfound sense of purpose and happiness outside of the sport.
Still, that itch for football remains. Indianapolis needs to reach out to Luck to test his interest in returning to the team in any capacity. Luck is just 33 years old. He’s younger than Russell Wilson and Matthew Stafford. Would he entertain a return under center? It has been three years since he played competitive football. Players like Randy Moss, Rob Gronkowski, and Marshawn Lynch have retired and returned to football at a similar age. However, they only spent a year away from football each. A three-year gap is unprecedented, but if there is any athlete that could make the comeback, it is Andrew Luck.
The Colts have opted for the veteran quarterback route three consecutive seasons to mixed success. Phillip Rivers took the team to the playoffs in his final NFL season. Indianapolis then traded a first-round pick on Carson Wentz before missing the playoffs and moving on from him the next offseason. Matt Ryan is on a two-year deal, but the team only sent a third-round selection to get him.
It looks like the Colts will finally infuse youth into the quarterback room. Currently projected to select ninth overall in the 2023 draft, Indianapolis is most likely out of range for a day one starter. This class is rich in developmental quarterbacks like Will Levis, Anthony Richardson, and Tanner McKee who will be in the Colts’ draft range. They would need a bridge quarterback, and who better than one of the most cerebral signal-callers ever?
The Indianapolis roster also contains many win-now pieces including star running back Jonathan Taylor, defensive lineman DeForest Buckner, offensive lineman Quenton Nelson, and edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue. Luck would be able to play on a competitive roster while mentoring the quarterback of the future. Indianapolis needs to add one more playmaker and improve the offensive line this offseason to be a quarterback destination. Still, the infrastructure is in place for someone like Luck to succeed. The perfect situation would have to be in place for Luck to return to the NFL as a player. A reunion with his college head coach, Jim Harbaugh, in Indianapolis is as good as it gets.
Perhaps a different role would be a better fit for the married man. Luck has recently expressed an interest in coaching. Irsay has demonstrated with the Saturday and Wayne hires that experience is not required to join the Colts staff. Luck has a reputation of being a brilliant football mind dating back to his Stanford days. One of the best nuggets from Wickersham’s article was that Luck’s teammates nicknamed him “the assistant tight ends coach” due to his involvement and expertise in the film room and his understanding of techniques and schemes.
Regardless of role, the Indianapolis Colts need to get Andrew Luck back in the building. He has the demeanor and personality to help energize the Indianapolis locker room as the team approaches a crossroads. Pairing him with Harbaugh would inject the fanbase with the optimism and excitement they have lacked since Luck retired.