Who are the best head coaches in Indianapolis Colts franchise history?
Breaking down these coaches will take you on a trip down memory lane.
For the purposes of this article, we will limit the scope to coaches in Indianapolis Colts team history – the men who called the shots for the Horseshoe from 1984 to the present day.
We will also rank the coaches on their respective records and long-term impact on the franchise.
3. Frank Reich (2018 – Present Day)
Admittedly, this one was a tough call – third spot was a toss-up among Frank Reich, Chuck Pagano, and Jim Caldwell.
Caldwell won 24 games in his first two seasons with the Colts from 2009 to 2010.
He also guided the Horseshoe to Super Bowl XLIV – a stinging 31-17 loss to Drew Brees‘ New Orleans Saints.
He had a solid veteran group that was a perennial Super Bowl contender.
Alas, Caldwell’s coaching career in Indy ended on a sour note when Manning missed the entire 2011 NFL season due to a neck injury.
The end result was predictable: the Colts won just two games and promptly started the “Suck for Luck” campaign.
With Andrew Luck under center, Pagano won 33 games in his first three seasons in Indy.
He guided them to three postseason appearances during that time frame.
Unfortunately, the “Chuckstrong” era went into free-fall mode from 2015 to 2017 – the Colts averaged barely seven wins per season during that stretch.
More from my recent sitdown with #Colts coach Frank Reich, who says: “There’s no doubt this can be a championship team in 2022. You get these high expectations, which are good and it’s appropriate. But there’s a lot of things that have to go right.” @nflnetwork @NFLTotalAccess pic.twitter.com/j0rLBY9dpy
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) April 2, 2022
Reich gets the edge over Caldwell and Pagano because he has had to endure the Colts’ maddening quarterback carousel since Luck hung up his cleats in 2019.
Caldwell had Manning for two seasons – the latter sat out the 2011 NFL campaign.
On the other hand, Pagano had Luck for five seasons – Luck missed the entire 2017 NFL season.
To his credit, the Horseshoe still managed to average nine wins per year from 2019 to 2021.
Sure, Reich’s aggressive calls on fourth down sometimes gets him in trouble.
Give him credit, though – the man is a risk taker.
2. Jim Mora (1998 – 2001)
Jim Mora’s three predecessors – Ron “Slick” Meyer, Ted Marchibroda, and Lindy Infante – couldn’t get the Colts over the hump during their respective tenures
No matter what Meyer, Marchibroda, and Infante did, Indy couldn’t find its mojo on a consistent basis.
Mora, Manning’s first head coach in the NFL, promptly changed all that.
While Colts fans would rather forget Mora’s first season in 1998 (3-13) and final season in 2001 (6-10), he set the tone for the Dungy era and the franchise’s winning ways in the 2000s.
Mora guided Indy to a gaudy 13-3 win-loss record in 1999.
It turned out the acquisition of future Hall of Fame running back Edgerrin James was what the Colts badly needed that year.
With Edge on board, Indy made consecutive postseason appearances in 1999 and 2000.
Those teams’ core included Manning, James, Harrison, and tight end Marcus Pollard.
Mora finally got the Colts over the postseason hump.
Colts Nation will forever remember Mora for his epic “Playoffs?!” rant in 2001.
However, they should also remember him for setting the tone for the Colts’ dominance in subsequent years.
1. Tony Dungy (2002 – 2008)
This one was a no-brainer from the get-go.
No other coach in Colts franchise history helped the team assert its dominance over the competition more than Dungy.
Dungy revitalized the Colts, a weak defensive squad, with his Tampa 2 defense when he took over the reins in 2002.
The results were nothing short of spectacular.
With Dungy calling the shots from 2002 to 2008, the Horseshoe averaged an amazing 12 wins per season.
It was the 1st SB to feature an African-American head coach, with Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith pic.twitter.com/j0XwEvaY5m
— NFL Stats (@NFL_Stats) February 4, 2022
The Colts also won five consecutive AFC South division titles and Super Bowl XLI – the franchise’s first Vince Lombardi Trophy since relocating to Indy in 1984 – in 2006.
Dungy and Manning joined forces and promptly turned basketball-crazy Indiana into a football state while their NBA counterparts, the Indiana Pacers, struggled as the Dungy era wound down.
Long story short, Tony Dungy, a man of high character, helped changed the Colts’ identity and turned them into winners.
That’s why he’s the best coach in Indianapolis Colts franchise history.