INDIANAPOLIS - The Indianapolis Colts' sudden crash has cost coach Jim Caldwell his job.
The team fired Caldwell on Tuesday, the second major decision in what is expected to be a long offseason shake-up. Team owner Jim Irsay fired team vice chairman Bill Polian and his son, Chris, the team's general manager, the day after the season ended.
It took a little longer for the decision on Caldwell, who had just finished his third and worst season as head coach of the Colts, who stumbled to a 2-14 finish without injured quarterback Peyton Manning. Caldwell ends his Colts' tenure 26-22 overall.
"This was a difficult decision," Irsay said. "I wanted to make sure we took all the time we needed to make sure it was the right decision. ... And just like 14 years, ago, it's a big change for the franchise and at the same time, there's players, coaches, many people on the staff that will go into the new day and get on with the work of 2012."
Back in 1998, the Colts brought in Manning, Bill Polian and coach Jim Mora. The team got better fast and, though Mora was gone after the 2001 season, the franchise became one of the best in the league.
And it is now headed in a different direction, even if Manning comes back as expected from Sept. 8 neck surgery.
Caldwell who won his first 14 games, an NFL record for a rookie head coach, and became only the fifth first-year coach to take his team to the Super Bowl won't be there when the Colts resume practice. With fans complaining about game management and clamoring for a change since midseason, Irsay didn't have much choice.
With Manning, the Colts won a league-record 115 regular-season games over the previous decade, tying the league mark for most consecutive playoff appearances (nine), winning two AFC titles and one Super Bowl trophy, the Colts lost their first 13 games in 2011, then won twice in five days and nearly lost the No. 1 draft pick, too.
Without Manning, Indy started 0-8 and was the heavy favorite to win the Andrew Luck sweepstakes at midseason. Caldwell's team lost the next five games, too, before finally winning two straight to avoid becoming the second 0-16 team in league history.
A season-ending loss at Jacksonville, officially gave the Colts the top pick, which is expected to be used on Luck.
Players never gave up on Caldwell and many cited their preference to keep playing for him next season. Manning was one of Caldwell's supporters, calling the coach that helped him win a record-setting four MVP Awards a "friend."
But the disastrous 2011 season was too much for Caldwell to overcome after winning AFC South titles in each of his first two seasons in Indy.
After overhauling the front office, Irsay last week hired 39-year-old Ryan Grigson as his new general manager, then wanted to wait until Grigson had time to evaluate Caldwell's performance.
The decision came Tuesday, setting off the second major search of the month.
"Change sometimes isn't always the easiest transition to make but it's part of this game, part of this league and part of the direction we need to get going in this new era of Colts football," Grigson said.
CBSSports.com's Clark Judge says he isn't surprised by Caldwell's firing since the team seems to be headed in a new direction.
"Caldwell was a perfect transition from Tony Dungy, but it's time to move forward," Judge writes. "The team just completed a dreadful season, and nobody knows what Manning's future is. So the Colts are making a break with their past ... especially their recent past."