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Published January 9

Colts Season Coverage 2001

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After four seasons, Colts show Jim Mora the door

By Tom James - Tribune-Star Correspondent - Indianapolis

When the NFL's Indianapolis Colts arrive in Terre Haute for the start of training camp this summer, Coach Jim Mora won't be with them.

Mora, who had been with the Colts since 1998, was fired Tuesday by team president Bill Polian in a move that had as much to do with differing views of coaching philosophy as it did loyalty.

Polian was unhappy with Indianapolis' defensive unit, which ended the 2001 season as one of the worst in the league, and wanted Mora to make several changes in the team's coaching staff - most notably defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.

While professing to like and respect Fangio both personally and professionally, Polian admitted to having some problems with the coordinator's basic defensive schemes.

Mora, on the other hand, was committed to Fangio and refused to let him go. Although there were other issues that had cropped up between the Colts' coach and president in recent weeks, such as the team's salary cap problems and contract extensions for the coaching staff, it was the fate of Mora's longtime associate that proved to be the biggest stumbling block.

For his part, Polian said that he was sorry to see Mora go. But the current makeup of the NFL makes it mandatory for teams to be able to work within a manageable salary structure.

"On behalf of everyone who works for this franchise, I want to thank Jim for all his efforts, his discipline, his work ethic, and the pride that he brought to this franchise," Polian said Tuesday afternoon. "The success that we've had is due in large measure to the values that he instilled in the team and for everything that he's done over these last four years.

"Four years ago, when we began this program, we did not envision either this day or the position that the salary cap would impose upon us. The cap commitments that we have on offense and with more to come in respect to [offensive tackle] Tarik Glenn, [quarterback] Peyton [Manning] and others, has forced us to take a tack on defense that in a perfect world we would not do. We're forced to build our defense largely with draft choices and young players. We've tried to find the best athletes, but they are, in fact, young

"As I've said before, Jim [Mora] and I had no disagreement on areas where we were short on personnel," the Colts' president said. "And that's entirely my responsibility. Some of that has to do with the cap management aspect and some has to do with some of the choices in the past that probably in hindsight we wouldn't have made.

"But my feeling was that we needed a change in defensive approach. Not because Vic Fangio is not a good coach, he is. Not because his system is not a good system. It is. When he had veteran players at Carolina, he had success. With veteran players here in 1999, he had success. And he's made every effort to accommodate the situation that we face. But I had a deeply-held conviction that because of what we faced in the future, that the quickest way to get the defense where it needed to be would be with a change in approach. Jim had an equally held conviction that that was not the way to go."

Not surprisingly, that was probably one of few things that both Mora and Polian did agree on during Tuesday's press conference.

"There are several reasons I got fired [Tuesday]. But the main one probably is that I was asked by Bill Polian to fire Vic Fangio and I wouldn't do it," Mora said.

"In my opinion, it would have been wrong to fire Vic Fangio. And it's not because he is a long time friend or a confidante of mine or anything like that. It's because Vic Fangio is an outstanding football coach and I didn't think that it would be in the best interests of this football team to let him go. That's what it basically came down to."

Interestingly, Mora was the only member of the Colts' coaching staff to have been fired. The rest of the staff, including Fangio, remains under contract to the team for at least one more year. Polian, though, said that he would listen to any offers from any other team interested in hiring one of Indianapolis' 12 remaining assistant coaches.

The Houston Texans, who will join the Colts in the new AFC South division next year, have already asked for and been granted permission to talk with Fangio about the vacant defensive coordinator's position. Houston is coached by former Carolina coach Dom Capers. Fangio, who served on Capers' staff with the Panthers, is expected to accept the position.

"That shows you just how good a coach Vic is," Mora said. "He is very well respected around the NFL and he's already got an offer to move to another team as a defensive coordinator.

"He could have left here last year to be a defensive coordinator with a team that is in the playoffs this season. But he turned it down because of his commitment to our program here. He was a finalist for the head coaching job in San Diego a couple of years ago. He's just a very good and respected football coach."

Indianapolis' offensive staff, particularly offensive coordinator Tom Moore and offensive line coach Howard Mudd, could remain intact under a new head coach. The remainder of the defensive staff along with special teams coach Kevin Spencer are not expected to return.

The increasingly strained relationship between Polian and Mora came as somewhat as a surprise to team owner Jim Irsay.

"It's not like they have been arguing with each other or having problems with each other over the past four years," Irsay said. "It's just come about recently. Quite frankly, I was surprised by it all. I tried over the last several days to find some kind of compromise between the two of them. But, in the long run, there just wasn't any compromise there."

Polian and Irsay will lead the search for a new coach, which began Tuesday evening. Both said, however, that there is no timetable in place right now.

"It could take a couple of weeks," the Colts' owner said. "But with the people we have here, especially on offense, I would think that it would be a coveted job to have. I know that I want a coach who is a leader and who knows how to lead. I want someone who is aggressive. I like aggressive coaches."

Among the names being bandied about as possible successors to Mora are LSU head coach Nick Saban, Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, New York Jets defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell, New York Giants defensive coordinator John Fox, and San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Norv Turner. Saban was a front-runner for the job four years ago before deciding to stay on at Michigan State.

When asked about the prospects of landing Steve Spurrier, Irsay admitted the idea of bringing in the offensive-minded former University of Florida coach was intriguing.

"That would be something, wouldn't it," he said.

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