Good news: Peyton Manning, future Hall of Famer, will have a statue in his likeness unveiled at Lucas Oil Stadium the day before the Colts host the 49ers in a Week 5 matchup.
Bad news: Manning’s first coach in Indianapolis, Jim Mora, who led the team from 1998-2001, won’t be in attendance. Not because he doesn’t think highly of Manning the man and football player, but because of ongoing bad blood with former Colts general manager Bill Polian.
“I told him I wasn’t going to come,” Mora said Wednesday during an appearance on WNDE 97.5 FM in Indianapolis. “I had reasons. I would love to come back there, but because of the way I left the Colts, my relationship with Polian, I don’t know. I just wouldn’t feel that I would feel comfortable being there. … “I would love to come, but I think I would just feel a little bit awkward there. It was a big part of my career. I coached some really good players there. I loved the organization. I loved the city. It was a great city.”
In four seasons, Mora went 32-32 but things got off to a rocky start in ’98, he and Manning’s first year in Indy. The Colts finished 3-13 and Manning threw 28 touchdowns. But it all came together a season later; the team finished 13-3 before losing in the divisional round, and they returned to the playoffs a year later after going 10-6. But after 6-10 mark in ’01. Mora was fired, the story goes, because he refused to fire then-defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
“That’s exactly true,” Mora said. “I didn’t walk away, though, I got fired. It was either fire Vic or fire me. I was asked by Bill Polian — I was told by Bill Polian — he wanted me to fire Vic Fangio. I said, ‘Well, he doesn’t deserve to be fired.’ He’s an outstanding coach, was then and he still is. So we had talks with [owner] Jim Irsay, it came down and I wouldn’t do it. …
“I couldn’t fire a friend or a coach that I felt was very qualified that didn’t deserve to be fired. So I got fired. That was it.”
According to Football Outsiders, that 2001 Colts defense ranked 29th in the league. The unit improved to 16th in 2002 under new coordinator Ron Meeks. And Mora’s replacement, Tony Dungy, led the Colts to a 10-6 mark and a return to the playoffs.
In addition to the statue, Manning’s No. 18 jersey will be retired and he will also be the 14th member inducted into the Ring of Honor, joining Dungy and Polian.