Hottest Seat in the NFL? Hey, Jim Caldwell, Take a Load Off…

Most of the participants–peripheral or not–are pretty clear about their desires.

If you’re a fan of the Indianapolis Colts, you want the Colts to lose on New Year’s Day to the Jacksonville Jaguars. That way you’ll lock up what many feel is the next great once-in-a-generation QB, Stanford’s Andrew Luck.

If you’re a Colts player, you want to win. Period. That was never more clear than last night when the Colts came back to defeat the bound-for-the-playoffs Houston Texans 19-16 for their second win of the season. To players, Luck has nothing to do with it. These guys are playing for their suppers.

And then there’s Jim Caldwell, the Colts head coach.

Like any coach, he’d like nothing better than to coach a team with a great (or at least potentially great) quarterback. And Luck’s that guy. Lose and you ensure yourself of going from Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck, with just a little bit of Dan Orlovsky.

Win?

Beating the Jags would put Luck in play, with the Minnesota Vikings and St. Louis Rams also in the running for the top pick.

And should the Colts lose Luck to one of those team, well, that New Year’s Day win in Jacksonville might go down in infamy in Colts lore.

That said, a Colts win might also allow Caldwell to keep his job.

Might being the operative word.

Had the Colts run the table–or more appropriately, had the table run over them–Caldwell would have almost certainly been fired. Though his record was a sterling 24-8 coming into this season, the stink of 0-16 (along with the still-bitter memory of the Colts failing to “go for” undefeated in 2009, Caldwell’s first season; and losing to the Saints in Super Bowl XLIV, where the general consensus was that he was outcoached) would have been too much to survive.

That said, owner Jim Irsay doesn’t seem to be the type who over-reacts to short-term aberrations. After all, he paid Manning his full $26 million for this season, even though he didn’t play a down. And he looks to be willing to pay the 35-year-old Future Hall of Famer his $28 million option in March (which would) engage the final four years of his current five-year, $90 million-contract), even though he’s coming off a neck injury that would make his comeback a damn-near a miracle.

It wouldn’t have surprised me if Irsay had retained Caldwell, even if the Colts had gone oh-for’11. Especially since the team would be selecting Luck, giving the coach the kind of gem he should have the chance to coach after enduring this kind of hell.

It also wouldn’t have surprised me if Caldwell had been canned. In fact, he reportedly expected to be fired if the Colts had gone 0-16. It’s the nature of the business–win or go to the television studio.

But the Colts won’t go winless. In fact, they’re one of the hottest teams in the NFL. Okay, not really but after all they’ve been through the deserve to stick their chests out a bit.

But right now I’m not sure if Caldwell feels he’s done enough to save his job. More important, does Irsay believe his head coach deserves at least another year on the sideline?

A victory on New Year’s Day might be enough to help Caldwell retain his headset–but it also might cost him and the franchise dearly.

To paraphrase Dirty Harry: How Lucky you feelin’, Jim?

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