- Associated Press - Monday, January 1, 2018

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay is betting big on Andrew Luck’s health.

He’s hoping some head coaching candidates follow his lead.

One day after firing Chuck Pagano, Irsay and general manager Chris Ballard laid out their plan to search for a successor and Irsay wasted no time making his strongest selling point - Luck’s likely return in 2018.

“I am telling you that I have no doubt in my mind that Andrew is going to come back. I’m telling you that kid is a special kid. Special,” Irsay said Monday, raising his voice for emphasis.

“He was born to do great things in the National Football League and he will do great things in the National Football League.

“I believe he is going to be back and I believe he is going to be back for a long time and I believe he is going to write his name into the National Football League record books in a very strong way.”

If Luck does regain his form after missing the 2017 season following surgery on his throwing shoulder, it could make the Colts‘ job one of the most attractive.

With a healthy 28-year-old, three-time Pro Bowler at quarterback, nearly $90 million in salary cap room, one of the younger teams in the league and the No. 3 draft pick, Indy has a chance to surround Luck with a better supporting cast in 2018.

But the first order of business is finding a head coach.

Neither Ballard nor Irsay discussed specific candidates on their short list and instead only cited broad parameters of what they’re seeking.

Ballard said he isn’t concerned with an offensive or defensive-minded coach.

The first evidence came Monday when Carolina defensive coordinator Steve Wilks acknowledged the Colts are one of three teams that have already requested permission to speak with him.

The prevailing wisdom is the Colts also will look at several offensive coordinators perhaps including Josh McDaniels of the Patriots, who worked with Jacoby Brissett for 18 months in New England before he was traded to Indy in early September.

Another name to watch might be Kansas City special teams coordinator Dave Toub, who worked with Ballard with the Chiefs.

Previous head coaching experience, Ballard said, isn’t a prerequisite, either.

But Ballard, who will lead the search, insists he wants someone who is interested in more than Luck.

“I want someone that wants to come to the Indianapolis Colts,” he said. “I don’t want them to come here just for Andrew Luck. If he’s coming here just for Andrew, then he’s probably not the right fit.”

And what if the candidate is concerned about Luck’s prognosis?

“Not the right fit,” Ballard reiterated. “If he has pause, he’s not the right guy.”

Monday’s comments come three days after Luck insisted his shoulder is stronger, more stable and less painful than it was in October when his throwing program was put on hold.

In fact, Luck said, he’s now convinced he won’t need a second surgery and expects to participate in the Colts‘ offseason workouts when they start in April.

Irsay staunchly backed his star quarterback.

“I’m telling you, right now, you don’t know the fierce fire that’s burning in No. 12’s eyes,” he said. “You don’t realize what kind of fever he has for success right now. It’s a 107-degree fever that he has right now.”

In the meantime, Ballard must come up with an offseason strategy to keep the Colts‘ rebound back on track.

Last year, he completely overhauled the defense and after a slow start, the play improved during the second half of the season. Sixteen of the Colts key defensive contributors are already under contract for next season.

“I think we made some strides, coming in from a lot of different areas,” linebacker John Simon said. “It takes some time to jell a little bit and I think we made some progress and will continue to get better.”

The real key, though, will be putting more pieces around Luck and, of course, getting him back behind center.

“We’re going to add competition everywhere, that will not change,” Ballard said. “As for Andrew, we’re just going to continue down the path. He’s in a good place, we’ll start throwing again soon and that’s going to tell us a lot.”

NOTES: Irsay may have given away a little draft strategy when he said: “You put him (Luck) on the field, all healed up, and an Edgerrin James-type guy, who might be bigger and stronger and let this guy (Luck) do what he’s able to do and this is going to be a special place to play.” Penn State’s Saquon Barkley is projected to be the first running back selected and at 5-foot-11, 230 pounds is a little bigger than James was (6-1, 216 pounds) in the 1999 draft. … Indy signed eight players to reserve-future contracts. They are tight end Mo Alie-Cox, receivers Dres Anderson and Kolby Listenbee, defensive tackle Johnathan Calvin, outside linebackers Arthur Miley and Josh Perry, quarterback Phillip Walker and guard Isaiah Williams.

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For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL


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