His boss encouraged him to continue to find time to work out. So even in the most harried and stressful times in the frantic early stages of his tenure as the Colts' new general manager, Ryan Grigson periodically found his way to the team’s weight room.
“I lift weights a few times a week,” he said. “I should do more cardio. I feel like I got ran so hard as an athlete, if I don’t have to run I don’t want to. I like to lift hard.”
Forty-five hard minutes or an hour in the weight room take him way back, to early childhood memories.
“We had York weights in my basement. I was five years old and I’d see my dad down there with my uncles with their work boots on and cutoffs and tool belts, down there lifting. My brother is a big lifter. I just stick to basic movements that crush you real fast. It’s more work and less time. That’s all I can do here.
“The workout is the same every time: dips, pull-ups and bench press. I do it hard and I do it fast and I get out. It definitely clears your head. It’s good to get that blood flowing. Even early on [Colts owner] Jim Irsay would tell me, ‘Get in that weight room, get a workout.’ It gives you energy. When I was burning that midnight oil early on to the point it was ridiculous, when you had no time to sleep because you couldn’t turn your mind off, without those workouts, coffee and the support of my wife, I don’t know if I would have made it through.”
He had more to make it through than most first-time general managers.
Grigson took over a team that was about to part ways with an icon. He had no relationship with Peyton Manning, and Irsay was making the call. But as Grigson was introduced as the new GM, and later when he spoke to the press at the combine, he faced hard questions he couldn’t really answer. He sweated under the bright lights, and squirmed at least a little.
Nearly anyone would have.
Fast forward to last week’s draft.
He looked and sounded like a different guy, talking about his draft picks and the start of something, not the end.
“People have told me that, that I seem more relaxed,” he said. “When I am in the moment before, I’m still being me, maybe I just have my game face on, I don’t know. It sure is nice now to be able to talk about the guys we took and not have to sidestep anything.”
He’s not being cliché when he talks about going day-by-day, minute-by-minute, and even second-by-second. He spoke of being ultra-focused. When you are a laser beam like that, it’s believable when you talk of having no timetables for a return to prominence.
Before the draft, Irsay tweeted out a reminder of how long it took the Colts to win a playoff game after drafting Peyton Manning in 1998. (The Colts beat the Broncos and the Chiefs in the 2003 postseason.) Many analysts thought the plea for patience wasn’t something the owner needed to send out at that time.
But clearly, despite adding No. 1 pick Andrew Luck, the Colts need time. They cut or lost at least 10 of the 22 players who would have been opening day starters if the old regime stayed in place and kept its people. They are eating a giant amount of dead money against their 2012 salary cap to gain financial freedom in 2013.
When I said something about the need for patience being obvious, Grigson was pleased.
“That’s refreshing to hear you say that,” he said. “A lot of people seem to think that we can do that all at once. You have to have four drafts combined and 30 picks to get all the best players that you wanted. It’s not happening.
“There has to be an element of patience within the organization. That was a very key trait I saw in Mr. Irsay from day one. We have pillar guys who are helping us moving forward. But everyone knows no one is looking at us to do anything.”
The Colts couldn’t address every position of need in the draft and they have to reshape some of what remains. Indy will have to scheme around and deal with being weak at certain positions this year, like at cornerback.
“There are positions that scheme-wise, haven’t been as vital due to what they did,” Grigson said. “At specific positions we need different body types maybe, different types of athletes with different skill sets.”
During the initial minicamp and in offseason workouts, guys have picked things up, bought in and started learning nuances of the position that may be different. Players who will ultimately be gone may be asked to transform their game.
“They’re working, it’s nice to see guys really working,” Grigson said. “Coach [Chuck] Pagano and his staff have created an air of enthusiasm. We know we have a very long road to hoe and no one denies that. But we’re out there doing what we can control, and that’s to go full speed, to listen, to get in the playbook, to lift the weights, to condition, do all those things, the little things with high intensity.
“I look at it in a very simplistic view. I tell my kids if you hustle and work really hard, good things happen. If you cherry pick and just kind of loaf around, nothing’s ever going to fall in your lap. You’re not going to be that guy who gets a fumble recovery for a touchdown or a pick bounces off someone’s shoulder pads and lands in your hands. That usually happens to someone who’s flying around.”
His wife and five children have not joined him in Indianapolis yet, which gave him more leeway to put in the ridiculous hours he felt were necessary before the draft. His only respites were those weight room sessions, Sunday Mass and an occasional frozen pizza heated up and eaten while he watched the news or found a decent movie, preferably a comedy.
Otherwise, he was watching film, assessing issues, making decisions.
When I’ve asked people around the league about Grigson, they talk about him with respect. He’s regarded as a quality personnel man with the qualities needed to lead a front office and build a team. He inherited a tough situation with Manning’s departure, but he’s also incredibly fortunate to have Luck.
Grigson knows this rebuild is going to be hard and take time. He’s excited to get to another stage, where he can walk past the clicker in his office and not have it work like a magnet, pulling him back to watch more film. At this stage, player study no longer trumps everything else.
But even at this slower time, there is plenty pulling at him, plenty to do. He will soon add to his scouting staff. He’ll continue to work with Pagano, trying to maximize the coach’s chances of success. He’ll watch offseason practices, considering the tiny pictures and the big picture the tiny ones combine to create.
“It’s like I’m a rookie left tackle and every game I’m facing Michael Strahan, Bruce Smith, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis,” he said. “Hopefully in the end all these experiences that I’ve had will help me to be a better GM and a better football man.”
Hopefully, at least three times a week, he’ll find his way to that weight room, fall into his routine, and build up the sort of big sweat that clears his head, at least for a little while.
“As long as it keeps me from looking real bad,” Grigson said, “then I’ll keep doing it.”