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Caldwell caps first season as coach with Super Bowl trip

Jim Caldwell won't pat himself on the back.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Jim Caldwell won't pat himself on the back.

Not for his record-setting season as a rookie coach that will end in the Super Bowl or for being the fifth rookie coach overall to reach the big game.

Not for becoming the first coach in league history to open his career with 14 straight wins.

If he wins the Super Bowl, he would be the third rookie coach to do it.

Maybe then, he'll cut himself some slack.

"I spend very little time thinking about those kinds of things," he said after his Indianapolis Colts beat the New York Jets 30-17 on Sunday in the AFC championship game. The Colts will face the New Orleans in the Super Bowl after the Saints topped Minnesota 31-28 in overtime in the NFC championship game.

"I've never been one to look for any special attention. I've never needed anybody to tell me I've done a good job. The great thing about this league? We've got a great barometer that tells you what kind of job that you've done, and that's that won-lost record," he said.

Peyton Manning led the Colts, throwing for 377 yards and three touchdowns. The star quarterback said Caldwell earned the team's respect after taking over for Tony Dungy, and the team took on his reserved, yet intense, nature.

"Any time you have a new head coach, there's a change, there's a different guy speaking to you every day," Manning said. "The team bought into his philosophy and his principles, we followed them, and it's led us in a good direction."

Caldwell quieted the second-guessing that came after he pulled his starters in the third quarter of the second-to-last game against the Jets, costing the Colts a chance at a perfect season.

"I really try not to focus on anything of that nature," he said. "We weren't out to prove anything. There's no sense of vindication or retribution. All we were concerned about is trying to do the best job we can for our team, plain and simple. Not everybody's going to agree with you all the time."

At 16-2, he's got the best record in the NFL and few detractors.

The Colts trailed 17-6 in the second quarter on Sunday, but much like their coach, they remained quietly sure of themselves.

"These guys have always been a confident bunch," Caldwell said. "They do a great job of hanging in there. They don't panic, and that's because of a lot of veteran leadership."

Manning said the succession plan to eventually replace Dungy with Caldwell was a key to the Colts reaching the Super Bowl this season. Team owner Jim Irsay made the decision to start easing Caldwell into the position after the 2007 season in case Dungy retired. When Dungy stepped down, it made the transition much easier.

"That has pretty much been Jim Irsay and (team president) Bill Polian's plan all along, is consistency," Manning said. "Change at certain spots that you cannot avoid, if you lose a certain player, but consistency at certain positions on the field, and certainly on the coaching staff. Obviously, it's been effective for us this year. We didn't have to adjust to a complete change of practice schedule or philosophy."

The Colts' businesslike mentality didn't change, either. New York spent much of the previous week talking trash, but Caldwell's first comments at the postgame news conference were a show of respect to the Jets.

"I want to first give credit to Rex Ryan and his team," he said. "They are a very tough group of guys that played very well and made it difficult for us."

Caldwell said he still talks to Dungy. He received a text message from his mentor in the days leading up to the game.

"His influence is profound on me," Caldwell said. "Most of the things that we do are things that were done under his guidance. We've made a few subtle changes here and there, but basically, we've kind of built upon what he established."

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