Lazerus: Grigson is Highland’s new favorite son
January 11, 2012 10:52PM
New Indianapolis Colts general manager Ryan Grigson speaks during a press conference at the NFL football team's headquarters in Indianapolis, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012. Grigson comes to the team after the firing of vice chairman Bill Polian and general manager Chris Polian last week. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Updated: February 13, 2012 9:23AM
Somewhere buried in a closet in Dave Milausnic’s house is a bunch of Colts gear he’s never touched. His wife, Robyn — an Indianapolis native and Colts fan — bought it all for him, but Milausnic bleeds the blue and orange of the Bears.
Well, that all changed on Wednesday. Now the Lake Central boys basketball coach has two favorite teams.
“My wife is very happy,” Milausnic said. “Now she said I’ll start wearing all the Colts stuff she got me. I’m officially a fan of both now.”
That’s because Ryan Grigson — who played football and basketball with Milausnic at Highland High — is the new general manager of the Colts. It was a big day for Northwest Indiana sports in general, but a particularly proud one for the Trojans, who haven’t had a lot to hang their hats on for the last quarter-century.
Milausnic and all his fellow Class of 1990 Trojans spent much of Wednesday furiously texting and e-mailing back and forth about how excited they were for their old buddy Grigson. Grigson himself texted Milausnic back a little before 8 p.m.
“He’s a good friend of mine,” Milausnic said. “It’s just real neat. It’s nice to see a guy that has worked so hard achieve a dream of his.”
That Grigson has been successful in football surprised nobody who knew him back at Highland. But you never expect a guy to reach these kinds of heights. You might look at a guy with Grigson’s intimidating size in high school and say, “That guy could play for an NFL team.”
But you never look at a teenager and say, “That guy could run an NFL team.”
“Oh, God, no,” Milausnic said with a laugh. “You always kind of knew Ryan was going to be involved in sports, but at this level, obviously this is a big surprise.”
Rick Flutka never expected it, either. At least, not while he was coaching Grigson at Highland — as an assistant under Dave Shelbourne from 1986-88 (including a state championship appearance in 1987) and as head coach for Grigson’s senior year in 1989.
But Flutka kept in contact with Grigson while he played and matured at Purdue, and during his two years with the Detroit Lions and one year in the Canadian Football League. Then, when Grigson returned home to Highland and served as a volunteer assistant to head coach Brad Smith in 1997, Flutka (an assistant again) could tell Grigson wasn’t done with the NFL just yet.
“There’s nobody who doesn’t tell you their No. 1 dream as a college football player is to play in the NFL,” said Flutka, now the director of buildings, grounds and transportation at Griffith Public Schools. “But as he got closer to the end of his playing days, you knew he was going to get into coaching or the front office. When Ryan came back and worked with the linemen for a while, you could tell he had some real interest in staying in the game.”
And Grigson did what region football players do — he worked really, really hard. He got a front-office job with the St. Louis Rams in 1999, and they won the Super Bowl in his first year. He became an area scout with the Rams in 2001, then joined the Philadelphia Eagles as a regional scout in 2003. His keen eye for talent and natural leadership and people skills — Milausnic said he’s always had those, dating back to his playing days — allowed him to climb the staff directory to director of college scouting and then director of player personnel before becoming one of the hottest GM prospects this offseason.
Through most of that time, Grigson had a house in Crown Point. But he was hardly ever there. Instead, he was criss-crossing the country, visiting countless colleges and watching and evaluating thousands of players.
“He worked his tail off,” Milausnic said. “We haven’t seen him in a while, but that’s just a product of him doing his job. He’s bird-dogging all over the place looking for kids.”
To Flutka, that’s the best part. Grigson didn’t get this gig by being a big name, or by virtue of his playing career.
He got it because he earned it.
“It’s kind of a cliché, but he’s done it the lunch-pail way,” Flutka said. “He started low in an organization and now he’s a general manager. It’s not like it was something automatically handed to him because he played in the NFL. He’s worked at it for years, he traveled a lot, he spent a lot of time away from his family.”
While Milausnic’s allegiances are clear-cut, Flutka has an unusual approach to his NFL fandom. He’s not a fan of any team in particular. Instead, he roots for coaches he likes — or, perhaps, more accurately, coaches he respects. His two main critera? A coach has to be “a great evaluator of personnel” and has to have “a great attention to detail, from the first practice all the way to the last play of the game.”
Currently, Flutka’s a big Packers fan. He likes the way the organization does business, and he has a great respect for Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy.
As for Colts coach Jim Caldwell? Well, there’s a lot of things Flutka likes about him. But he’s not at the top of his list, either.
Now as for Grigson, the guy whose first order of business is to decide whether Caldwell gets to keep his job or not? Flutka’s definitely a big fan of his.
So maybe now he’ll be a fan of the organization Grigson runs, too.
“Could be,” Flutka said. “We’ll see. But it’s very exciting that he’s in that position. I’ll definitely be watching how he does.”
And maybe Milausnic can dig into his closet and loan his old coach a horseshoe hat.