MIAMI — Even then, the cornerback didn't have a lot to say. He was methodical, and he was reliable, but when it came to speaking his mind, young Jim Caldwell picked his moments.
Still, he was a team captain, and Iowa was a huge underdog, and that was Penn State in the other locker room. So the quiet cornerback stood, and with an even, calm voice, he began to talk.
He talked about not being in awe of anyone, and he talked about how no one could make you feel inferior if you did not allow it. The speech didn't last long, and it didn't get loud. But there was muscle in the message, and his teammates listened. When it was over, not a word was spoken.
On that day, back in 1976, Iowa upset Penn State 7-6.
On that day, Larry Coyer — then the Iowa secondary coach — knew he was seeing a future coach.
"It was unbelievable," said Coyer, now the Colts' defensive coordinator.
"I've heard a lot of guys talk, and I've never heard anything like it. It was the best heart-to-heart I've ever seen a guy have. I think it had a lot to do with us winning that game."
Thirty-four years later, Caldwell still doesn't talk a lot. But once again, the players around him have heard his message. Once again, it seems, Caldwell has something to say.
He is quiet, and yes, he is a little boring. Caldwell may have the smallest ego of any coach in the NFL. But he is also efficient, and he is organized. Also, he is in the Super Bowl. For a guy completing his first season as an NFL head coach, that isn't bad.
"It's been an amazing thing to see," said Coyer, 65. "He's the same now as he was then."
Not quite. Caldwell doesn't cover as well as he used to. Back in the day, Coyer remembers Caldwell as "a Ronde Barber type," smart and physical. If Caldwell hadn't wanted so badly to coach, Coyer is sure he could have made it as a nickel back in the NFL.
As it is, things have worked out just fine. Caldwell is one of those coaching lifers who has moved from this job and that to another and another. He coached under Howard Schnellenberger at Louisville. He coached under Bill McCartney at Colorado. He coached under Joe Paterno at Penn State.
He was 38 when he was hired as a head coach for the first time, and that was at Wake Forest. He worked under Tony Dungy for a year in Tampa Bay, and he followed him to Indianapolis.
And now, at 55, he is in the Super Bowl.
"I am humbled by it," Caldwell said. "Humbled and honored."
That's how Caldwell talks, almost as if he hitched a ride with the Colts players to get to success. And yes, he had some advantages. Taking over the Colts was certainly a better situation than, say, taking over in Detroit or in St. Louis or in Tampa Bay or in any town where the quarterback wasn't named Peyton Manning.
Even now, you can hear people wonder where Caldwell finished in the coach of the year voting. There are those who would add him to a list of coaches — Don McCafferty of the Colts, Barry Switzer of the Cowboys, George Seifert of the 49ers and Jon Gruden of the Bucs — who supposedly won Super Bowls "with someone else's players."
It's a silly accusation, and it's tiring because seasons are different and teams evolve. Did the Colts come from behind eight times this year because Dungy used to coach them? Of course not.
And if the victories are because of Dungy's success, can the blame for Dwight Freeney's ankle be blamed on Dungy, too? Why do only the good things get assigned to the previous coach?
"That's almost impossible to say that," said Clyde Christensen, Dungy's old offensive coordinator with the Bucs (and now the Colts' receivers coach). "To say that is an insult to what Jim has done and to what Gruden did in Tampa."
Remember this: Even Don Shula, the legendary Dolphins coach, was once accused of winning with George Wilson's players. By George Wilson. Wilson suggested "even Joe Doakes" could win with his Dolphins even though, actually, Wilson had not.
"The season is too long," Coyer said. "Somewhere along the line, a coach has to put his stamp on the team, and Jim has. This is his team."
As for Caldwell? Well, he doesn't seem to care who gets the credit.
"I'm not certain there has been any real large contribution that I've made, to be honest with you," Caldwell said. "I've just done my job, and that's what I'm supposed to do.
"I'm supposed to work with our team, make certain they are doing things the right way from a fundamental standpoint, organizing practices, tightening up the schedule, sticking my nose in places where I think it needs a little emphasis here or there. Other than that, I've just done my job."
So who is Caldwell? He's a guy with a little more volume to his voice than Dungy. He's a guy who devours books and who collects interesting quotations. Christensen will tell you Caldwell is a funny guy. Coyer says he's an intense guy.
Yes, he's the guy who rested his starters rather than go for an unbeaten season. He's the guy with the computer mind that never crashes. He's the coach without a boiling point.
"I don't get angry very often," Caldwell said. "As a competitor, you certainly get upset about some things that maybe aren't going so well. That will come out sometimes.
"Nevertheless, this game does not take great speech makers. It's inspiration by exhortation. I'm not an individual that's gifted with golden-throated oratory. We like to keep it simple and straightforward. I think our team responds to that."
On Sunday night, Caldwell will lead his team into one more game. Once again, he'll do it without beating his chest or proclaiming his genius.
As for Coyer, he can't wait to hear what Caldwell says just before kickoff.