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The decision was a surprise to players.
"Shock, man, just shock," safety Antoine Bethea said after finding out. "I knew there were going to be some things happening, but I didn't expect them to come so soon."
Irsay has not established a timeline for finding a new general manager, though he said he would start contacting other GMs and teams Monday night.
No decision on Caldwell is expected to be made until after the GM is hired, though players have overwhelmingly supported him.
"One thing about Jim is that he's a stand-up guy, and guys respect that," cornerback Jerraud Powers said. "He's a great coach, a good guy, and it was an unfortunate situation this year. But he never lost the locker room."
In fact, Irsay said, there's a good chance Caldwell will be back.
Whoever replaces Polian will face an abundance of decisions in a major rebuilding effort.
Manning never played after having surgery in September, when doctors fused two vertebrae to fix a damaged nerve that was causing weakness in his throwing arm.
He did, however, start throwing to teammates in mid-December and received good reviews from both Bill Polian, who was watching, and running back Joseph Addai, who was catching the passes. Doctors familiar with the procedure who did not treat Manning say he should return to a high level of play now that the fusion has healed.
If he is healthy, Irsay has promised to bring back Manning regardless of the $28 million bonus he is owed in March, potentially putting two franchise quarterbacks -- Manning and likely No. 1 pick Andrew Luck of Stanford on the same roster.
"I think I can co-exist with any player I've ever played with," Manning said Sunday. "I think I've always been a good teammate in that way."
If Manning returns, Irsay might be more likely to bring back former Pro Bowlers Robert Mathis, Jeff Saturday and Reggie Wayne, all of whom are now in their 30s, and keep other key high-priced cogs in the Colts' success such as defensive captains Gary Brackett and Melvin Bullitt.
But the Polians won't be making those decisions.
"Bill and I had a chance to have a second meeting and to have some tears and a hug, and that was good," Irsay said. "It's extremely difficult. Walking out of the locker room in Jacksonville that was a hard walk, and it's hard because my affection for them is deep."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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