Former Indianapolis Colts' head coach Tony Dungy once said:
"The true measure of an organization can be seen by how it operates without its leader".
The Colts experienced that with Dungy when, late in the 2005 season, his son James took his own life. The team faced adversity and rallied around Dungy, all the while still playing competitive football.
The Colts now face adversity once again, and once again it involves their coach. On Monday the football world was shocked to hear that current Colts' head coach Chuck Pagano was recently diagnosed with leukemia and will in all likelihood miss the remainder of the season. Just as they did around Dungy, Colts Nation will rally around Pagano (in fact, they already have).
The Colts are behind Pagano all the way as well. Owner Jim Irsay said Monday that he talked to Pagano about how "grabbing that Lombardi Trophy someday is going to be that much sweeter when we overcome this". Pagano will overcome this. It won't be easy, especially these next few weeks. However, statistics say that there is a 90% chance of a complete remission and cure. Pagano is all about winning - and I'm positive that he will win this battle as well.
It also has become even more evident these past twenty four hours how well liked Chuck Pagano is around the league and with his team. The Colts, their fans, and the entire NFL are rallying around Pagano, much like they did around Tony Dungy in 2005. But just like in 2005, the Colts have to keep playing on.
Obviously, compared to Pagano's health football doesn't matter, but his absence will most certainly have an impact on the Colts' play on the field. Let's take a look at a few of the big ones.
It will impact the Colts' transition to a 3-4 Defense
This one is probably the most obvious one. Chuck Pagano is a defensive coach, and a good one at that. His team has only played seven games under him (four preseason, three regular season). That's not enough time to establish a successful transition from a base 4-3 defense to a base 3-4 defense. Many people (including myself)expected the transition to span the entire season and then some. The lack of immediate results, while disappointing, are not overly surprising. The Colts, through three games, are giving up 27.7 points per game. Not exactly what Pagano would like, and now his defense will have to progress without him. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, brought over from San Diego this offseason (where he was fired after just one year), will now have to assume control of the progress of the defense for this year. Without Pagano for much of his first season, it may take even longer for this defense to get up to speed, which in turn could make for a rough 2012 season.
It will impact the development of quarterback Andrew Luck
This one is not necessarily tied directly into Pagano's absence, but rather the other moves that will happen as a result of it. For starters, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians will assume the head coaching duties while Pagano recovers. Arians, himself a cancer survivor, is most definitely the right man to fill in, but the question remains to be seen whether or not he can balance both the head coaching and the offensive coordinator duties. As of right now he plans to continue to call the plays, but who knows if he can keep that up. I would not be surprised to see quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen, who was the Colts' offensive coordinator the past two seasons, take over more leadership of the offense. And if that happens, there is a chance that the Colts' rookie quarterback, Andrew Luck, would get more chances to throw the football. Remember, Clyde Christensen studied under Tom Moore and coached Peyton Manning. He no doubt sees a ton of potential in Luck, and if down the road he takes over the play calling temporarily, there is a good chance that Luck would get more opportunities to throw. Which, in turn, could speed up his development. This is all purely speculation - after all, at this point Arians plans to call the plays - but it is something to watch as the season goes on.
It will impact the way the Colts play
This one kind of ties into the first two, but I want to focus here on how this could very well be the defining point of the Colts season. A young Colts team that struggled mightily with finishing games before the bye will likely now be playing with added motivation. Their first year head coach, who had already won the locker room over, is now out for the year. Jim Irsay said Monday:
"In meeting with the players, meeting with the coaches, there's nothing more that we want than to get that Green Bay game ball and have a victory game ball and be able to walk that into the hospital and put it in his hands". Bruce Arians said that he told his players that "if Chuck can't make it back for the regular season, why don't we extend the season? Play a few more games until he gets back?"
It all sounds nice, and it certainly could be a turning point for the Colts this season. But as we have seen with Sean Payton in New Orleans this year, a head coach makes a big difference in the NFL. The Colts will definitely be playing with added motivation this year and playing for their head coach, but whether that will translate into more victories remains to be seen.
It will impact the "Building The Monster"
This offseason, Chuck Pagano brought the mantra "Building the Monster" to the Colts. The whole idea was that they were building a "monster" in Indianapolis. They made big strides this offseason and preseason, but we all knew that they were still in the "building" stage, not the "monster" one. We knew they would be for the remainder of the season as well. It may take longer than that, now, however. Again, I believe 100% that Pagano, Irsay, and general manager Ryan Grigson can build this team into a "monster", but this is obviously a set back. It doesn't kill the monster, but it very likely delays its arrival. It wouldn't have been this year anyways, but the rebuilding time line the Colts have is likely pushed back a little now that Pagano will miss most of his first season.
Obviously, the main concern remains Chuck Pagano's health. But the Colts will need to keep playing, even without their leader. How this young team responds in the next few weeks will determine how their season goes.
No matter their result in the win/loss column, however, the Colts and Chuck Pagano will remain #ChuckStrong. That, my friends, is a win no matter what.