Josh Wilson’s article titled "A Defense of Chuck Pagano" is worth your time to read. Personally, I think the title is a tad misleading because Josh doesn’t simply fill his article with light rays of Sally Sunshine bliss. Josh is a critical thinker, and he sees both the good and the bad with Chuck Pagano, head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. Also like many of us, Josh isn’t afraid to make critical statements. So, don’t take this as a counter-point article. This is me offering my 2 cents.
As Josh pointed out, there are many things to like about Pagano as a coach. Personally, my favorite thing about Chuck Pagano is that he isn’t Jim Caldwell, or Ron Meyer, or Rick Venturi, or Lindy Infante.
Those are referential euphemisms for me saying that Pagano does not suck. However, he’s also not particularly good, either.
As with all things, I approach every subject from the point of view of a fan who is fortunate enough to have friends and colleagues who work within and around the NFL. So, when I say I don’t like Pagano as a coach, it isn’t personal. If people want to think it is, I can’t help that. Just as I can’t help people who think dinosaurs lived in the time of Christ, or fans who insist Jerry Hughes wasn’t a bust.
Yes, these people do exist.
With Pagano, we’ve already noted in previous articles the specific games where his coaching was simply piss poor. Specifically, in the Oakland, San Diego, and Houston games, the Colts came in looking unprepared. We also noted how the team simply wasn’t ready for their first preseason game against the Buffalo Bills. Jim Irsay likely noted this at the time as well, which would explain why he blew up at Pagano on Twitter after the game.
I’d forgive Pagano if had just been that Bills preseason game where the Colts were unfocused and not ready. It’s preseason after all. But, it isn't just preseason where this is happening. I’m seeing a trend, and it’s something that, as a football fan, is simply unacceptable.
The primary job of any head coach in the NFL is to have his team ready to play on Sunday. Pagano doesn’t do this on a consistent basis. If you are truly looking at him and his job performance objectively, how can anyone say Pagano’s been a "good coach" if he can't consistently get his team ready to play?
Also, if you’ll notice, the Colts seem to look especially unprepared when they are facing an opponent perceived as "bad." Pagano has the skills to get his team ready to face powerhouses like the 49ers, but when they have to go on the road and face a clearly inferior Chargers team, or open their season against a shaky Raiders club, the Colts simply don’t look prepared.
Some suggested that the Colts were looking past San Diego in Week 6 towards the following game, which featured the return of Peyton Manning to Lucas Oil Stadium. My thought: YES! Of course they were. Their performance on the field confirmed it, as did Pagano’s awful coaching in the game.
The other issues with Pagano’s coaching:
- He’s a defensive coach who places extreme emphasis on stopping the run ("No edge, no chance"), and yet his run defense ranks near the bottom of the league for the second year in a row.
- His passing offense, with Andrew Luck as his quarterback, ranks 20th in the entire league.
- Despite having the worst interior guards in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus, Pagano insists on a power running game.
- He consistently punts at or just inside his opponent’s 40 yard line, a strategy that cost him, at the very least, the San Diego game.
- He was given a clear mandate by the owner to protect Andrew Luck this year. Luck has already been sacked 19 times and his offensive line has allowed 33 QB hits in just 8 games. Those 33 QB hits lead the NFL, per PFF.
However, of all of these, the two worst are the team’s inconsistent preparedness and the fact that Pagano, who is a very hands-on defensive coach, still can’t get this defense playing well. It is that second point that has me wondering: If a defensive head coach can’t get his defense to perform, then what good is that coach to the team?
At the end of the day, the job Chuck Pagano has been given this year is clear: Win the Super Bowl. Anything less will be viewed as a failure. If the expectations of Jim Irsay are not met, then the blame will likely fall on Pagano. He is the head coach, after all. When you take into account all the knocks against Pagano’s coaching, the perception is forming that this defensive-minded coach who cannot get his defense to perform is holding the team back.
If you view this sort of analysis as being "harsh," "mean," or "unfair," sorry, but this is life in the NFL, kiddies. Fairness has nothing to do with it.
I equate NFL head coaching jobs to the salesmen in the great play Glengarry Glenn Ross. Their job is simple: Close, or you "hit the bricks." The owner has very high expectations for this season. Pagano will either deliver, or he’ll "hit the bricks" eventually, just like every other head coach in this league that hasn’t closed the big sale.
However, what's important to keep in your minds is that the bar was set very high at the beginning of the year by Irsay. There's no question that this team is better than the 2-14 disaster we lived through two years ago. However, the biggest difference between 2-14 and 11-5 isn't necessarily Pagano or his defense. It's Andrew Luck, and he was going to be on this team regardless of the head coach.
Personally, I want Pagano to succeed. I want to see him holding a Lombardi Trophy. But, those desires stem from me liking Pagano, the man. Pagano the Coach isn’t good enough to win a ring in Indianapolis. Not unless he starts making radical changes in his philosophy and his overall coaching performance.