If you've followed this blog throughout the 2013 season, there's no doubt that you have read at least one article about the job Chuck Pagano did during the season. I wrote several - a few defending him and a few criticizing him. I feel like every time I did criticize him it was fair and deserved, and I don't take any of it back now. But what I did learn this season is that it truly is a marathon and not a sprint, and it's unfair to judge a marathon runner based on just one leg of the run instead of the race as a whole.
To me, it feels now like the constant analysis through the season is like trying to evaluate a movie halfway through. You can't make a fair criticism or assessment until you've seen how the movie ends and have watched it through, therefore having seen the whole picture.
Because of the media age we are in today and the constant, 24/7 analysis of football, of course we are going to post opinions in the moment and we simply can't just wait to see the whole picture. But I did learn this year that, while I'm going to continue to post analysis in the moment, I need to temper that with the understanding that it is indeed a marathon and not a sprint.
There are two ways of evaluating Chuck Pagano in 2013, and depending on which view you take, your opinions of him will be different. Here are those two views, and then I'll discuss which one I take:
View One - Big Picture: Those who take this view look at the Colts 11-5 record and their playoff win in just their second year of a rebuild and say that Chuck Pagano did his job incredibly well, as the primary way of judging a coach is by wins and losses. These people will also point to the overall talent of the roster and how several players were injured. They will point to how Chuck Pagano is very well liked by his players and how he is a good motivator, which is important for a head coach. Yes, there were a few bumps along the way but there were more high points than lows and overall the Colts had a very successful season, which Chuck Pagano should get credit for.
View Two - Detailed Picture: Those who take this view look at the specific coaching of Chuck Pagano in games and in preparation for games and see a coach who was in over his head a lot. These people will point out how the Colts were continually outscored by a lot in the first halves of games, and Pagano's game planning was not very good coming into several games and the Colts did not look ready. They will find specific errors of Pagano's and dwell on them, such as the punt in the playoffs against the New England Patriots that essentially was Pagano waving the white flag. These people will mention how Pagano's defense still wasn't very good, either. To these people, Chuck Pagano's in-game coaching and game planning is too much to ignore and that the coach had a very bad season.
I absolutely believe both views are true. They can coexist, but the real question when it comes to evaluating Chuck Pagano is which one you think is more important. They're both true, but which one should we dwell on? You can see why people have differing opinions of Chuck Pagano that are all rooted in truth, can't you? It's a complex thing. Here's my take: I tend to see the first view as the most important one for a head coach. I think that a head coach should ultimately be held responsible for wins and losses first and foremost. I also think that he should absolutely be held responsible for the state of the locker room. I would say that actual coaching for a head coach comes third. Pagano wins games, that's clearly evident - he won 11 regular season games this year and won a playoff game, too. Pagano also has control of his locker room and it is a very healthy and good environment - the players like and respect Pagano and there are great veteran leaders who help make the Colts locker room a good one. On the third point, Pagano has struggled a bit. He hasn't been great at in-game management or at game planning. But there are ways to fix those things. Pagano is still learning, and if he wanted to he could even bring someone in the booth to help him out on situations in game (such as when to punt, etc.). If you bring someone in to help you in that situation, I see it as a strength. If you bring someone in because you can't control a locker room or you can't win games, I see that as an admission that you've lost control and are unfit to be a head coach. Additionally, consider that coaching mistakes are fixable. But if you've lost control of a locker room, it's very, very, very hard to fix that.
I'm not saying that Chuck Pagano is without fault. He wasn't great this year and absolutely needs to get better. I believe he can and he will, but at the same time I think that the positives on the season for Pagano are hard to ignore, too. It's a very confusing thing to try and evaluate Chuck Pagano's 2013 season, but I don't think it was as bad as several others do.
What about the coordinators? Pep Hamilton was in his first year as the offensive coordinator of the Colts after serving in the same position at Stanford for the past few years. Like Pagano, Hamilton had his struggles this year. He was stubborn in his commitment to the run game and that resulted in Andrew Luck not being able to truly be Andrew Luck early on. We've seen Luck thrive in a running offense at Stanford, but not with a poor offensive line and a poor running game. It took Hamilton too long to adjust, but credit to him he eventually did. At times Hamilton's play calling was bad and he often got too conservative, at least early in the season. There is absolutely room for him to improve, but also consider that he was in his first season as an NFL offensive coordinator, and he was coming to a team that was not suited whatsoever to run the type of offense he ran at Stanford. There is obviously going to be an adjustment period, and while it was longer than we would have liked, he was in his first year and still learning just like any first year player too. The biggest reason why I think Hamilton actually had a good season, however, was because he lost a lot of key players. Starting tight end Dwayne Allen, who was going to play a huge role in the offense this year, didn't even make it through one game before being injured and done for the year. Starting running back Vick Ballard tore his ACL in practice the week after the first game of the season. Starting left guard Donald Thomas tore his quad shortly into the second game of the season and was lost for the year. Starting running back Ahmad Bradshaw injured his neck in a huge week three win over the 49ers and was done for the year. Starting wide receiver Reggie Wayne, one of the best receivers in all of football, tore his ACL in week seven and was done for the year. This offense wasn't just affected by injury, it was ravaged by it and Pep Hamilton deserves a lot of credit for keeping things together and keeping the offense afloat and playing well even after all of those injuries. When you look at that, honestly what Hamilton did with that offense was remarkable, honestly.
Someone many people wondered if he would be fired after the season was defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. He was not fired, and I thought that was absolutely fine. Why? Well, the biggest reason is because I give him a sort of pass for the defense because it really is Chuck Pagano's defense. I'm not making excuses for Manusky and his defense must improve or else he won't be here much longer, but he gets a little bit of leeway because of the fact that Pagano really runs the defense and not Manusky. While I was more positive on Pagano as a head coach, his defense failed this year, especially the run defense. In the playoffs in particular, they gave up 87 points combined in two games. That is absolutely unacceptable. Pagano is very involved in the defensive game planning and scheme and things like that, while Manusky is responsible for the play calling and is involved with the defense throughout the week, too. The defense wasn't good in 2013, and something needs to change. Perhaps Chuck Pagano is indeed in over his head trying to handle the head coaching duties while also coach the defense. Maybe he needs to take a step back from the defense - not completely, but a step back from what he is currently doing. Maybe he should focus more on head coaching duties and give Manusky a bit more control of the defense. I'm not saying he should abandon it but rather that maybe he needs to stop being the head coach and co-defensive coordinator and instead be a defensive head coach. I don't know whether that will work, but it might.
Overall, I thought the coaching staff had a good season. There were ups and downs, for sure, and there are clear ways for everyone to get better. The key is to keep improving. If the coaching staff continues to improve, then the coaching staff is nothing to worry about. I thought they did a good job in 2013, but hopefully they'll do an even better job in 2014.
COACHING STAFF GRADE: B
For more in-depth analysis of the Colts' 2013 season by position, check out Josh Wilson's other position reviews: