11. Chuck Pagano, Colts
"He's a couple of playoff wins, maybe a conference title-game appearance, away from cracking the top 10. Pagano has instantly made owner Jim Irsay's wholesale shakeup from two years ago pay off. Before and after his cancer fight in his rookie year and in the full season afterward, Pagano has pulled together the threads of a rebuilt roster, gotten the full support of his players, and steered Andrew Luck deftly through his introduction to the NFL."
Just for reference, the coaches before Pagano were Bill Belichick (Patriots), Pete Carroll (Seahawks), Tom Coughlin (Giants), Sean Payton (Saints), Mike Tomlin (Steelers), Andy Reid (Chiefs), John Harbaugh (Ravens), John Fox (Broncos), Jim Harbaugh (49ers), and Mike McCarthy (Packers) were listed ahead of Pagano - if you don't notice a trend already, all of those coaches already have established, proven track records of winning in the league. Seven of the top ten coaches have Super Bowl rings and the other three have all made it to the Super Bowl. In other words, out of all the coaches that have not made the Super Bowl, Sporting News ranked Pagano as the best among them (and also too consider that Lovie Smith and Jim Caldwell, two guys who have also taken their (former) teams to a Super Bowl, are ranked after Pagano).
It's no secret that we've been critical of Chuck Pagano often here on this site, but we also need to keep it in perspective that Pagano has taken a team that won 2 games the year before he got there and who got rid of several of their best players and turned them into a playoff team in each of his first two years. He's switched the defense from a 4-3 to a 3-4, he's won a division title, and has won a playoff game. That's not a bad resume whatsoever - but still, you get the feeling sometimes when watching the Colts play that he's not the best in-game coach.
Let's look at some of Pagano's strengths and weaknesses for a moment:
Chuck Pagano is a great man, first and foremost. He's a family-first guy and has brought that atmosphere to the team. There is absolutely no doubt that the players really love and respect him and there is absolutely no doubt that Pagano is a huge draw for free agents and that players want to come to Indianapolis in large part due to Pagano (and some guy named Andrew Luck). Pagano is a terrific motivator and he brings the necessary fire and passion, though doing so in an appropriate way that isn't over-the-top. He is hands-on in his coaching and is willing to help players improve and learn. In-game, his half-time adjustments often seemed to do wonders and help the Colts out a lot. He has also been heralded around the league as a very good secondary coach.
Chuck Pagano's in-game coaching was rather suspect last year. I wrote about it several times, but perhaps no game showed this better than the playoff loss to the Patriots. Whether it's a time-out or a decision on whether to go for it on fourth down or even the issue of being too conservative, Pagano made several suspect coaching decisions in-games last year. Furthermore, sometimes his game plans seem suspect as well and it often seemed like it took the Colts a quarter or two to just get the feel for what to expect, after which they played fine. Lastly, his emphasis on having a run-first offense is old-fashioned and hurt the Colts a lot last year and is something that he needs to adjust on - and that has been covered plenty on this site as well.
For six days out of the week, Chuck Pagano is a simply tremendous coach and is fantastic. But when it comes to game-days, Pagano still has some improving to do and he still has to convince some people that he is a good coach in that area. I don't think he's the best in the league and I don't think he's the worst in the league, and I don't think he's close to either extreme. I would say being ranked 11 is probably about the perfect spot to place Pagano - not yet in the top ten but on the cusp of it if he can improve his in-game coaching and convince people in that regard.
Year three will be a big one for Pagano. People will be watching him closely and he will need to continue to prove himself. And perhaps, with a good year, he could move up on this list next year - perhaps even joining the ranks of the coaches who have made the Super Bowl.
On June 24, 2014, Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano's first book, "Sidelined: Overcoming Odds through Unity, Passion, and Perseverance." releases. It details Pagano's battle with leukemia and the lessons he learned through that and how he returned to coach the Colts to a winning season the year after. If you're looking for an inspiring read from the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, it's worth a read. You can pre-order your copy here.