Despite the perception from some fans that the special teams play for the Indianapolis Colts improved in 2012 over previous seasons, it seems the people in charge at the West 56th Street complex would disagree. Today, the Colts announced that the team and special teams coach Marwan Maalouf have parted ways, which, for me, sounds like nice way of saying Maalouf was fired.
Maalouf came to Indy in early 2011 after Chuck Pagano was hired as head coach. Both Maalouf and Pagano came from Baltimore. Both worked there from 2008-2011. Prior to that, both worked in Cleveland together in 2004.
If you are a disciple of Football Outsiders, this "mutual parting of ways" is interesting. The Colts special teams ranked 11th in the NFL in 2012, per FO's Innovative Stats measurement. The year before, they were 31st. Before that, 19th.
So, yes. There was some sort of improvement. I mean, Deji Karim's kick return for a touchdown in Week 17 was a first since 2009. That counts for something, right?
However, incidents like the blocked punt at Houston, or T.Y. Hilton's limited development as a punt returner, which is specifically what he was drafted for - the team is rather shocked as to how good of a receiver he's developed into - might all have factored into the team and Maalouf parting ways.
It will be interesting to see who pushed Maalouf out of the organization, if anyone. Maalouf and Pagano go way back, so it seems unlikely Pagano would force out an assistant who, in some ways, had to pick up the slack while Chuck was away from the team for three months fighting leukemia. What we do know is, back in late August 2012, during the preseason, Colts GM Ryan Grigson told the media that owner Jim Irsay had specifically charged him with improving the special teams, which, for all the years under the Polian regime, was a noted weakness.
Here's Grigson in August of 2012 [emphasis mine]:
"That is really a priority to Mr. (Jim) Irsay," Colts general manager Ryan Grigson said as he looked ahead this summer. "That’s something I really, really was striving for every day with building this roster. That’s something I really want evident from Day One.
"I want to see guys screaming down the field. You’ve got to have 11 guys with a couple screws loose and they’ve got to run down like their hair’s on fire."
Interesting. Perhaps Grigson didn't see enough "screws loose" and felt a change was needed. Did he mandate the change? Did Pagano? Did Maalouf just feel like leaving?
The last one, I doubt. The other questions, maybe. Another possibility is that a well-known, veteran ST coach might be interested in the Colts job, like former-Bears ST coordinator Dave Toub.
Regardless of the reasons, this is the first coaching change for the Colts this offseason. It also means that players like Adam Vinatieri will have have to work with their third special teams coach in three years. Hard to improve a unit when there isn't much continuity in the coaching staff.