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Twitter, Slow Starts, and the Perception of Chuck Pagano

Taking a look at how twitter and the slow starts are affecting people's opinions of Chuck Pagano, and not in a good way.

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Vince Lombardi is pretty much an untouchable figure in the sports world today.  You'd think he never had a bad game, but we know he did.  He had to have had a bad game at some point.  But you won't hear about any of that today, and you wouldn't have heard it much back then either.  What if he coached today?  If the exact same man called every game the exact same way and the games turned out the exact same way, would we still have this same view of Vince Lombardi that we have today?  I doubt it.

This isn't to take anything away from Lombardi, in fact, like a lot of other people I consider him to be the greatest coach in NFL history.  But it is to look at how we really evaluate coaches today - is it fair?

The Indianapolis Colts are 7-3 and hold a 3 game lead in the AFC South, and on top of that they have wins over notable teams such as the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, and Denver Broncos.  They are just two years removed from a complete rebuilding and still have several needs and have suffered several injuries.  Yet Chuck Pagano and his coaching staff has been criticized more than I can ever remember a 7-3 coaching staff being criticized.

The reason, I believe, can be traced to one of our favorite pastimes, twitter.  Through twitter, everybody with access to an electronic device can share their thoughts within seconds.  In this day and age of twitter, most people who cover sports will log on during the games and interact there, sharing their thoughts.  The same is true of many fans.  The problem is, however, that it can have a devastating effect on our analysis of games.

I tweet during games as much as anybody.  There are times where it's almost a play-by-play of tweets.  But what impact is that having?  Do we even recognize it?

Being on twitter during a Colts game has become one of the most frustrating experiences of the week for me, because I see just how many fans don't get it and I see way too many overreactions.  It's ridiculous, really, some of the stuff I get.  And I guarantee you I'm not the only one; in fact I bet it's probably the norm.  Especially during the first halves of games, fans are out in full force.  They just blast Chuck Pagano and his coaching staff.  If I tried to count the number of tweets and responses I get that go something like, "Chuck Pagano is a terrible coach! He sucks!" I would probably miss the rest of the season due to my still counting them.

That feeling has translated to many Colts fans having the same view of Chuck Pagano overall as a coach.  They say he's a terrible head coach.  I blame that on this time of "twitter analysis," when we can get reactions almost instantly and share our opinions just as fast.  Allow me to explain what I mean.

The Colts are a team that starts slow.  This is a fact.  The last three games they have been outscored by a combined score of 66-9 in the first half.  I'd call that a slow start, for sure.  And I'll be the first one to tell you that those slow starts must absolutely change.  Absolutely.  It is unacceptable, and Chuck Pagano definitely needs to be held responsible for them.  Know that I have nothing against criticizing Pagano and I have done it before and I will do it again.  But it will always be based off of a complete picture.  Notice I'll never say that Pagano is a terrible coach based off just a few plays or a bad half, in fact it will take numerous bad games for me to begin to say that (which I most definitely am not yet).  When I criticise Pagano, I say something along the lines of, "Pagano is having a terrible game today."  And if it's after the game when I say it, then it's based on the whole game, too - not just part of it.

But because of twitter, people don't see the whole picture oftentimes.  You can go back and read a tweet from the first quarter, when the coaching staff was doing terrible, without understanding that things might have changed over the course of the rest of the game.  Or you could go to bed at halftime (yes, there still are some fans who do this...) and miss the rest of the picture.  And what about those people that are reading the tweets at the beginning of the game and then view the rest of the game through those same lenses?

This brings me to another idea that I have held to for a long time - in the NFL, the start matters more than the finish.  This isn't a general rule that is true every single time (for example, the Ravens season last year is determined much more by the start than by the finish, as is the Broncos season).  But what I'm mainly referring to is an individiual's season.  Again, this isn't always true, but an overwhelming majority of the time it is.  We see this played out in awards races often - the start is more important than the finish.

Take Peyton Manning this year for example.  While this isn't the best example because of the sheer dominance and record-breaking pace he is on, I hope you can still get my point.  If Peyton Manning in the second half of the season puts up the exact same numbers as Andrew Luck did in the first half, and Andrew Luck in the second half puts up the exact same numbers as Peyton Manning did in the first half, who would win the MVP?  Probably Peyton Manning.  Why?  Because people's opinions are formed at the beginning of the season, but what many have a hard time doing is changing those opinions.  The start determines how someone is viewed much more than the end does, as a general rule.

Now on to the Colts.  They clearly are a second half team.  They have outscored their last three opponents 56-23 combined in the second half and they have three game winning drives so far this year and ten so far in the past two years with Andrew Luck under center.  Furthermore, under Chuck Pagano, the Colts are 14-1 in one possession games.  Close games are won in the second half, not the first.  The Colts are a very good second half team.  But does it matter?

I don't even know if it is possible to be a "good second half coach" in today's NFL.  I don't.  If a coach has a bad first half, that will taint the view of the rest of the game regardless of how it turns out.  Chuck Pagano has made some phenomenal second half adjustments this season and last night, his coaching staff was great in the second half.  But does it even matter when we're looking at Pagano the coach?  It should, because if we brush that under the rug we brush half of the film under the rug and base our analysis on only half of it.  What if we took the best half of Andrew Luck's season and brushed it under the rug while looking only at the worst half?  What if we took the best half of another coach - say Bill Belichick - and brushed it under the rug while looking only at his worst halves of games?  We'd get inaccurate views on them, and that's exactly what we have done to Chuck Pagano without actually realizing it.

Because his first half sets the tone of how people view him and because twitter provides us with instant reactions within seconds during a sixty minute game, it is easy for our analysis of people like Chuck Pagano to become skewed and incomplete.

I wonder what would happen if someone got off of twitter during a game like last night's game and saved all of their opinions (and their reading of other people's opinions) for afterwards.  Now they would have a complete game, filled with good (first half) and bad (second half) and it would be up to them to determine how to view the game as a whole.  I guarantee you most people would come away with a much more positive view of Pagano and his staff than they currently have.  Or what about if we showed them the second half first and then followed that up by the first half?  I guarantee you most people would have a much more positive view of Pagano and his staff than they currently do.

Remember the huge win over the Broncos?  Nobody talked about how the play calling later in the game wasn't great.  They talked about how great the coaching was in the first half.  And it absolutely was, and it was perhaps the best coaching performance of the season for the Colts.

What I'm trying to say is that two factors seem to be greatly distorting people's view of Chuck Pagano:

1.  Twitter - because twitter offers instant analysis constantly, it is easy to buy into incomplete views based off of an incomplete picture, which plays right into the second factor.

2.  The Start - in the NFL the views of fans are impacted more by the first half than the second, because they don't change their opinion but rather form them early and don't change them unless it is BEYOND obvious.

These two things work together to impact how we view Chuck Pagano.  This is what leads to calling him a "terrible head coach" in the midst of a game that the Colts won on the road against a division rival.

Here's my view on Chuck Pagano: he's not a terrible coach.  He's a good coach, actually.  He is good at second half adjustments and at keeping his team together through tough situations.  His team typically looks outmatched and confused early on, which leads me to say that he needs to get better at game-planning, but he adjusts well in games and his team wins much more than they lose.  And while Pagano is more conservative than I would like, so is every other coach, so I can't hold that against him - I'd give him major bonus points if he was an aggressive play caller but won't criticize him for doing something every other coach does too, and that is be a little too conservative.  He is still an inexperienced head coach (having been on the sidelines for only 15 career games as a head coach, including playoffs) and inherited a team that was absolutely terrible and completely rebuilding.  A year and a half later, he has them at 7-3 and with a 3 game lead in the AFC South.  His team loves him and considering all of this, I'd say he's a good head coach.  Not great (he still has a lot to work on), but a good one for sure.  Nothing close to "terrible."  He's had a "terrible" game or two, but that doesn't make him a "terrible" coach.

Am I advocating getting off twitter?  Not at all.  Am I advocating we give Chuck Pagano a free pass for the first half failures of this team?  Not at all.  But what I am advocating is that we look at the complete picture while criticizing.  If it's in the moment on twitter, understand that the game can change and that opinions should not be solidly formed until the game is over.  If you do that, you can criticize Pagano if you want.  I still will, when he deserves it.  But we'll know that we're getting the whole picture and not something else.  Right now, I know many people aren't.  Because if you're going to put the blame on Pagano for the first half failures, you'd better give him credit for the second half adjustments.  Anything otherwise is just unfair and incomplete.