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The Curious Case of Chuck Pagano

We've criticized Colts head coach Chuck Pagano quite a bit this year. But he also deserves quite a bit of credit.

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Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

At Stampede Blue, we have been quick to criticize Colts head coach Chuck Pagano. Any regular reader of the site knows that neither Brad, Matt, nor myself is a big fan of Pagano as a head coach right now. We've written extensively on Pagano - like here. And here. And here. Also, here. As well as here. But let me back it up a bit - why?

Why are we down on Chuck Pagano as a head coach? I mean, the team is 10-5 with wins over some of the league's best teams. The Colts' Craig Kelley has some information on how good the Colts have been this year:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p><a href="">@Colts</a> with wins at SF, vs. Seattle, vs. Denver and at KC. Any win is a quality win, but those are QUALITY wins.</p>&mdash; Craig Kelley (@CraigKColts) <a href="">December 22, 2013</a></blockquote>

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<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>C Pagano now is 5th Colts HC to open career with cons. 10-plus win seasons and playoff berths (McCafferty, Marchibroda, Dungy, Caldwell).</p>&mdash; Craig Kelley (@CraigKColts) <a href="">December 22, 2013</a></blockquote>

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<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>This is only the third time in the club&#39;s 60-plus years when the team did not lose cons. games in cons. years (1967-68, 70-71, 2012-13).</p>&mdash; Craig Kelley (@CraigKColts) <a href="">December 23, 2013</a></blockquote>

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Kent Sterling even wrote recently that Chuck Pagano is a "no-brainer" for the NFL's Coach of the Year. Bob Kravitz wrote that Pagano should definitely be in the discussion. There are those people who think that, and honestly they have a legitimate argument. There are also those who were talking about Chuck Pagano being on the hot seat soon, and they have a legitimate argument as well. How can both sides have a legitimate argument?

Well, let's start with why Pagano has a case for being the coach of the year. Despite going 11-5 last year (many of those games behind last year's Coach of the Year award winner Bruce Arians), most people didn't see this year's Colts team as good enough to do that again. Last year was spurred on by the emotional situation with Pagano, but this year wouldn't be. Talent-wise, most considered the Colts to be around 7-11 wins - and the majority were going around the middle, saying 9 wins on the year.

And that was for a team that had Dwayne Allen, Vick Ballard, Ahmad Bradshaw, Donald Thomas, Reggie Wayne, and Greg Toler. The Colts have used the most players of any team in the league, and yet they were the first to clinch their division. Sure, the AFC South is beyond bad this year, but don't forget that these Colts have knocked off the 49ers in San Francisco, the Seahawks and Broncos in Indianapolis, and the Chiefs in Kansas City. Plus, they've taken care of business when expected to, taking a perfect 5-0 division record into the final week of the regular season.

I know that I have criticized Pagano this year, and he has deserved it often. His philosophy is out-dated. His in-game coaching has given us some very questionable decisions. His team's lack of consistency in the past two months has been troubling. His team being unprepared coming into games has been even more concerning. But still, Pagano's team is at 10 wins with one game left to go and will host a playoff game in just two weeks - unless, of course, the unlikely chance the Colts will get a first round bye actually happens.

Additionally, the Colts are doing very well in the areas that usually reflect head coaches, most notably in regards to turnovers. The Colts are tied for fourth in the league and second in the AFC in turnover margin with a +11 margin. They also have the fewest giveaways of any team with only 14. That says discipline.

That's not the resume of a bad coach. And while I don't expect him to get it nor do I think he should, Chuck Pagano should absolutely be in the discussion for the NFL's Coach of the Year. Bruce Arians should get it for the second straight year, but Andy Reid, Ron Rivera, and Bill Belichick are all worthy candidates as well.

There is a lot that Chuck Pagano needs to work on. There's a lot that he has done wrong this year - and if he doesn't correct some of those things I mentioned earlier (slow starts, inconsistency, in-game coaching, run emphasis, etc.) that will eventually get him fired. But not this year, and the fact of the matter is that Pagano's resume two years into his head coaching career is pretty dang impressive for anyone.

He inherited a 2-14 team that was getting ready to get rid of several of it's best players - including perhaps the best player in league history. His first year, the team made the playoffs while Pagano fought leukemia from a hospital bed for much of the season. His second year, the team made the playoffs by beating quite possibly the four best teams on their schedule. Overall, Pagano is 21-11 as the head coach of the Colts including the playoffs (.656), has two playoff appearances and a division title all the while rebuilding the team around a very young core that had to deal with their first year head coach being hospitalized. Last year, Chuck Pagano finished second to Arians in Coach of the Year voting with 5.5 votes, and yet his record in the games he actually coached was 2-3, including playoffs. This year, he is 10-5. If he can get a few votes by only coaching 5 games and having a losing record in them, he can absolutely get some votes this year. Will he? I have no idea. But he belongs in this discussion.

Many will disagree. Many will point to the failures I have already alluded to and I'm not tying to just brush them under the rug. But I also want to point out that perhaps we've missed the bigger picture, and that is that this team has won games. Not every week, but nobody does. They haven't always looked good, but nobody does. There have been some concerning losses, but everybody does. But the wins over the 49ers, Seahawks, Broncos, and Chiefs? Not everyone has wins of that caliber, and nobody has that many.

And this is why I call it the curious case of Chuck Pagano. I don't really know what my opinion of him is right now. I haven't been impressed this year with him when watching games in the past two months, and even before then, too. But when I step back and look at the big picture, I see a coach who is doing his main job - win. He's a great motivator. If you hire a coach, what does the bottom line come down to? Winning. This Colts team has done just that, and they have a chance to do the same in the playoffs this year. I've got to give Chuck Pagano credit - at the very core of what he is expected to do in his job, he is doing it incredibly well.