Earlier in the summer, we mentioned how ESPN's Mike Sando polled league insiders and ranked Andrew Luck as one of five "tier one" quarterbacks, fifth overall in the league. Now, Sando is at it again, polling league insiders to rank the head coaches (insider piece).
In order to compile his list, Sando talked to 30 people he calls "league insiders" - 8 general mangers, 4 former general managers, 4 personnel directors, 4 other executives, 6 coordinators, and 4 position coaches. Much like he did with the quarterback rankings, Sando had the insiders vote on each coach and put them into tiers - with one being the best and five being the worst.
Earlier this offseason, Sporting News ranked Colts head coach Chuck Pagano as the 11th best in the league, and ESPN's ranking again puts him kind of in the middle of the league - in fact, ESPN ranks him right in the middle. Sando's league insiders ranked Pagano the 16th best out of the 32 NFL head coaches, placing him first among the tier three coaches. Wrote Sando:
16. Chuck Pagano, Indianapolis Colts (2.60 average)
Pagano has had just one full season as a head coach after missing much of 2012 during his cancer fight. One voter felt good enough about what he has seen to place Pagano in the top tier. (This voter tied one other voter with nine first-tier votes. The average was 5.1 and the low was two.)
"One of the things I thought about is getting your players to play for you," this voter said. "Even though Bruce Arians was running the show [in 2012], I think his players played for [Pagano]. It was a little personal and emotional, but I felt that was a group of players doing whatever they had to do to play for him. This past year, when Bruce was gone, they wound up winning in the playoffs without having an overly talented team. They played their butts off for their coach more than anyone else. He did a great job of motivating them."
Another line of thinking says the Colts lucked into a franchise quarterback and are benefiting from playing within a weak AFC South featuring zero other franchise QBs. That said, the Colts defeated San Francisco, Seattle, Denver and Kansas City last season. "I think he is a good coach, but some contributing factors make me want to see more against better competition," one executive said.
Chuck Pagano's success speaks for itself - a 22-10 regular season record, two playoff appearances, a division title, and a playoff win in two seasons at the helm after taking over for the worst team in football in 2012. This year, he's got a team that many expect will contend for a Super Bowl. Big picture, he's done a great job. But there are doubts by many. One of them was that the success in 2012 - much of which came while Pagano was away battling cancer - was due to interim head coach Bruce Arians (currently with the Cardinals), who the list ranked as the 13th best coach in the league and who received multiple "tier one" votes. As is normally the case, it's probably both - as the one voter quoted above noted, the players rallied around Pagano, but it was also a great job by Arians that kept the team together and winning.
In 2013, Pagano's team beat the three best teams in the league, but in other games they looked unprepared. And so, entering year three, we're left with Chuck Pagano sitting around the middle of the pack when it comes to head coaches. His team has a chance to be really good, and Pagano himself is a good year away from cracking the top ten of these lists. But he's had too many questionable in-game decisions, too many games where his team comes out flat and unprepared, and too many questions to be ranked that high right now.
Chuck Pagano is a tremendous guy, has done a great job with the Colts so far, and his players absolutely love him. But he's also raised some question marks with his coaching, and as a result a ranking around the middle of the league is probably accurate right now. Honestly, I expect him to be ranked higher next year (possibly even in the top ten), but for right now this ranking seems pretty close.