Editor's Note: Depending on how long you've been following Stampede Blue, you might remember Stewart Blake writing for us in the past. We're excited to have him return to do some writing for us, so be sure to give him a nice welcome back!
It’s in every turnover. Every missed block. Every interception. Every loss.
In 2012, when the Colts "lucked" into drafting a once-in-a-generation franchise quarterback, things appeared to be different.
A "monster" was to be crafted to protect the Luke. The Colts wouldn’t win simply with an offense for the ages, much like they had done for so many years, but instead with the true compliment of a defense and capable run game that would hit an opponent in the mouth and then ask, "Want some more?"
That was Chuck Pagano’s supposed mission statement.
He worked within a Ravens defense that included smash-mouth components and no apologies. The Ravens were a brick wall standing in the way of the run game, and with Pagano’s finesse as a secondary specialist, the Ravens took flight, excelling in all areas of the defensive attitude. Ed Reed. Ray Lewis. Terrell Suggs. Haloti Ngata.
They were a team fueled by juggernauts of defense.
A soft-spoken and likable guy from his first press conference, Chuck was a "player’s coach." A guy you could stand beside without fear. The perfect head coach.
So what in the hell happened?
As a fan patiently sitting on the proverbial sidelines each Sunday, it’s easy to cast a shadow with the finger of judgement that you point. But the fan is more than just background noise. A fan has power. They can act as a measuring stick of accountability. At times they may be blind, they may be fanatical, but they are ultimately what makes the game of football one of the world’s most popular and lucrative sports. No one expects teams to make management decisions based on knee-jerk reactions from the fans, but they do expect a team to consider their loyalty and engagement as an additive to decisions that they are getting paid an inordinate amount of money to make.
In 2015, Colts fans have faced some of their darkest days since the Kerry Collins experiment. They expected a Collins-led team to suck, but now they've watched their team climb the rungs of the NFL ladder to become a legitimate Super Bowl contender, once again, only to watch management set it all on fire and subsequently just shrug their shoulders with every passing week. Now, with the announcement of Andrew Luck’s lacerated kidney that will sideline him for up to six weeks, and perhaps longer, things have went from dark to pitch black.
There are darker days ahead, but perhaps its necessary for the greater good of the franchise in some rule utilitarian kind of way.
Pagano will continue to take the blame on game day for blunders like arguably the worst trick play in sports history, while Ryan Grigson will try to look fully concentrated in his suite, only to appear as a disillusioned puppet master that can no longer hide his mistakes behind the curtain of his underachieving, hand-picked performers.
It will continue to look bad and it is thoroughly depressing.
And not just because of the bumbling mess that is responsible for leading the organization, but because the Colts should be so damn good, if only for one reason: THEY HAVE ANDREW LUCK.
Why is this so hard?
Pagano’s blunders come into focus all-too-clearly because he’s the face you see looking horrified when Luck throws a wobbler into triple-coverage. He’s an easy target when things go bad and he knows his days are numbered. But if you take a step back and realize what he’s working with — a team infused with the DNA of Ryan Grigson’s "How to Craft a Dream Team in Free Agency" technique — you feel bad for him, regardless of his obvious shortcomings as a head coach.
The Chuck Pagano that Ryan Grigson hired in 2012 wasn't the right guy, but he also never had much of a chance.
One can point their finger at Pagano and stand justified, but if you want to call out Pagano, you have to line Grigson up right beside him.
They’re a package deal of agony, if you will. Pagano delivers his disappointment on game day by sticking with Greg Mgnusky’s brilliance and Grigson delivers his dose of incompetence in free agency and the draft.
There’s little hope beyond Luck and a handful of playmakers on both sides of the ball, but the most important piece of the franchise is
mostly in tact for years to come. If Irsay is to fix the situation, the formula is simple: blow it up and start from scratch.
"But the Colts beat Denver! It's all fixed now," says the optimist.
Yeah, and before that win, they beat... the AFC South.
Can we just be honest for a moment. Anything less than a complete restart is a waste of Andrew Luck's time.
If Irsay wants emotionally powerful locker room speeches and a defense that looks tough on t-shirts, the formula is simple: fire Grigson. Empower Pagano.
If Irsay wants to watch the guy he tanked for waste away with lacerated kidneys and throw away money signing a new version of Todd Herremans every season, the formula is simple: fire Pagano. Extend Grigson.
But the choice isn't even that difficult. Only one formula will solve the equation, and that's the one where Irsay gets to start from scratch for getting it wrong only three and a half seasons ago.