When the news came out that the Colts were not going to extend the contract of head coach Chuck Pagano entering the season, there were immediately questions about why that was and about what was going on behind the scenes, and some speculated that general manager Ryan Grigson was entering the final year of his deal as well. Further questions emerged after it was reported that Pagano actually turned down a one-year extension.
Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio speculated this at the time:
It also means that Grigson and Pagano could be tempted to blame each other, in the event that the 2015 season at any point unravels. If, for example, the team's run defense — its "Achilles heel," per Pagano — continues to fail to slow down New England, Pagano could be tempted to blame it on the personnel, and Grigson could be tempted to blame it on the coaching.
A few days later, Florio added:
Those questions have prompted multiple league sources to point out to PFT that the Pagano and Grigson relationship may have been strained by the allegations against the Patriots arising from the AFC title game. During the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, Grigson surprisingly admitted that he'd alerted the league to the concerns regarding air pressure in New England footballs in the days before the conference championship.
With Deflategate, Florio notes that it would have been a problem if Chuck Pagano didn't know about the concerns entering the game, and if much of the halftime discussion was centered around the issue then the head coach could have become frustrated.
Florio isn't the only one speculating about the relationship between Pagano and Grigson. WTHR's Bob Kravitz previously had appeared on Pro Football Talk Live with Florio to discuss the issue and guessed that there might be some disconnect between the two, and he expanded that into an article yesterday. After saying that one possible reason for Pagano to turn down the extension was for money reasons, he then offers another one:
The other possibility — and again, I'm just spit-balling here — is that there's a growing disconnect between Pagano and Ryan Grigson. It may just be that Pagano is not completely sure he's comfortable working with and for Grigson for the long term. Otherwise, why would he turn down a chance at some security?
Furthermore, Kravitz wrote:
Still, the whole thing is very curious, very perplexing. Who willingly sets himself up for a win-or-else kind of lame-duck season? Unless — unless — there are issues percolating just below the surface that suggest this might not be a long-term relationship. I don't think it's about the money. I think it's about something else. Damned if I can figure it out, though.
If nothing else, it's something else to keep an eye on during the fascinating, upcoming football season.
It's crucial to keep in mind that this is all just speculation at this point. Really, we haven't heard any confirmed reports that there is disconnect there, but there are a few people who are making informed speculation that perhaps there is something there, so we're noting it as a result.
Here's the deal: this could be true. In any general manager / head coach relationship, there will be disagreement and there will be the tendency to blame one or the other for failures. In the Colts' situation, it could be Ryan Grigson blaming Pagano (the coaching) for the failures of the run defense, while Chuck Pagano could be blaming Grigson (the management) for the failures instead. This isn't something that is uncommon throughout the NFL, but in most situations it doesn't get to the point of being toxic to the team. So I think it's likely that Grigson thinks that the coaching is more to blame than the talent, while Pagano thinks its the management and the talent they bring in that is to blame more than the coaching. I think this is probably likely. But when the discussion of a disconnect comes up, it's most often meaning that there is enough disagreement to be a significant problem, and that seems like just complete speculation.
I think the more likely option, when it comes to Pagano's contract, is that he simply thinks that he can earn more money and a more long-term deal by coaching out this season - a year in which the Colts clearly have Super Bowl expectations. And I think that's a smart move by Pagano, too, because we know he could still be fired even if under contract and with a successful season this year it will be hard for the Colts to let him walk. So my guess would be more in line with the money and Pagano banking on himself and his team this year rather than disagreement. Furthermore, while Florio has speculated that Grigson is on the final year of his deal as well, RTV6's Mike Chappell reported that Grigson is in fact entering the fourth year of a five-year deal. If that is the case, then that argument toward a potential disconnect would disappear as well for the most part, as only one of the two would actually be entering a lame duck season.
So my conclusion is this: it's all speculation right now. Some of it makes sense, while some of it doesn't. At the moment, I wouldn't read too much into it, rather seeing it as some people (who certainly are in the know) speculating that perhaps there is something going on behind the scenes. What I will say is this, however: it seems plausible enough that it's absolutely something to be watching this season, whether it's just speculation or not.