The Indianapolis Colts will play their final regular season game on Sunday, and assuming the miraculous doesn't happen and nine games go the right way, it will be their final game of the season period. On Monday, the Colts need to fire general manager Ryan Grigson and head coach Chuck Pagano.
Before someone inevitably drops into the comments after reading only the headline of this article, let me again make that clear: I think both Grigson and Pagano need to be fired. The Colts need to start over. They need to blow things up. They are a mess, and I'm no longer interested in debating who is worse - they both have failed to do their job and they both deserve to go. If we're playing the blame game, it shouldn't so much be about Grigson vs. Pagano but should rather focus on the fact that everyone deserves blame - Jim Irsay, Ryan Grigson, Chuck Pagano, Pep Hamilton, Rob Chudzinski, Greg Manusky, and the players (ok, not Pat McAfee or Adam Vinatieri).
But here's why I'm writing this article specifically about why the Colts need to fire Ryan Grigson: it's the one that needs to be written right now. Firstly, I already wrote months ago that the Colts need to fire Pagano (I thought the same about Grigson then, too). That discussion isn't really timely anymore, however, because Pagano is certainly on his way out the door. Once the season ends, Pagano will be sent packing. But Ryan Grigson? His fate is much less certain. A few days ago, ESPN's Mike Wells reported that Grigson was likely to stay on at least through the coaching search, though he might not be kept around as GM after that. Whether that is true or not, at the very least this much is: Grigson's status is undecided right now in the organization. That's why this article is being written - because the discussion about Chuck Pagano is simply discussing something which is pretty much guaranteed to happen. The discussion about Ryan Grigson, however, is far more timely at this point.
As is always the case, there is an argument to be made both for and against Ryan Grigson as the general manager of the Colts. On the one hand, he was the one putting together the pieces behind one of the most remarkable turnarounds in NFL history. In 2011, the Colts were 2-14 and had the first overall pick. In 2012, the Colts were 11-5 and made the playoffs. That raised the bar of expectations, yes, but it was a tremendous job turning the franchise around and getting the Colts set up to make another decade-long run with another franchise quarterback. That was the idea. Along the way, there have been several great moves as well. The decision to draft Andrew Luck was Jim Irsay's call, but we can go ahead and give Grigson credit for it if you'd like. Trading up to draft T.Y. Hilton was a fantastic move. Trading for Vontae Davis was equally tremendous. Getting Reggie Wayne to return to a rebuilding team was huge. Cory Redding ended up being a good contributor along the defensive line. Other free agent signings, like Mike Adams, Darius Butler, Jerrell Freeman, Kendall Langford, and many others have been huge successes. The drafting of guys like Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener, Jack Mewhort, Donte Moncrief, Henry Anderson, and others turned out well also. Grigson has presided over a team that made an immediate, dramatic turnaround and has made three playoff appearances in four years, including an AFC Championship game appearance and two division titles. He was named the Executive of the Year in 2012 by Sporting News, and for very good reason. And, believe it or not, all of that may not even be the strongest arguments in Grigson's favor when it comes to Jim Irsay. Grigson has one year left on his contract, which could be tempting to the owner to let play out. Furthermore, Grigson has become very close to the Irsay family, giving even more reason for him to stay. If you want to pick out positive moves and positive signs from the past four years, there are plenty and there are more than enough to make an argument in defense of Grigson.
But it's not nearly as strong as the argument in favor of Grigson being fired. There have been, of course, a number of misses - and those misses are very glaring. Perhaps the worst move of Grigson's tenure with the Colts, whenever it does come to an end, will be the trade for running back Trent Richardson, as Grigson sent a first round pick to the Cleveland Browns for the running back. In 32 games with the team (including playoffs), Richardson rushed for just 978 yards and six touchdowns on 320 carries, averaging 3.1 yards per rush. It got so bad that, according to WTHR's Bob Kravitz, Grigson continued to insist on Richardson playing so that the trade would look better - though, in reality, the more Richardson played the worse the trade looked. Then there was the drafting of Bjoern Werner in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft, a move that turned out to be equally as bad. Werner has played in 41 games (16 starts) with the Colts including the playoffs and has recorded 58 tackles, 6.5 sacks, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, and five passes defensed. Drafted to be a pass rusher, Werner hasn't provided much of a pass rush at all. In several games this year, he has been inactive. Grigson also signed LaRon Landry to a 4-year, $24 million contract in free agency, another move that ended up as a disaster. There are other overpaid free agents or missed draft picks you could focus on, too.
You may notice what I'm not focusing on. I'm not focusing on Andrew Luck's injury as the reason why Ryan Grigson should go. Injuries happen in football. Tony Romo was injured - twice - while playing behind the best offensive line in football this season in Dallas. And with Luck's kidney injury, that occurred on a scramble. No, the offensive line hasn't been great, but Luck's injury isn't a good reason why Grigson should go (though, as I wrote earlier this year, I think Jim Irsay, who once tweeted that "I DEMAND better" protection of Luck, will notice his star player hurt and hold Grigson accountable for it). This also isn't an article focusing on Grigson's failures to address the offensive line - because, after all, Grigson has added several players at the position. Granted, this past offseason he only signed Todd Herremans and drafted Denzelle Good in the seventh round, but overall Grigson has invested some moves into the offensive line. Many of them haven't worked out (and you can blame Grigson for some of the moves he made), but don't blame Grigson for not trying - just like you shouldn't focus on the offensive line as the sole or biggest reason why Grigson should go. There are a number of needs on this team, not just offensive line, and they all deserve to be noticed.
This is a team very much built all around Andrew Luck, and without him, it's not an overly talented team. It's average. It has average talent with an average head coach and an average general manager. If Jim Irsay wants average, that's fine. But everyone knows that Irsay - who has gone on record as saying that he wants multiple Super Bowls during the Luck era - wants a lot more than average. Ultimately, there is a case to be made both for and against Ryan Grigson based on the moves he has made. If that was the whole picture, then it would be understandable why there is still some uncertainty over Grigson's status.
But that's not the whole picture, as anyone following the Colts for the past year will surely know. Instead, there's a whole layer of dysfunction lying beneath the surface that pushes the discussion solidly and clearly into "fire Grigson" territory. The relationship with Grigson and Pagano is very bad and has been for quite a while, and a lot of it can be traced to Grigson interfering with things he shouldn't be meddling in. Grigson will dictate lineups and who plays, such as he did with the center position last year, continuing to play Trent Richardson, continuing to play Josh Cribbs, and others. There have been times where players or coaches came to Chuck Pagano suggesting a move but he couldn't make it because of Grigson. It was Grigson who hired offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton and placed him on Pagano's staff, and Hamilton reported to Grigson, not Pagano. Grigson also has undercut Pagano in the area of player discipline, not letting Pagano enforce things the way the head coach would like. The relationship between Grigson and Pagano has been described as "toxic" and the two rarely speak to one another. Some in the Indianapolis media have wondered whether Pagano would even want to come back next year if he had to work with Grigson. Things got bad enough that the players had to call a players-only meeting mid-season this year to try to drown out the noise and distraction that was going on around them. A number of people who have or currently do work with or for Grigson don't care for him and don't respect him. Basically, you have a general manager who has overstepped the normal and expected boundaries of his job and has tried to oversee and meddle in jobs typically left to others, like the head coach. The Colts are a big, huge mess, and if it weren't for the 49ers, they might be in the running for the most dysfunctional franchise in the NFL in 2015.
I have no idea how you could possibly make a case for Grigson to stay when adding in that aspect. If we're looking simply at the moves he has made, there's enough to make a case either way (I think Grigson has failed in that aspect too, but acknowledge that it's much more of a discussion). But if we're looking at the whole picture, we see an average GM who has some hits but also has quite a few misses, who has failed to build this team that well since a tremendous turnaround, and who meddles a ton in creating a "toxic" atmosphere. And this guy might be back because of a few hits, one year left on his contract, and a close relationship with the owner and his family?
If Grigson stays, why would an established head coach come to Indianapolis? It is widely expected that Jim Irsay will want a big-name guy as his next head coach, which has led to names like Nick Saban or Sean Payton being thrown around. But even if either of them would have some interest in coming to Indy and coaching Andrew Luck, why would they possibly opt to work for Ryan Grigson? They wouldn't, and so if Irsay is intent on keeping Grigson around, he'd better be ready to hire another coordinator who doesn't have many head coaching options.
It's clear at this point that both Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson need to go. People will still have the debate about who is worse, but the bottom line is that they both should be fired by Jim Irsay as the owner starts over from a front office perspective. Chuck Pagano is as good as gone come Monday, but Ryan Grigson's status is far less certain. What is certain, however, is that when Pagano packs his things up and leaves, Ryan Grigson should be right there with him.