When Monday began, we were all waiting for the Colts to officially announce that Chuck Pagano wouldn't be brought back as their head coach. When Monday ended, the Colts had announced that Pagano had signed a four-year extension to stay with the franchise.
It was an absolutely stunning turn of events that no one saw coming. Reports for months had been saying that Pagano wouldn't be coming back, and while it's popular to now bash those reports, understand this: there was a reason for them. Heck, for the past few weeks, Chuck Pagano himself sounded like a guy who knew what was coming. The emotional reaction yesterday? That looked like a guy who was coaching his last game. After Pagano addressed his players on Monday, they didn't even know if Pagano was going to stay, but it wasn't overly optimistic. The announcement of an extension surprised everyone, so let's try to make some sense out of it.
Jim Irsay is clearly buying into Chuck Pagano's abilities as a player's coach to relate to his players, lead the team, and keep the locker room. Nobody can deny that Pagano is a great man and a great leader, and Irsay is valuing that in his head coach. Irsay is valuing Pagano's 41-23 career record on the field as reason enough to keep the guy around. Irsay is sticking with his guy rather than blowing things up and looking for a new one. The same is true of Ryan Grigson, who also was extended by the Colts - as Irsay said, Grigson is "contractually tied" to Pagano. The moves that Grigson has made can support a case for either side of the argument, but Irsay is clearly counting on the general manager being able to improve moving forward and continue building his franchise.
Look, I'll make no secret about it: in the past few months I've written about how the Colts needed to fire Ryan Grigson and about how they needed to fire Chuck Pagano, saying that it was clear that both needed to go. The Colts, I said, needed to start over. So, if it wasn't already obvious, this isn't the move that I would have made. Yet here we are, with both Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson under contract to lead the Colts for the foreseeable future. Was it the right move? Maybe, but it's impossible to tell right now. What is very clear, however, is that the move is a huge risk by Jim Irsay, and one I'm not sure I would have made.
The responsibility all shifts to Jim Irsay now. He had the opportunity, with Chuck Pagano's contract expiring and Ryan Grigson's status in limbo, to truly start over and to bring in a new regime, but he opted to stick with the guys he already had. "I could have walked someone in this door tonight or tomorrow night and have him come walking in with an eight-figure a year [salary] on themselves or whatever and say 'I'm making the big splash,'" Irsay said Monday night. "Look, if that was the best for us, believe me, I would do it. This guy [Pagano] is a great coach. You don't have to go too far to ask a lot of people about what he's done."
Irsay had a chance this offseason to make the moves that everyone expected him to. Would that have meant going after Nick Saban? Would it have meant going after Sean Payton? Regardless of what it would have looked like, Irsay had an incredibly attractive job opening with Andrew Luck had he decided to move on from Pagano. Instead, however, he decided to move forward with him.
"We're moving forward," Irsay said. "This is our team. These are our guys. These guys are ready. Like I said, there's been a lot reported, a lot written, [but] like I said, I know what the reality is. And this is definitely what's best for the Indianapolis Colts going forward, I'm sure of that."
That last part is the true question: is this really what is best for the Colts moving forward? Is bringing back Chuck Pagano, an average coach, and Ryan Grigson, an average general manager, and pairing them together in a relationship that has had a lot of dysfunction recently, the best move for the franchise? It's impossible to know at this point, but it's clear that Jim Irsay is taking a huge risk in counting on it being so.
Ryan Grigson and Chuck Pagano have had plenty of disagreements and the two haven't always gotten along. If you believe any reports, you'll realize that things were pretty bad inside the Colts' complex this year. Irsay, Grigson, and Pagano can put on a good face and act like they love each other for a press conference like they did on Monday night, but acting like that's the case on a regular basis is much harder to do and, frankly, much more up in the air. If anything is to be believed about the Colts' 2015 season and the internal struggles that were going on, it seems that it at least had some effect on the players. Did it ultimately impact the on-field performance? We can never be sure, but the bottom line is that it wasn't a good atmosphere and that storyline ultimately stole headlines. Last week, there were reports that Grigson and Pagano rarely spoke to each other. Now, Jim Irsay is committed to both men working together for the foreseeable future.
Smart or stupid, that's a risk. So too is investing heavily in a head coach who has had muddled success during his four years in Indianapolis. His 41-23 career record is hard to argue with, as are his three playoff wins and two division titles. But his 21-19 record outside of the division? His ten losses by 17 points? His ten games giving up 40+ points? Those all make it a questionable decision. When it comes to leadership, Chuck Pagano is phenomenal. When it comes to relating to players, there's no one better. When it comes to X's and O's and in-game coaching, however, Pagano leaves much to be desired and is, at best, average.
It's a similar story with Ryan Grigson. He helped turn the Colts around from a 2-14 disaster to an 11-5 playoff team in one year, and he brought in several key pieces to the puzzle like T.Y. Hilton, Vontae Davis, and others (Andrew Luck was Jim Irsay's pick). But Grigson also has his misses, like Trent Richardson, Bjoern Werner, and others. Like Pagano, Grigson has plusses and minuses going for him, but the negatives are strong enough that there is concern with him, as he is an average general manager.
The question now becomes whether those two average guys can combine to win a Super Bowl in Indianapolis - or multiple Super Bowls, like Irsay wants in the Andrew Luck era. Can they? Certainly - anytime you have a quarterback like Luck, you're likely going to have a chance, so if they get hot at the right time and have a good team around him, I truly believe that the Colts could hoist the Lombardi with Pagano and Grigson at the helm. But here's the thing: either it has to be the perfect situation, or you're counting on both of them to step up and improve. There are questions about Chuck Pagano as a head coach and there are questions about Ryan Grigson as a general manager, and then the two have had more than their fair share of disagreements. Jim Irsay is now counting on the two of them being able to play nice, work together, and improve in order to help the Colts reach their ultimate goal. Only time will tell whether it's the right move or not, but it's absolutely a massive gamble on Irsay's part. Hopefully it's worth it.