January 4, 2016 is a day that will be long remembered in Indianapolis Colts history. It was on that day that Colts owner Jim Irsay made the stunning decision to keep head coach Chuck Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson around, giving both men extensions instead of parting ways with them.
And like he’s admitted in the past, Irsay said again today that he didn’t know what was going to happen when the day began.
“There are times, this is one of them, where you go into it, and people think from the outside -- I've told you guys this before -- someone knows what's going to happen, they're just not telling us, meaning the public and the media,” Jim Irsay said today, according to ESPN. “Not true. Not true. Sometimes the decision-maker, which is the owner in this case, you have to be able to hear, and hear the things at the right moment, at the bewichitching hour, and then you will make that decision at that flashpoint moment in the 11th hour. That's the truth. It's not always pre-decided. Sometimes it is. A lot of times it is. But in this case it wasn't. This case organically came together. It showed me, the football Gods, whatever you want to call it, the powers that be, created this correct synergy that said, 'OK, Ryan Grigson and Chuck Pagano, they are going to be our guys going forward and there is no question about it.'“
Irsay explained that Grigson and Pagano both wanted to move forward with the Colts - together. He also added:
“When they met man-on-man, for about an hour and a half, let me tell ya -- tears fell, voices were raised, but they both came out different people,” Irsay said. “And when they came to me, they insisted that they be chained together. If the ship were to sail in to find the Statute of Liberty, shining so bright, or the cold dark Atlantic Ocean on the bottom, they would be together. So, let's hope it is the Statue of Liberty and more visits to Canton, Ohio.”
The biggest obstacle to keeping both Grigson and Pagano around, and thus the reason for needing to sit them down on January 4, was the friction that existed between the two of them. Some fans simply choose to believe that what pretty much everybody in the media was reporting was as problem actually wasn’t, but here’s the truth: Jim Irsay has acknowledged multiple times this offseason that there were problems. He may not confirm the idea that the problems ever escalated to the level of some of the reports, but he has confirmed that issues were there. He’s confirmed that there was friction between the two men, though he’s tried to downplay it. But in doing so, he’s always confirmed something else: that Grigson and Pagano are on better terms now.
"No question,” Irsay said. “I think they've grown together. You guys don't realize about [former Giants general manager] George Young and [former Giants head coach] Bill Parcells and the type of friction that existed for those championship teams. Look, friction is out there. Joe Thomas, Ted Marchibroda, 1975-76-77, I was at the Milwaukee Yacht Club with both of them and my dad when Ted was threatening to resign. So I've seen it firsthand. But good working relationship, both have matured. I am banking in the investment of what I put into Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson. There's been a lot of time, money and many hours of investment and conversations and mentoring and talking to these guys and that's what I'm banking on.”
Irsay again also talked about the need for Chuck Pagano to make tough decisions, and he pointed out the firing of Greg Manusky as an example of him doing just that. Irsay also explained that Grigson and Pagano have a better working relationship now, including what seems to be a better division of responsibilities.
“I believe Ryan has decided, without me forcing, has decided to let Chuck have his way on many things he wants,” Irsay said, “and Chuck on the opposite side of the coin, respects Ryan's vision and Ryan's point of view.”
There’s much more from Irsay on Grigson and Pagano’s relationship that you can read at ESPN, but basically what you have here is this: the owner of the team all but confirmed that there were issues between his general manager and head coach in the past, which is why he needed to sit them down together and didn’t know how that would work out. But now, Grigson and Pagano have a much better relationship and have grown quite a bit, with Grigson giving more say to Pagano and Pagano respecting Grigson’s role as the general manager as well. That’s all according to Irsay, of course, but I think it confirms a lot of what we’ve heard over the past few months.
Ultimately, it won’t matter what happened in the past in terms of friction if Grigson and Pagano can move forward and work well together, winning a lot of games with the Colts and winning a Super Bowl. And because of some of the issues in the past - both on and off the field - it’s a big gamble for Jim Irsay and the Colts.
“I'm banking on the investment we've made in both of these men,” Irsay said. “I think it's going to pay off. In the end, you guys know me, it's about winning. I make decisions with professional football. This is about winning. It's not about being cruel, it's about professional football. We have to win in our business.”
If the Colts do that, all will be forgiven with Ryan Grigson and Chuck Pagano. But it’s a gamble for Irsay, and he’s counting on it working out.