It’s been a very strange offseason in Indianapolis so far.
The day after the regular season ended Chuck Pagano held an awkward press conference in which he basically said that he thought he’d be back, but admitted he hadn’t met with Jim Irsay yet. That was followed by silence from the Colts, leaving plenty of speculation to run rampant. Eventually, what was being said by local guys - that Irsay was going after Peyton Manning and Jon Gruden - was confirmed by the national guys, making things even more awkward for the current regime.
Currently, it’s looking like Jim Irsay will bring back Ryan Grigson and Chuck Pagano for a sixth season - though, granted, there’s still silence from the Colts. What’s clear, however, is that Irsay was seriously pursuing other options this offseason.
The players have noticed, and they’re just as much in the dark as everyone else on the situation. But if Pagano is indeed brought back after yet another sign - this one the clearest of all - that the owner doesn’t have full confidence in him, the players realize that will have a big impact on the locker room.
“I think it’ll be really tough for Chuck,” a Colts player told the Indianapolis Star’s Stephen Holder, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “Our owner wants a championship, and if he doesn’t get it, then it’s going to be a failure. And that’s tough.”
It’s going to be tough on Pagano, no doubt, to come back and work for an owner that actively tried to replace him this year, and who in the past has shown a lack of confidence in Pagano at times as well. It’s the coach’s job, sure, but it’s naive to think that he can truly do this job with his earmuffs and blinders on and not have this situation prove to be any sort of distraction.
“It’s just been confusing from the jump, with everything being in limbo,” another anonymous Colts player told Holder. “This is the business we signed up for. We all know how it works. But the problem is we didn’t get any answers and you’re left to come to your own conclusions. I think anybody can read between the lines here.”
Basically, here’s the message that Jim Irsay is sending loud and clear: he doesn’t have full confidence in the leadership of this team, and in fact he tried to replace them with huge names this offseason. The players see that, and they haven’t gotten any more information than that either. How could it not affect that locker room? How could the players not have that in the back of their minds next season? The owner doesn’t truly believe in this guy. It’s their jobs, sure, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be tough.
That will be a very interesting component of the situation to monitor moving forward: how does the locker room respond, if in fact Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson are brought back? The players have long been supporters of Pagano, but will that confidence have wavered? Will there be lingering doubts? And how will the continued uncertainty affect things?
Ultimately, the NFL is a business, and regardless of what Jim Irsay does it’s Chuck Pagano’s job to coach this football team, and it’s the job of the players to play. They need to have their earmuffs and blinders on. But it’s fair to question just how easy or just how practical that expectation is when the players see this situation unfolding with their head coach. How will that affect things? Only time will tell, but one thing is for clear: the players are certainly noticing what’s going on right now with the franchise.