In my last article, I discussed why there should be optimism for Colts fans regarding the relationship between new GM Chris Ballard and current Head Coach Chuck Pagano. A lot of people took that as me supporting Pagano as a good head coach. To quickly clarify, I didn’t and he’s not. I repeat: Pagano is not a good head coach. I don’t expect him to magically become better overnight in terms of preparation, game management or really anything else dealing with coaching for that matter just because the Colts hired a new GM. In fact, I’ve been a rather vocal proponent of the Colts moving on from Pagano over the past year.
Pagano, despite all his Rah-Rah player love, is not a great NFL head coach. He’s not even really adequate. Yes, he’s never had a losing season and his players absolutely love him but that’s hardly the whole story.
To say the Colts in the Pagano era have consistently under-performed is a bit of an understatement. They have in epic proportions. Especially when you consider the AFC South was maybe the most winnable division in the history of winnable divisions for the past two years. No other decent QB, poor overall talent and only J.J. Watt to really worry about on a team you play just twice. Yet, the Colts still ended up going 3-3 this past year and 4-2 the year before after starting 3-0 in the division. Both seasons the Colts had chances to lock up the division in December but choked. Two years ago, the Colts suffered two straight 35 point losses. One to the Steelers and the other to the... Jags. Yes, the offensive powerhouse of Jacksonville. The Jaguars loss meant the Colts no longer controlled their own playoff destiny. I do realize Luck was out that year but the Colts still should have won against the Jags after leading at halftime. Yes, the Jaguars scored 42 points in the second half of that game. How Pagano survived that loss in beyond me. This again begs the question what are Pagano’s horcruxes and a discussion on how surprisingly well he’s hidden them?
Here’s the thing. The Pagano-led Colts are maybe the most consistently inconsistent team in the NFL. They almost always start slow. If they don’t start slow, then they certainly finish that way. In recent memory, they haven’t put up a consistent game singularly, let alone games, plural. It always seems like Pagano says at halftime, alright guys we’re in a real hole here. Andrew, can you save us? You’re our only hope.
In terms of preparation and game plans, defensively, the Colts seem surprised when running teams run it down their throat or when passing teams nickles and dimes them down the field. The Colts suffer from a significant lack of preparation. That falls on Pagano. Every time the Colts play the Patriots, its the same thing. The Patriots run it up the gut, check down passes to the RB out of the backfield and short quick throws on crossing routes or slants. We all know it’s coming but Pagano always looks shocked. When asked about it afterwards, he mumbles something about grit and doing better and assignments and grit and blah, blah, blah. That got old quickly.
Offensively, Pagano sticks to trying to run the ball until they get down by 10+ points. Then after his halftime plea for Luck to save them, the team opens it up to a no huddle, hurry-up offense and Luck saves the day. Why not run that offense from the beginning? Ya know, the one offense that scores points? Coaching is hard but logic isn’t. To say Pagano and his staff puts this team in the best position to win is laughable at best.
When it comes to game management, Pagano is possibly the worst coach in the NFL. To be clear, yes, I considered Andy Reid when writing this. I can’t tell you how many times I yelled at the television about timeouts and challenges. Pagano is intent never push the envelope at the end of the first half and try to score despite having a couple timeouts and, oh yeah, he must have forgotten, Andrew Luck as his QB! Please don’t get me started on play calling either. While I understand Pagano likely relies heavily on his offensive coordinator, he must have at least some say regarding play calling in important situations. I could of course be wrong. Regardless, he has some input on the game plan and knowing you have a talent deficient offensive line, why put your franchise QB in a position where they need to block for extended periods of time? Why not run a system more like the Patriots? Tom Brady gets the ball out so fast the balls actually deflate in the process. The Colts need to be more flexible and Pagano simply isn’t.
The only real positive about Pagano is his players love him and his teams fight for him. I mean, Pagano is said to be a fighter but it always feels like the Colts are counter punching when it comes to coaching. They hardly ever start aggressively. They don’t know how to throw a knock out blow. It’s always a reaction to what the other team is imposing on the Colts, almost never the other way around. That’s no way to lead a franchise unless your goal is to be Jeff Fischer, constantly 8-8. I don’t know about you, but that’s certainly not what I want for the team I root for. Pagano made a fantastic defensive coordinator. That is a position where he could excel again. Only worrying about the defense, never even getting muddied up in the complexities of the offensive game plan. His passion could flow to his players and they’d run through walls, or more aptly offensive linemen, for him.
In a head coach, the Colts need someone who meticulously game plans for each opponent. Someone who will still keep the players on their side but won’t back down when confronted with tough questions by giving cop out answers. Someone who can get consistent production from the team and not just a half on, half off game.
While I don’t believe Pagano earned another shot given his consistently inconsistent track record, Pagano is the Colts head coach for at least one more season. Yes, the players love Pagano, however, their opinions shouldn’t override what is best for the long term health of the franchise. What’s best for the franchise is to cut the line and move on. Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. With keeping Pagano, the Colts are bordering on insanity.