Chuck Pagano is in a difficult position entering the 2017 season. He’s now survived two years in which there was swirling speculation about his job status, plus another year in which the owner didn’t commit to him.
But this year might be the most difficult situation yet for him. Ryan Grigson was fired and Chris Ballard was brought in as the new general manager, and despite what Ballard has said publicly, a new GM often wants to hire his own coach. Instead, Jim Irsay and Chris Ballard will be evaluating Pagano during the 2017 season and then making a decision on whether to keep him or not.
That’s a lot of pressure on Pagano, and it’s made harder by the fact that the Colts are in rebuilding mode. They’re currently trying to add as much young talent and competition as they possibly can, and they seem to realize that it will take more than one year to rebuild the team. Heck, Jim Irsay yesterday even said that he’d rather have a losing season or two if it meant winning two Lombardi trophies (as opposed to continual 8-8 seasons). So Pagano’s task is to prove to Irsay and Ballard that he’s worth keeping around... and he has to do that during a rebuilding year.
But the good news for the Colts is that when it comes to that decision, Irsay and Ballard aren’t going to base it purely off of wins and losses. Instead, they want to see growth from their coach in specific areas.
“It’s going to be based on us really looking at, seeing if some of the areas we felt he had to improve upon to get to that next level to become that coach who is going to be around 10, 12, 14 years as a head coach in this league,” Irsay said, according to Colts.com’s Kevin Bowen. “Honestly, I think it’s really about seeing how we are getting the best players on the field and really doing the type of smart things that really make you sit back and say, ‘Hey, I don’t know if Chuck would have done that three or four years ago. I see growth there.’ We believe he has that ability to learn to grow.”
So the main takeaway is that it’s not just going to be about wins and losses when it comes to the decision Irsay and Ballard have to make. “Chris and I are going to be evaluating [Pagano’s] progress in a lot of different ways.” Irsay said. “A lot of it depends on the health of your team and just the way you feel like you are trending and you are playing.”
This is absolutely the correct approach for Jim Irsay and Chris Ballard to take. I think in the past Pagano’s reputation has gotten too much of a boost from wins and losses (the Colts won eleven games in each of his first three seasons) without actually looking at how Pagano is as a coach, so hopefully this truly means that the Colts will be looking more at specific areas where Pagano could improve as a coach. There are numerous examples of this, and Irsay really didn’t expand much on that regard, but it does seem like one of the areas they’ll be looking at is how the coaching staff develops the young players that are being brought in.
“Sometimes you have to simplify things to make sure the young players can come and play and not have a coach say, ‘He’s just not ready, it’s too complicated, he needs another year,’” Irsay said, according to the Indianapolis Star’s Stephen Holder. “We have to be able to get the best players on the field. And if we have to simplify things to do that, then we realize that’s something we’re going to do so we can achieve what we want. And that’s developing and drafting these young players and eventually looking at signing them to that second contract.”
This approach by Jim Irsay and Chris Ballard, of outlining specific areas that they want Chuck Pagano to improve in, is the best and most fair way of evaluating whether he should be the Colts coach moving forward. But that also would probably be even more reason to think Pagano is entering his last year as Colts head coach, because his biggest problem has always been his coaching and not wins and losses. So he’ll need to improve dramatically in 2017 if he wants to keep his job in the long run.