REGGIE HAYES: With Chuck Pagano out, Colts owner Jim Irsay needs home run with next coaching hire

In this Jan. 30, 2017, file photo Indianapolis Colts Owner Jim Irsay, right, and new general manager Chris Ballard pose following a news conference at the NFL football team's practice facility in Indianapolis. (Associated Press file photo)

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay must deliver a significant upgrade after firing coach Chuck Pagano. Anything less will simply prolong mediocrity.

Pagano was a relative unknown when Irsay and then-general manager Ryan Grigson tabbed him to replace the fired Jim Caldwell after the 2011 season. Would Irsay go that route again, hiring a coordinator who learns on the job? Would he prefer a big-bang hire, such as bringing Jon Gruden out of the broadcast booth and back on the field, where his reputation seems much better than his actual track record?

How much influence will general manager Chris Ballard have on Irsay and the search? I would expect he’ll wield major influence.

Here are some possible candidates, from most to least intriguing:

JOSH MCDANIELS, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR

Considering the Colts were the whistle-blowers in the “Deflategate” affair after the 2014 season, it would be unusual, to say the least, for them to turn to the Patriots for their next coach. On the other hand, the Colts could use an innovative offensive mind, McDaniels has been a head coach in the past and he has worked under the ultra-successful Bill Belichick. Not to mention, he’s been directing an offense featuring Tom Brady. There’s a lot to like.

Maybe it’s not an ideal situation for Colts fans who consider the Patriots to be rivals, but the real heat of that rivalry was more Brady vs. Peyton Manning than it was Patriots vs. Colts. McDaniels would shake things up for the Colts like no other potential candidate. Whether McDaniels would be interested in the Colts is another story.

DAVE TOUB, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS SPECIAL TEAMS COORDINATOR

Coaches don’t normally make the leap from special teams to head coach, but Toub could be the exception, especially with the Colts. He’s highly regarded by Ballard, who worked for the Chiefs before joining the Colts, and nearly every analysis of possible Colts coaches lists Toub. Toub’s reputation is as a razor sharp tactical coach ready to make all the calls. Most seem to feel he’s got the aura, or whatever you wish to call it, of a head coach.

Toub might not be the “big name” hire that Irsay would like to have, but he could be a great fit with Ballard in building the team together.

JON GRUDEN, ESPN ANALYST

Gruden’s name comes up for every job, despite being off the sidelines for nearly a decade. In fact, he’s already being rumored to be in negotiations with the Oakland Raiders. He’d be rusty. He’d need time to assemble a new coaching staff. Would he be willing to work for Ballard, rather than have complete control of personnel matters?

The biggest question is his rustiness. Yes, he’s been around the game as an analyst, and his television sessions with college quarterbacks have revealed a bright, highly interested personality. But he’s been out of coaching a long time. He’s only 54, young enough to return. Irsay would definitely love the media attention that would come from the decision.

JIM HARBAUGH, UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN COACH

Harbaugh’s name circulates often in connection with the Colts because he played for the Colts and also because he coached Luck at Stanford. He had success with the San Francisco 49ers before he wore out his welcome, which tends to happen everywhere sooner rather than later because of his intense personality. Harbaugh would bring energy, drive and a track record. But he also would bring some baggage, especially if he leaves his dream job at Michigan. While he coached Luck at Stanford, there’s uncertainty how much affection the quarterback has for his former coach.

FRANK REICH, PHILADELPHIA EAGLES OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR

Reich has history with the Colts. He was the team’s quarterbacks coach the last two years Manning was on the field (2009 and 2010). He’s been a coordinator with the San Diego Chargers as well as the Eagles, and is generally praised for the development of Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz. Reich would not be a flashy hire, but he could be the right hire for a team that needs its quarterback situation to take center stage upon Andrew Luck’s expected return from injury.

TERYL AUSTIN, DETROIT LIONS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR

Would Irsay go back to the defensive coordinator well after the failures of Pagano, who was in that role for Baltimore before coming to Indianapolis? That would be a surprise. It’s time for a coach with an offensive background who can hire a defensive coordinator he trusts. A number of other defensive coordinators are mentioned for coaching vacancies, including the Eagles’ Jim Schwartz, the Buccaneers’ Mike Smith, the Texans’ Mike Vrabel and Vikings’ George Edwards. It doesn’t seem likely Irsay will make a move that so closely resembles the one that brought Pagano to town.

MATT NAGY, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR

Toub would seem to be the most likely candidate from the Chiefs, but Nagy would bring youth (he’s 39) and the experience of working under Andy Reid, one of the most innovative coaches in the NFL.

DAVID SHAW, STANFORD UNIVERSITY COACH

Shaw’s name comes up a lot, but he has never publicly expressed huge interest in the NFL. Every coach loves a challenge, and the idea of a healthy Luck (Stanford alum) would surely prompt Shaw to give the position some thought.

AN UNEXPECTED WILD CARD

National NFL reporters speculate that as many as 10 or 11 teams could decide to go a new route with their coaches. That means even more coaches will be available. Might one of the discarded persuade Irsay that a change in locale would produce a winner?

I’d be very interested to see what Irsay might do if Arizona coach Bruce Arians hit the market. Arians is older (65) but he was able to turn Luck loose as a rookie when Arians stepped in to coach while Pagano was sidelined by cancer.

Toub is the early favorite for the Colts job, Gruden the biggest longshot.

McDaniels would be the boldest pick of all. When it comes to the Patriots, if you can’t beat ’em, hire ’em.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com.

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