“I really believe he will be the best coach he has ever been going into this year,” Irsay said Saturday. “I really do.”
That’s quite a statement. So general manager Ryan Grigson, who was fired on Saturday, was holding Pagano back from being the best coach he’s ever been? Good to know. I’m sure Colts fans are looking forward to seeing how the departure of Grigson puts an end to slow starts, clock-management issues and a perennial problem of curious play calls and formations on 4th-and-1.
I can understand some of Irsay’s faith if the animosity between Grigson and Pagano was as off the charts as it seems to have been.
The attempt by Irsay to have the two work in unity after communication issues during the 2015 season apparently failed. Public reaction of players who were part of the mix (Pat McAfee, Reggie Wayne, Jerrell Freeman and others) indicate Grigson was not a well-liked figure. While popularity with players isn’t essential for GMs – they are deciding employment status, after all – the quick reaction after Grigson’s firing was particularly harsh.
In that regard, taking friction out of the operation presumably lessens some stress on Pagano.
If there was a power struggle, and this certainly bears the earmarks of one, the fact Pagano is still wearing his Colts gear is a big win for him, and a morale boost.
“He is fired up for 2017,” Irsay said.
He’s still on the hottest of hot seats.
You can’t tell me that Irsay will ride things out with Pagano if the Colts start 1-5 next season. The AFC South looks to be as mediocre next season as it was this year, presuming the Houston Texans don’t swing some sort of deal for a real quarterback and bring in Tony Romo.
With Andrew Luck at the helm – presumably back to full health after shoulder surgery – the Colts have the best quarterback in the division. It’s an advantage the Colts have no matter what else is in the mix.
Pagano has to lead the Colts back to double-digit wins, so he'll have to be the best coach he’s ever been.
Looking back over this season, there were clear examples of opportunities the Colts let slip due to coaching decisions. Grigson can be blamed for failing to build a defense in five years, but it’s tough to absolve Pagano, the defensive-oriented coach, for still having one of the worst defenses in the league.
For Pagano to remain as coach behind mid-season in 2017, he has to avoid repeating issues that hurt the Colts in 2016. Here’s a partial list:
* In the season-opening 39-35 loss to the Detroit Lions, the Colts had taken the lead with 37 seconds left at the end of a strong day by Luck (31-of-47 passing, 385 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions). But in doing so, Pagano had called a timeout with 1:15 left, saving the Lions from using one, and failing to eat up extra time. Those types of in-game decisions have plagued Pagano.
* In the Colts’ 34-20 loss to Denver in Week 2, the Colts failed to stop Von Miller from a sack/strip of Luck with the game in the balance. Miller is a great player. But the play call, or the execution of it, allowed him a one-on-one shot during the game’s most pivotal play. The one thing that couldn’t happen in that situation was Miller wrecking things.
* In a 30-27 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in London, the Colts failed on a huge 4th-and-1 with tough-as-nails running back Frank Gore standing on the sidelines. A curious decision, at best. Luck took the shotgun snap, decided not to run for a first down and had his pass to Dwayne Allen knocked away. The Colts have seemed the least-likely team to gain one short yard when they need it.
* In the collapse of the season, the Colts allowed the Texans to come back from 14 points down with about seven minutes left in Houston. Many of the Houston fans had left the stadium, tired from booing the home team. Pagano could find no way to stem the bleeding late as the offense played not to lose. Also, the Colts couldn’t tackle, which may or may not be a personnel problem.
* Even in a 34-26 win over Tennessee, questionable decisions arose, including Pagano deciding to punt late in the half on 4th-and-1 at midfield. The Titans turned around and scored. Then Pagano ordered Luck to take a knee with 34 seconds left in the half to set up a field-goal try. He has to be more aggressive. The Colts also committed 12 penalties for 131 yards. That’s discipline, and coaching related.
* In the biggest game of the season, at home against Houston, with playoff chances on the line, the Colts came out flat. They still had a chance, but a screen pass failed on yet another 4th-and-1. “We laid down,” receiver T.Y. Hilton said. That might have been a quote of frustration, but a coach can’t have his teams react that way.
On paper, these are all fixable issues for Pagano. Perhaps a better working relationship with the next general manager, whether it’s in-house candidate Jimmy Raye III or someone else, could lead to the Colts landing personnel Pagano believes can close the gap on defensive deficiencies.
“Improvement has to be made,” Irsay said, “and he understands that and he is excited.”
Is it realistic, as Irsay suggests, that Pagano could be a better coach than ever simply because of a front-office change?
That’s Irsay living on faith. Colts fans can’t be blamed for demanding evidence.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.