Colts choose continuity over change, surprisingly hand Pagano extension
The speculation had been heavy that the Colts were ready to move on from head coach Chuck Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson after 2015's extremely disappointing season, but all that was put to rest on Monday evening, when the team called a press conference for 10:30 p.m. ET to announce a new four-year extension for Pagano, and that Grigson would be retained.
“My focus and our focus was always on winning,” owner Jim Irsay said. “And going forward, with the best way we can to win... continuity plays a role. It's important. You like to have continuity when you can have it. It was careful consideration—it wasn't fan pressure, player pressure, or anything along those lines. It was something where... Chuck's won 44 games in the last four years. That's not easy to do.”
Irsay spoke about how the cupboard had been bare near the end of the Bill Polian era: the Colts bottomed out with a 2–14 record in 2011, and Pagano helped to turn things around the next season. The Colts went 11–5 for three straight seasons before 2015's pause in success. Injuries and questionable personnel decisions led to this season's 8-8 mark, and though Pagano could hardly be blamed for that, it would not have been surprising if Irsay had decided to go in a different direction.
Similarly, given the highly questionable drafts Grigson has put together over the last three seasons—the coach and GM came to Indy together in 2012— many thought it might be best for the team if the Colts found someone else to head up their personnel efforts. Irsay didn't see it that way at all, or if he did, he clearly got past it.
“I want to make sure I'm tied at the hip with Ryan,” Irsay said. “I want to make sure that when we get to the mountaintop, that Ryan and I are there together. Because we've been through a lot together, and we have a special relationship. We've accomplished a lot, we've overcome a lot. This year was tough, obviously—8–8 and falling short of the playoffs is difficult—but at the same time, we were right in there with the injuries we had at quarterback. I'm proud of the organization, and I'm proud of the way we fought back. I'm convinced that we have the right stuff on my right and left here to win a world championship.”
Reports had been flying for months that Grigson and Pagano did not get along, and that they were barely communicating toward the end of the season, as the team first lost Andrew Luck and then Matt Hasselbeck to injuries. In their regular-season finale, a 30–24 win over the hapless Titans, the Colts started Josh Freeman off the street. But at Monday's presser, Grigson seemed to extend an olive branch.
“I want to thank [Irsay] and his family for this great opportunity to continue what Chuck and I set out to do from Day One,” he said. “It's not very common to have a steward of a franchise like Mr. Irsay, with the football knowledge, the war stories, all the people he's come across, all the greatness he's been exposed to in this league. He's helped mold and steer Chuck and I though this journey. It was a trying year for us. 8–8 is not good enough for Chuck nor I and Mr. Irsay, but we've done a lot of great things. Chuck Pagano is a great man—I don't have to sit here and tell you guys that. We've been through the wringer together, but we're still focused on one goal. We're united, and we set out to do a job. That job is to still have our eyes set on championships."
Pagano, who missed most of that first 2012 season due to his fight with leukemia, was highly emotional about this particular second chance.
“I've had a lot of great days in my life, but none better than today,” he said. “This is absolutely the best day of my life. I'm grateful and I'm thankful to Mr. Irsay and his family for the opportunity that he's given me. Jim had my back, back in 2012—I talked about it after the ballgame. He stood behind me, he believed in me, he never gave up on me. He got me and my family through a trying time, and I can never repay that debt. Given this opportunity to move forward—we love this city, this community, this organization. We love this football team. And I can't tell you—words can't describe how I feel right now. It's a great, great day, and I owe it all to Jim.”
It was a great story, as was Pagano's season-ending meeting with his players, when he said, “I'd go to bat for any of you.” Pagano's players responded in kind.
“I can say he’s given his heart and soul every day since I’ve been here,” Luck said earlier Monday. “I feel like I’ve grown so much as a player and a person. Through this season, which has been trying and disappointing, he’s always been sort of a bastion of good coaching ... [he’s] been so positive and kept everybody going, as evidenced by how hard guys played yesterday.”
Linebacker D'Qwell Jackson expressed similar feelings.
“I think Chuck is the guy for this team to lead us to a Super Bowl. You look around the league, all the head coaches that have been around for years, there have been off years. If an off year is 8-8, I know some teams would give their right arm to go 8-8. I don’t see a need for change. Yeah it was a down year, but this team is well-equipped with veterans, well-equipped with coaches that I don’t see why we need to change a thing.”
Well, some things will need to change. The Colts are rail-thin at several positions, and the move to bring in veterans like Frank Gore and Andre Johnson to spackle over Grigson's draft and free agency misses did not work out as expected. Now, at least, the Colts know that they will have continuity. And they have an entire off-season to consider the best ways in which to spend that precious gift.