by Kent Sterling
There are Lombardi Trophies to be won and millions of dollars to be earned, but as the Indianapolis Colts season unfolds people are going to talk about how the Colts need to play for Chuck.
Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano is reported to be on his way out the door regardless of the result this season. According to those reports, If his Colts fail to progress sufficiently in the playoffs, he will not receive a new contract offer by owner Jim Irsay and GM Ryan Grigson. If the Colts win Super Bowl L, Pagano will tell the Colts to get bent as he pursues a job where he might have more control over personnel.
Despite the illogic of the situation, people will begin to talk about how Pagano needs his roster to start fighting for him – as though that motivation would trump a desire to win for personal reasons.
It’s ridiculous to think that a professional athlete who deals with friends being waived or traded on an almost relentless basis would grow callous to that level of upheaval, but feel an enormous craving to maintain the status quo in a coach.
Colts players to a man have great respect for Pagano, which calls into serious question the desire from Irsay and Grigson to make a change, but to assert that respect as a motive for playing at a higher level denies some very basic realities of human behavior.
Fear of a coach or manager in business being fired barely registers in the hierarchy of needs for an employee. Oh sure, everyone gets sad for a couple of hours when a boss gets punted, but the most immediate concern is that the next leader won’t fire them.
If you have worked in a professional environment for any period at all, you have likely experienced a boss getting the boot or choosing to bounce. Your first thought was likely, “I hope (bosses name here) is okay, but I sure as hell hope the new boss sees my value here!”
There is nothing wrong with that. Making mortgage payments, keeping kids in the college of their choice, and making sure a spouse has everything he or she needs trumps the empathy for a boss, especially in a work environment like the NFL.
If Pagano is fired at the end of the season, there will be hugs for a guy who has forged a unique bond with his constantly churning roster. He respects the players, and wants nothing more than for them to feel a sense of belonging.
Sadly, belonging to an NFL team is a fleeting experience for all but the elite. Even future hall of famer Peyton Manning was told to pack his bags by the Colts after the 2011 season. Reggie Wayne was asked not to return after his productivity lapsed last season. That’s professional sports.
To expect a roster of such tenuously tethered employees to embrace an opportunity to win one, two, three, or ten for Chuck is an absurd exercise for a journalist or fan. That narrative simply does not resonate for the mostly mercenary players.
Bosses come and go, and while change sucks, especially for the bosses themselves, the first concern is for self-preservation. The second is for building wealth, the third is for winning a championship, and a distant fourth might be for peers to maintain their positions. The coach keeping his job? Way down the list.
While many don’t understand the thinking behind Pagano not being offered a multi-year extension after a 33-15 record and three trips to the playoffs in his three seasons, any pity for Pagano should be mitigated by his $4.5 million annual salary. When Pagano is fired (or walks), he is going to have enough cash to fund a lavish lifestyle for the rest of his life whether or not he coaches again.
His former players will adjust to a new coach within a couple of days, and the machine will keep rolling just like it did when Tony Dungy walked away to be replaced by Jim Caldwell.
Nobody plays or coaches forever. Players understand that, and while few likely look forward to Pagano carrying boxes to his car, it’s not going to make any of them work harder to win this season.