by Kent Sterling
Coaches who feel the hot breath of a boss on his neck tend to make squirrelly decisions. Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano made a call last night with the game on the line that defied logic, belief, and rationality.
Click here to follow Kent on Twitter
Facing a fourth-and-three on their own 37 while trailing by six with 1:14 left in the third, Pagano reached deep into football history’s bag of tricks. Colts Anderson lined up behind Griff Whalen with the other nine Colts stationed to the far right. Whalen snapped the ball to Anderson, who was swarmed by the three Patriots who were positioned on the ball.
The result of the play was a loss of one that was followed by a Patriots touchdown a little less than three-and-a-half minutes later to give the Pats an insurmountable 13-point lead.
Not only was the play unsuccessful, the formation was illegal, so even if Anderson had found a seam to gain the three yards needed for a first down, the play would have been negated.
Bad decision. Bad execution. Bad coaching on a night when it seemed the players were up to the challenge.
Because the Colts chose not to offer Pagano a serious contract extension, his deal will expire after this season. That decision has left fans and media wondering about a serious schism between general manager Ryan Grigson and Pagano, and more importantly questioning owner Jim Irsay’s belief in Pagano as his team’s leader.
Whether or not the rumors of a rift are accurate, the decision to run a fake punt out of a wacky formation that never results in a snap much less a first down is exactly the kind that desperate men make when their jobs are in serious doubt.
The dynamic is similar to the sad sack at the casino trying to get his mortgage money back after a night of bad beats. Reason goes out the window, and bets with a huge house advantage are not only considered but embraced. The result is almost always horrible, as it was with Pagano last night.
As Whalen sheepishly left the field, Pagano asked, “Why did you snap it? Why did you snap it?” Well, Whalen is not idiot. He’s a Stanford grad who makes a living doing what he’s told. His decision to snap belies an unfortunate lack of preparation – the kind of bad prep that will get a team beat against Bill Belichick – the master of being ready for everything.
At least Pagano was contrite in his postgame comment about the play, “The punt play, again I take responsibility there. The whole idea there was on a fourth-and-3 or less, shift to an alignment to where you either catch them misaligned, they try to sub some people in. Try to catch them with more men on the field, twelve men on the field and if you get a certain look you got three yards, two yards, you can make a play.
“Again, we shifted over and I didn’t do a good enough job coaching it during the week, alignment-wise we weren’t lined up correctly and then a communication breakdown between the quarterback and snapper and that’s all on me. I take full responsibility on that and I didn’t do a good enough job of getting that communicated to the guys. Obviously, it played a huge factor in this loss.”
And so a winnable game against the World Champions became a loss. Players who fought and executed were discounted as a beleaguered coach decided to try to roll boxcars to keep his gig.
Click here for a $1 comprehensive dental exam done by the best dentist in Indiana – Dr. Mike O’Neil at Today’s Dentistry
Fans who debated whether the backslide the Colts have experienced through six games this season has been caused by Pagano’s schemes or Grigson’s personnel decisions got a significant piece of information last night to inform their decision.
But a deeper question exists – would a coach who ran together three straight 11-5 records and advanced one step farther in the postseason each year and received a contract extension as a result have made that unfathomable nonsensical call?
Pagano is a smart coach loved by his players. Perhaps because of uncertainty in his position, decision-making took a bizarre turn last night and may have sealed his fate as the latest former coach of the Indianapolis Colts.
These are strange times for a good man and coach who might have lost his house last night.
Readily admitting to having not prepared the team sufficiently to compete seems to have become a recurring theme, and is a clear problem, even for a good man with a likable personality that you want to see succeed.
That said, there is also a serious personnel issue with this team, and we also don’t know to what extent Chuck really does make these calls, and how often they are mandated from above. Either way, and in my amateur opinion only, under present circumstances, all facts taken into account, it would seem that if Irsay is going to cut Pagano loose, he needs to cut Grigson loose as well and cut his loses before he wastes any more years of Luck’s career in what has become a futile attempt to somehow beat one conference rival.
For my season ticket holder money, I personally feel that to fire Pagano and NOT fire Grigson would be disingenuous, and to miss at least half of the point. At this stage, anything short of an act of God driven 7-3 finish, followed by a solid playoff run back to the AFC Title game, and the collaboration I like to call “Grigano” will likely be seeking new employment. If Pagano is, Grigson should be as well anyway.
That is a well-reasoned and logical position expressed with grace. A pleasure to read. If you would ever like to post your own commentary on the site, let me know.
Thank you very much Kent, I’m flattered to say the least, and the compliments mean a great deal coming from you. I’ve always admired your ability to blend wit, intellect and a direct, no BS style to create a truly unique style in an industry where “unique” and “intellect” aren’t frequently used descriptives.
Ironically, having semi-retired for a time after 20 years in commercial real estate and finance, I’ve done quite a bit of web development, and have contemplated how I might find a suitable outlet for my passions of writing as well as sports, music and entertainment. Your offer is humbling, and I would be honored to accept a role as a contributor in any manner you see as fitting and beneficial to the sit.
We follow one another on Twitter, and my handle there is @TheDailyBulldog, so please feel free to DM me, or you can always email me at email@example.com. I will DM you my cell number via Twitter as well, and you can fill me in on the details. Thank you again for your kind words and offer to contribute. As a man rapidly approaching 50, it’s not often that something excites me, but I must say that you’ve done a fantastic job of it this evening.
I’ll look forward to speaking with you soon.
That was a good read Kent, thanks.
I do agree and believe that might have been Chucks death knell.
I do understand what he was trying to do, but it comes down to him making sure the players are ready to execute on the football field, and they were not. It falls on the coach. He knew he was going to be in a fight and was probably trying to get any advantage he could, and I don’t blame him.
For a good part of this season(the regression) I was putting that on Grigson , for
poor personnel decisions. But just from watching some of the decision making this year as far as schemes and etc, it seems to be pointing to coaching staff a little more, equal parts.
I don’t understand the back peddling of this team. Nothing really has changed, and they seemed to have add some key components. Luck really was not playing well before his injury.
Could have all the beatings he has taken the first three years be catching up with him? Please don’t ruin this guy.
I think Irsay is a smart and patient man, but I think after 3 plus yrs of beating up on the sisters of the poor of the AFC south and being even and subpar with the rest of the league its time for a change.