by Kent Sterling
Chuck Pagano is a good football coach whose battle against leukemia inspired millions. His leadership was part of the equation that led the Indianapolis Colts to three straight 11-5 records and three playoff wins. But he is quickly unraveling because of the pressure of being a lame duck (in the final year of his contract) coach for an underachieving team.
Yesterday, he spoke to the media to explain the firing of his offensive coordinator, and the words the emerged from his mouth were sort of confused, odd, and reflective of the difficult times for the team he leads.
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Here are the top five nuttiest things Pagano said yesterday (taken verbatim from the transcript the Colts provided):
1 – “At the end of the day as the head football coach it’s my responsibility to make these calls and mine alone. Mr. Irsay and Ryan Grigson and myself, we’re all on the same page, so when I say alone, I’m talking the organization, myself.” It’s his responsibility and his alone, but it’s a responsibility shared with Grigson and Irsay? Wincing is the proper response to this meandering and ultimately meaningless and confused response.
2 – “I think we saw on Monday Night Football a football team because of its grit, its perseverance and its character down 17 points with less than a quarter to play against a football team on the road, undefeated, playing as good as anybody in the National Football League comeback, force overtime and take the lead in overtime. That just doesn’t happen unless you have the right people. We’ve got the talent. We’ve got the grit. We’ve got the character.” Okay, so the Colts had the talent, grit, and character to comeback from a deficit too large to completely overcome. What was with the guys who stumbled into that 17-point hole? Those were Colts too. I get the need to try to put lipstick on that pig of a loss, but insulting fans with this absurd depiction of his team is unnecessary.
3 – “I’m very grateful that Chud would take over and do this. I don’t think, not everybody would accept the responsibility and do that considering the timing.” Grateful? Is being the OC for the Colts not a great (or even good) gig. Working with Andrew Luck, Frank Gore, TY Hilton, Donte Moncrief, and Coby Fleener is an invitation to misery? What the hell would it say for the Colts if “Chud” refused this promotion? If this was worthy of Pagano’s thanks, would Chud saying no be very understandable? Is being the Colts OC like being George McGovern’s running mate in the 1972 presidential election?
4 – “We’re all accountable. I’m accountable. I’ve got to coach better. Everybody has got to play better. Everybody is accountable. We win as a team and we lose as a team. This doesn’t fall on one man’s shoulders.” This was in response to a question about turnovers, but whatever is happening to the Colts, the responsibility for it just fell solely on Pep Hamilton’s shoulders, head, torso, and reputation.
5 – “Next to the ’85 Bears and the 2000 Ravens I don’t know if I’ve seen a defense quite like this.” This quote shows some clarity despite the lunacy it represents. Setting expectations for the Broncos defense to historic levels might buy Pagano a couple of weeks of grace if the offense craps the bed Sunday, but the Broncos have a long way to go to actually earn that comparison – one worthy of the rabidly hyperbolic Lou Holtz.
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The Colts are in the midst of a tough time of their own making, and Pagano’s increasing confusion is a symptom of the chaos. Bad drafts, bad free agent signings, a historically terrible trade, a refusal to extend Pagano’s contract or allow him to choose his own offensive coordinator until two days ago. All have conspired to bring the franchise to this odd time not representative of the era of consistent high performance all but two seasons since 1999.
These are interesting times on West 56th Street, and they are taking their toll on a good man and coach.
Excellent observations as always Kent, and indeed, a handful of Chuck’s comments are eyebrow raising at best, pitifully laughable and insipid at worst. I really have nothing substantive to add, as you’ve broken down these “Top 5” comments as well as can be done, although I will say this. Reading these comments leaves me wondering (in more rhetorical than literal fashion)how much of these are the confused utterances of a lame duck coach on the brink that has simply run out of new platitudes to fill these ultimately pointless Q&A sessions with, and how much is a man that knows damn good and well what the problems are, where responsibility resides, but has no choice but to regurgitate the “in-house” party line in order to hang on and hope against hope that the football Gods will somehow smile on him and usher in a 180 the second half of the season that will somehow allow him to retain his job. IF he wants to retain his job. If not, then perhaps he’s simply playing out the string with grace and class in the manner we would expect from someone of his high character.
When it comes right down to it, I just can’t believe that someone with such a lengthy coaching resume could possibly be so clueless and bumbling, with nothing more to offer than illogical double talk. “It’s my responsibility and mine alone, with Attila the Hun and Jack Kerouac’s permission, of course”. “We have all the talent, character and grit necessary to accomplish our goals. Just look at how we routinely ALMOST come back and win after digging ourselves out of holes that The Little Sisters of the Poor CYO team couldn’t even dig”, and my personal favorite, “I’m grateful that Chud would do us the solid of accepting a promotion to a job of which only 32 exist on the planet at an average salary of $800,000 and a league high of $3M”. Ok, so I’m paraphrasing, but you get the point. As you pointed out, what does it say about the job and the organization if the head coach exhales a sigh of relief when someone already on the organization’s payroll actually agrees to accept a promotion to a position that likely pays him 7 figures?
While most of what you read on social media and online must be taken with a copious dose of salt, it does appear via legitimate and generally accurate sources that Grigson is very close to Irsay and his family, and will survive until the end of the season anyway, whereas Chuck likely doesn’t enjoy that certainty, which makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever. Despite what one might think of his style, his methods and his philosophies, the fact remains that whatever he did was good enough to garner three consecutive 11-5 seasons and 3 playoffs wins, and I don’t suspect that his style and approach to coaching has changed so dramatically over the past year to yield the results we’re seeing on the field.
I am in no way qualified to offer authoritative answers as to why a season that was ushered in with such high hopes and expectations on a national scale has morphed into the NFL version of The Zombie Apocalypse, but I did find several simple locker room quotes cited by Gregg Doyle in one of his post game pieces quite telling, at least in terms of where players seem to stand in all of this. The first was something on the order of “Everyone in this room loves Coach Pagano and will never quit fighting along with him”, and, even more telling, an unidentified “veteran player”, when asked about his feelings on Ryan Grigson, said simply, “He thinks he invented football”.
Do the above quotes offer any real revelation and / or absolve Chuck of a share of the blame for what is quickly devolving into a disappointing season of historic proportions? No. Do they, when considered along with Chuck’s own absurd “Horseshoe Company Line” remarks, reveal a man under siege that’s run out of meaningful answers, or at least ones he can verbalize without being fired for doing so? From my seat, absolutely. While history is littered with ignorant people who managed to “luck their way” into multi-million dollar jobs, no pun intended, I simply don’t believe that Chuck is one of them, and I have to believe that he’s far more intelligent and self aware than these comments portray him to be.
As has been the case since the first snap of the season, this press conference was yet another example of troweling lipstick onto the pig in an attempt at making her prom queen material, and in all honesty, I believe that what we see here is a man of high character that is committed to dancing with his date until the music stops, come what may, but that has also run out of lipstick.
I’m with you on the Chuck Pagano is a good coach and better man in a horrible situation, but the platitudes have ceased to be effective in keeping the media bamboozled. Yesterday’s win was a temporary tonic. What was broken is not fixed.
I couldn’t agree more, and I’d take that a step further. The platitudes not only are ineffective in bamboozling anyone, they’re frankly maddening and insult media and fan intelligence alike.
Don’t misunderstand, my position isn’t that Chuck is “The Man”, the second coming of Vince Lombardi, and to be honest, the fact that prior to becoming the Colts head coach saw him spend 28 of 30 years as a position coach, only becoming a coordinator for one year in the NFL (and one in the college ranks), makes me wonder if he’s simply not head coaching material. I’m not qualified to make that type of assessment, and he well could be a good man and nice guy that’s too nice for his own good. I just don’t know the answer to that one, but, generally speaking, career position coaches become that for a reason. It reminds me a bit of a deputy sheriff in my family that was just that, a deputy, for almost 35 years. Never a promotion. Not one, and there were reasons, with the main one being he just wasn’t suited to the task. As my father used to say, “Not everyone can be an astronaut when they grow up”. Maybe that’s the case here, or maybe he’s a victim of circumstance, but I rather doubt the later to be perfectly candid.
As for last night, winning generally beats the alternative, and it was fun for the community and fans to feel that way again. Beyond that, no. Pep’s termination and the ushering in of the “Chud Era”, albeit a potentially brief one, hasn’t fixed anything. The roster is still the roster, and the front office is still the front office, and whatever interpersonal dynamics may be at play remain.
Once the season comes to its inevitable conclusion, I would be shocked if Chuck were retained. Beyond shocked. In fact, the strength and staying power of The Tonic may ultimately dictate whether he’s even here to see the end of the season. When all is said and done, we may never truly know how much of all of this was coaching and how much was talent acquisition, or lack thereof, on the part of the front office, but from what I’ve observed and read from afar, Chuck strikes me as a guy that players love, but may be in a bit over his head, a fact that was ultimately exposed when Luck was unable to mask the team’s deficiencies.
As for Grigson, did he do Chuck any favors by providing the personnel needed to succeed in their agreed upon system? The “new”, post-18 Colts? Again, I’m not competent to make that analysis, but judging by the eye test, statistics and general observation, I’d say no.
At this point, I don’t know that it even really matters who’s a nice guy, who’s liked and who isn’t. Jim’s stated goal is “at least 2 championships” during the Luck era. In my view, he simply doesn’t have what it will take to get that done. Not the personnel (or at least not all of it by a country mile), not the GM and probably not the coach either, and come draft night, it wouldn’t surprise me to see an entirely new regime making the selections.