The Colts celebrated a return to reason Monday night as owner Jim Irsay, general manager Ryan Grigson, and coach Chuck Pagano showed a united front in announcing contract extensions for Grigson and Pagano.
Firing leadership that brought the Colts 44 wins (including playoffs) in four seasons seemed a tad bizarre to fans as well as Irsay, and the reported contentiousness that existed between Grigson and Pagano was quickly healed by a mutual craving for continued employment.
While Monday’s negotiations led to a seemingly satisfactory end to a year long drama and smiles all around, if a series of blunders had not occurred, the entire melodrama could have been avoided.
Here are the top 10 missteps that led to Monday’s madness:
10 – Decision to build through free agency. Filling a roster with veteran free agents is a tough way to build a champion because even the best GMs miss on FAs more than they hit, and bringing in names fans know raises expectations beyond a team’s ability to deliver. Andre Johnson is a great example. He’s nowhere near the player he was five years ago, but it’s what fans remembered when he signed. The response to the signing was a vision of playing in the Super Bowl. His ordinary production frustrated fans who wanted Johnson circa 2009.
9 – Grigson relying on a friendly port for his only individual media interaction of the regular season. Hey, I like talking to Dan Dakich too, but Grigson could have helped himself by showing the media paid to dispassionately cover the team a little respect by popping into the media room from time to time to answer their questions. By providing the narrative, Grigson could have controlled it. Instead, he chose to do an expansive one-on-one with Dan and soured his relationship with the journalists who spend countless hours sitting a few feet from his office. An occasional and informal pop-in would do him – and the Colts – a lot of good.
8 – Pagano should have kept quiet about dissatisfaction with Grigson’s work. After taking a home loss to the Jets in week two, Pagano was asked whether Andrew Luck was hurrying through his reads because of a leaky offensive line. He responded, “I don’t think so. That’s been the case for three years now. Has it not? He should be more than comfortable dealing with what he’s dealing with. We’ve got to get it fixed.” That may have been a shot at his offensive line coach and Grigson’s offensive coordinator, but it’s far more likely a swipe at Grigson continuing to ignore a request to rebuild the o-line through the draft.
7 – Not extending Pagano after the AFC Championship Game last January. if Pagano deserves a four-year extension now, why wasn’t it due him last year? The 2015 Colts finished 8-8 while the 2014 Colts were 11-5 semifinalists, and Pagano was only offered a one-year extension last year. If Pagano signed an extension last Spring, it’s damn likely none of the backbiting and dissension would have existed and the on-field results might have been much better. Why ownership/management believes Pagano is the guy now while they had serious misgivings after 2014 is a question Irsay and Grigson will eventually be asked.
6 – Last three first round busts. Bjoern Werner, the trade of the 2014 1st rounder for Trent Richardson, and Phillip Dorsett represent three mighty swings and misses in the evaluation prowess of the Colts GM. There have been hits – like the trade of a 2nd rounder for Vontae Davis (which would be considered a success if Grigson had given the Dolphins a 1st rounder) – but these poor uses of the most valuable asset provided a GM made a dip in 2015 likely.
5 – Not synching the contracts of Pagano and Grigson when they were first signed. Pagano was signed to a four-year deal and Grigson and five-year deal in early 2012. That installed an immediate level of imbalance to the most important relationship at the Colts Complex. Irsay solved this problem Monday by accepting Pagano’s proposal to extend Grigson through 2019 – the final season of Pagano’s new contract.
4 – Treating the media as children in an orphanage with only occasional scraps of nourishment. The truth is all the media asks for, and it should be provided amply unless it provides a competitive advantage for opponents. Sitting in the Colts media room day-after-day listening to Pagano or (very rarely) Grigson, I can’t remember a single time honesty became a priority while discussing their team with the media. When the truth isn’t provided, it will be sought elsewhere. That pursuit through back channel sources provided the disinformation that has recently been decried as irresponsible journalism. In the absence of fact, speculation becomes authority.
3 – Irsay’s post-draft quote about NFL dominance. When Phillip Dorsett was introduced to the media, Irsay exclaimed, “Our goal in the Andrew Luck era, is to win at least two championships. We don’t shy away from that fact. We look at how we build this roster to go on a run so we can win two Super Bowls in a row and really be dominant.” It’s great to have internal goals to win championships, but winning one is really tough. To publicly put the weight of winning two on Pagano and Grigson was exuberantly shortsighted leadership. It’s much better to say, “Our goal at the beginning of every season is to win a championship.” That’s reasonable. At least two titles during the Luck era is way too specific.
2 – Grigson hiring Pep Hamilton as his offensive coordinator. The owner needs to hire a manager to run the football operation. That person with some oversight from the owner needs to hire a head coach. The head coach with some oversight from the manager needs to hire a staff of assistant coaches. When an assistant coach reports to the GM and not coach, the dynamics of an organization wobble and frustration builds, as was reportedly the case with Hamilton/pagano/Grigson.
1 – Grigson forcing Pagano to play Trent Richardson, et al. They are so many reports that Grigson forced Pagan to play Richardson and first-round pick Bjoern Werner, and sit center A.Q. Shipley, they are impossible not to believe. Successful sports franchises have a clear delineation of responsibilities, and Moneyball notwithstanding, who plays and when is a decision that belongs to the coach. Using the exhausted groceries metaphor, Grigson was buying the groceries, Pagano cooked with them but with Grigson tossing random carrots, chickpeas, and garlic salt into the mix as he saw fit. That stew thrilled no one. Hard to blame Pagano for that.