In sports, it isn’t difficult to read between the lines, and that certainly appeared to be the case with the Indianapolis Colts. After getting blown out in the AFC Championship last season, the Colts issued a fairly indirect-direct message to head coach Chuck Pagano: make it to the Super Bowl, or you’re fired.
Well, Pagano didn’t make it to the Super Bowl. In fact, he didn’t even make it to the playoffs. The Colts went 8-8 and finished second in the AFC South to the Houston Texans (9-7).
Nevertheless, the Colts rewarded Pagano with a four-year contract Monday night. General manager Ryan Grigson, meanwhile, was given a three-year extension, meaning that Pagano and Grgison will work in tandem through at least 2019.
How did this happen? Why did this happen?
“It’s weird, there’s no question about that,” NFL Network national reporter Albert Breer said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “I think 99 percent of the people in the league would have thought Pagano would be gone, and I think there was a decent chance that, in the end, Grigson might have been gone too if certain head coaches had wound up there to replace Pagano.”
Instead, Pagano and Grigson will be in Indy through Andrew Luck’s age-30 season.
“I think this was probably a matter of a couple different things,” Breer said. “First, I think one thing that can affect owners is when they see that there’s interest in their head coach who they’re about to fire if he gets back in the market, and I think that was one thing that did happen. I think Jim Irsay started to see that if Chuck Pagano were to be let go, he wouldn’t be unemployed for very long. The second thing you have to consider is looking at the market out there. Maybe they could have landed Sean Payton. I think Payton would have seriously considered them because of their quarterback, but if they don’t land Sean Payton, then what? Are you looking at Nick Saban? Is that a long-term answer given his age? Or are you looking at the coordinator pool and you’re going to be competing for Adam Gase. You’re going to be competing for Josh McDaniels. Can you lure one of them to Indianapolis?
“I think you put those two elements together,” Breer continued, “and I think it caused the owner to maybe step back and look at it and say to himself, ‘This isn’t so bad. We made progress for three years and this year we played five different quarterbacks and we still got to 8-8. The guys in the locker room love Chuck. They’re going to play hard for him.’ They’re never going to have that problem. We saw that very clearly this year. I think it was a number of things coming together.”
The Colts struggled mightily this year, as Luck was limited to just seven games due to various injuries. Indy finished 24th in the league in scoring offense (20.8 points per game) and 25th in scoring defense (25.5). The Colts also finished 22nd and 29th, respectively, in passing and rushing offense.
“I still don’t think things are perfect there,” Breer said. “I don’t think you fix some of the things that happened there. I don’t think that all gets taken care of overnight, but I do believe that the people there in that building are smart. I think they are well-intentioned, and I think the tension that was created in that building was the cause of a lot of problems – and now they’ve got time to sit down and sort all this out.”