In news that seemed to send anyone within NFL media into a frenzy on Black Monday, the Indianapolis Colts announced that they were extending the contract of their head coach Chuck Pagano for another four years.
A man many said was a dead man walking all season, struggled to start and managed just an 8-8 record kept his job. That’s despite enormous tension between him and the team’s GM Ryan Grigson, in a surprising twist the two sat down and hammered out their differences, ready to go again in 2016.
Looking back, the heat on Pagano as a coach seemed a little odd. He had helped the team get consecutive 11-5 season, admittedly in a poor division, and had an excellent 3-2 record in the post-season. The head coach helped lead his team to the AFC Championship game last season and while many expected them to go one further, that was clearly an oversight.
Added to this, quarterback Andrew Luck played just seven games and won only two. That could be because he was nursing niggling injuries, which is unlikely, or he just came out cold and was denied the chance to redeem himself fully during the season.
Clearly, the heat came between the head coach and the general manager, for one reason or another and it looked like the latter would win the power struggle. Despite Pagano doing well with a pretty barren talent base, he was the one that they looked ready to oust even before the season began.
They had some bright spots, their tight end core looks set for the season and they finished 6th in interceptions in the league, which is impressive for a team who allowed 45 and 51 points in consecutive weeks. They threw the ball away too much and even though they sacked offensive co-ordinator Pep Hamilton, their offence did not improve much.
This team was also massively hyped in the off-season as an absolute title contender despite clear deficiencies. They all jumped on Andrew Luck’s incredible upside and ignored the fact that they have still failed to establish a strong run game, their offensive line needs to improve and their defence has a real lack of talent.
Luck’s offensive weapons consistent of a good receiver in T.Y. Hilton, who’s a great deep threat, and some solid tight ends that are improving but he needs a little more around him. It’s clear that it was the high level of coaching that kept them afloat, rather than Pagano’s effort having a detrimental effect on them.
Pagano clearly has the backing of his team, shown by his “final” game last weekend and they know he can take them forward. Crazy fake punts aside, the Colts knew that letting him go would allow another team to pick him up, and some were waiting on it, so why allow him to prove how good he is somewhere else?
Now, the pressure turns on the general manager. They have a first round pick in the middle of the draft they need to nail, they need to shift their focus from past-it veterans and move to really build an elite team around Luck. They were abysmal on the ground yet again, they need to create more pressure on opposing quarterbacks and stop allowing so much yardage in the air and against the rush.
Should they fail again, now that Pagano has much more security, it will be Grigson in the firing line. It’s time for them to get off their hands and give one of the best quarterbacks in the league, along with a very solid coach, a team they can coach all the way to the Super Bowl.