Did Colts Make Mistake by Limiting Pagano to Lame-Duck Status?


Last week, it was leaked that the Indianapolis Colts would reportedly not be reaching an extension with their head coach in Chuck Pagano before next season begins. Whether the team actually offered Pagano a modestly increased 1-year extension or not (although it appears the team in fact did), Pagano is set to enter lame-duck status with the Colts next season regardless. He’ll be coaching on the last year of his original coaching contract signed in 2012.

According to CBS Sports Jason La Canfora, the decision is nothing but “49ers-esque in stupidity“, and the Colts have done a major disservice to their head coach, who is both been good at his job and well-liked within the Indianapolis community during his tenure as head coach:

"“Why they would subsequently tell members of the local media that they were taken aback that Pagano turned down such a modicum of an offer, is, again, bizarre,” La Canfora writes. “Why the team would then leak their intentions to do no further negotiations with Pagano, and that he’d have to play out his contract with high expectations over his head, is, well, bizarre. (Sounds almost 49ers-esque with their prolonged mishandling of the Jim Harbaugh situation). And then, as this went from being something on no one’s immediate radar to a predominate NFL issue at a time there was a lull in the newscycle, the lack of any formal statements or any signs of leadership from ownership was nothing short of bizarre.”"

La Canfora goes on in his article to point at Pagano’s modest pay-grade and how it falls well short of some of his NFL coaching contemporaries given his proven winning results. He indicates that keeping Pagano’s annual pay around $3 million per year in a 1-year extension was nothing more than a “bush-league move” and a slap in the face of sorts:

"“Here’s some reality for you: Pagano was hired on the cheap (an average of a little more than $3M a season) and came in as one of the least-compensated head guys in the league, which I get after him serving as defensive coordinator in Baltimore for just one year prior and a stud position coach for some time before that,” La Canfora writes. “Irsay was buying low with some big upside. Makes sense.”“But three years later, after being a key figure in reversing the course of the organization, things have changed. At a time when Arians and his young general manager, Steve Keim, just got massive new extensions and Arians now in the $6M range, to make Pagano an offer still below $4M, for one season, is a bush-league move. He deserves, if anything, to be in that $5M-$6M range. I’m not saying put him in the $7M-plus crowd (Sean Payton, Bill Belichick, Pete Carroll, John Harbaugh, Jeff Fisher), but if you’re going to start a conversation about a new contract, make more than a low-ball, short term offer. If that’s what the Colts’ brass think he’s worth, might have been better to offer nothing – and leak nothing – at all, rather than create friction, at least perceived friction, during should be a time of excitement.”"

La Canfora points to the many AFC South divisional wins, “Chuckstrong” mantra, handful of personnel blunders from up-top, and many other variables as to why Pagano deserves to be the guy calling the shots on the sidelines for the Colts for the long-term. Yet, he also fairly acknowledges that the Colts star young quarterback Andrew Luck covers a lot of holes for the team.

However, he also urges no one to feel sorry for Pagano, who’s shown nothing but the utmost strength and resolve since joining the Colts and overcoming leukemia in 2012. Pagano himself has said he’s just “thankful for today” and that he’s just looking to live each day to the fullest, rather than get caught up in the team politics regarding his new contract. La Canfora paints a favorable picture of Pagano, and it’s clear that he holds him in rather high esteem:

"“So, yeah, all of this seems pretty damn strange to me,” La Canfora writes. “But don’t feel bad for Pagano. His strength and will and fortitude are beyond what most can comprehend, and he’s never one to wallow about circumstances much more cruel than this. Playing it out and gambling on himself ain’t no big thing in the grand scheme of things. He’s the ultimate team player and he’ll say and do all the right things and he’ll go on winning a ton of football games and his price will only go up. He’d never give a whiff that any of this blindsided him, even if it did.”“If Irsay manages to botch this to the point that the market has the opportunity to greet Pagano, I suspect it would do so with pockets wide open and pens ready to strike checkbooks. His credentials speak more loudly than any old Internet column could. Just seems bizarre to even have to be writing any of this, much less in March, with the Colts five months from playing a football game that matters, and just a few months removed from another season of good strides, and greater hope.”"

Regardless of what your opinion is, La Canfora’s full article is well-worth the read. For me, it’s easy to see both sides of the fence. No one’s questioning that Pagano is a high character individual and “great leader of men”, whose teams have consistently improved each season in the playoffs.

However, at the end of the day, he’ll be evaluated just like any other coach by how many Super Bowl Championships he’s able to bring to the city of Indianapolis. Right now, the team’s defense hasn’t been the elite unit that owner Jim Irsay perhaps envisioned when he named Pagano his head coach back in 2012.

Pagano’s teams have also struggled against the New England Patriots 0-4, including 2 of his 3 seasons as head coach ending to blowout losses at their hands. If the Colts want to become Super Bowl Champions, it’s starting to look like Pagano’s team will have to find a way to get past New England once and for all.

Jan 11, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano celebrates following the game against the Denver Broncos in the 2014 AFC Divisional playoff football game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Colts defeated the Broncos 24-13. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports