Colts Blame Game: Pagano or Grigson on the Hot Seat?


The Indianapolis Colts have been a model of success over the past 15 years. Winning 10-plus games every season and making the playoffs with varying results. Even with the overhaul in roster, management, and coaching, the Colts have gone 11-5 like clockwork for three years. They’ve managed to go a step further in the playoffs each time as well.

With this level of success, it seems baffling that there would be a conflict in the front office and a coach on the hot seat. Yet a recent piece by Bob Kravitz indicates there is a rift between Colts GM Ryan Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano.

While there aren’t any sources named in the piece, it does help to confirm a lot of the rumors that have surrounded the Colts over the past few seasons. Anyone who covers the team has heard that there is a divide and it certainly explains a lot of the issues surrounding the team.

It is understood that Grigson ultimately makes personnel decisions, with input from Pagano and the coaches. This process helps explains moves like benching center A.Q. Shipley and forcing Trent Richardson into the lineup. Shipley was brought in out of desperation (with both centers down with injuries), but wasn’t one of Grigson’s “guys.” Richardson cost the team a first round pick, and flaming out makes Grigson look bad, thus they gave him every opportunity to succeed.

Pagano isn’t absolved from the team failures, either. Multiple times per year his team is dominated in a game where they should at least be competitive, and I’m not just talking about versus the Patriots. In 2014, the Colts were blown out by the Steelers, Cowboys (both on the road), and the Patriots twice (once at home, once on the road). In 2013, it was big losses against the Rams (at home), Cardinals (away), and Bengals (away), followed by the requisite thumping in the playoffs by the Pats.

These are games where the team appears completely unprepared to play football. But that isn’t to say the Colts haven’t punched above their weight class either. In 2013 they beat the 49ers and Seahawks, as well as the Broncos.

Pagano is loved by the players and has served as an inspiration to the community. While at times he has been a frustrating head coach, he’s also evolved and made better decisions over the past couple seasons. Pagano, as a former defensive coordinator, has pledged to work more with the defense this season (the offense will be more than fine without his input). Considering the personnel the Colts have had across the roster in recent years, the fact that the defense has managed to be competitive is impressive. In recent months, Pagano, who has just one year left on his current contract, turned down a one-year extension for a paltry amount.

Grigson, on the other hand, is rumored to be disliked by the players. And why would they respect him when he doesn’t seem to reward on-field performance? However, Grigson is also very close to team owner Jim Irsay, which means his job is likely safe for some time.

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Those aforementioned personnel decisions? They’re all on Grigson. While he was Executive of the year in 2012, you don’t get credit for taking Andrew Luck (the best QB prospect in nearly 20 years) with the first pick in the draft. The rest of that draft was great, but Grigson should lose that 2012 award for what he did in 2013. We’ve seen half of this free agency class be cut from the team and the draft picks fail to produce.

Offensive linemen Gosder Cherilus and Donald Thomas were felled by injury (not Grigson’s fault, certainly) and were cut this summer. Safety LaRon Landry was terrible with the Colts and Rickey Jean-Francois was mediocre. Both were cut this offseason. On the flip side, Matt Hasselbeck, Greg Toler, and Darius Butler have all been good for the team. Erik Walden (though it took some time) has also developed into a solid player.

Neither has Grigson’s 2013 draft class lived up to expectations. First rounder Bjoern Werner is at least a bust as a pass rusher. Hugh Thornton and Khaled Holmes (now the starting center) have struggled to make the transition to the NFL. Montori Hughes is reportedly in the mix for the backup nose tackle spot, but could easily be cut as well. And we haven’t even gotten to Grigson’s trade for Richardson yet.

2014 wasn’t a lot better in terms of free agency. Linebacker D’Qwell Jackson has struggled, and is essentially a one-dimensional player. Defensive tackle Art Jones can’t seem to stay healthy (again, not Grigson’s fault). Hakeem Nicks never seemed to care about the game and left a lot to be desired on the field. Only safety Mike Adams, who was a desperation signing, has played well and had the best season of his career in 2014.

The draft class from 2014 was much better, with the picks of Jack Mewhort, Donte Moncrief, and Jonathan Newsome all looking like solid contributors. But that still doesn’t excuse trading away the first pick for Richardson (who is out of the league now).

This is mostly just speculation based on tons of rumors, but it correlates with what we’ve seen regarding personnel decisions, roster moves, and on-field results. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, as the old saying goes. If the Colts come up short of their goals once again, firing Pagano wouldn’t do much to solve the team’s problems. They don’t need to clean house, especially not when they are making deep playoff pushes every year, but a re-evaluation of how they conduct business is certainly in order.

Next: Should Colts Pursue Phil Taylor?