Can Pagano Coach?

The Pagano Era is upon us.

The move will be met with almost universal acclaim. Chuck Pagano is a fiery defensive minded coach who is sure to be popular with fans and media.

Pagano is a safe hire, and given the nightmare scenarios of Childress and Tressel, Colts fans will be almost universally content. Those who were unhappy with the Indy style of defense and the more reserved manner of Jim Caldwell and Tony Dungy will no doubt find much to love in Chuck Pagano.

He is a hire with upside, but there is much we don’t know about him.

  • We don’t know how good a defensive strategist he is. Pagano did well with the Ravens, leading to a #3 ranking in scoring in the NFL. On the other hand, it was the 4th straight year the Ravens were 3rd in scoring with 3 different coordinators.
  • Will Pagano be like other Ravens assistants who became head coaches? That list includes: Marvin Lewis, Rex Ryan, Mike Nolan, Jack Del Rio, and Mike Singletary.  Apparently, being an assistant with the Ravens is not a pass key to future NFL success.
  • Let’s assume that Pagano can coach and coordinate a defense at an elite level. We have very little evidence that it’s true (and none that it’s not, by the way), but I’m willing to take it on faith. We have absolutely no idea if he can do any of the other things a head coach has to do. For instance, can he:
    • Organize, manage, and lead a staff
    • Manage a game plan
    • Master timeout strategy
    • Handle media pressure
    • Does he understand the dangers of punting and kicking on fourth and short
    • Run a training camp
    • Handle locker room conflict’
    • Deal with winning
    • Deal with losing

Chuck Pagano has never been a head coach. He has only been a coordinator three times (twice in college). He has no offensive experience at all.

He’s a blank.

We know his players love him. We know the locker room loved Caldwell too.

Pagano is in roughly the same position as Steve Spagnuolo was a few years ago, only without the same resume. Spags didn’t work out in Saint Louis, despite being given a top overall pick at quarterback.

Pagano will be a welcome change to many. I obviously hope that he’s wildly successful. I’m not displeased by the hire. In fact, I mostly consider it positive. It does worry me that the Colts have yet to address the third most important issue the facing the franchise: who will mentor Andrew Luck? The truth be told the other two more important decisions (keeping/cutting Peyton and drafting Luck or anyone else) I consider to be nearly inevitable at this point.

The development of Luck is the key to the next 10 years of the Colts. Personally, I favored bringing in an innovative offensive mind who could push the envelope of strategy in the NFL. I worry that defensive minded coaches will tend to be risk averse. It’s a stereo-type for sure. I have no idea if Pagano is prone to punting when the numbers say go for it. That’s part of the problem…I have no idea WHAT to expect from him. I don’t think anyone does. He has no track record as a head coach.

Now the Colts have young GM and an unproven (though not young) head coach. It’s new day in Indianapolis, and the old guard has no place in it.

The Colts now have to find an offensive coordinator who can help Luck fulfill the potential he has already shown. Indy made a huge mistake hiring Jim Mora in 1998. It might have been one of Polian’s worst mistakes. Years of Manning’s ability was wasted as Mora ruined playoff games. Manning was so good that Mora managed to have limited success. Ultimately, however, it was clear that Mora was not the man to take Indy to the next level. What saved the Colts was that Tom Moore was present to mentor and develop Peyton, saving him from the dreaded system change that often causes regression in young signal callers.

The Colts need to pick the right offensive coordinator. If they get this hire right, it will give Pagano the rope he needs to grow into the job. If he turns out to be an inspired choice, excellent. If he turns out to be yet another Ravens assistant who built his reputation on the back of Ed Reed and Ray Lewis, then at least the franchise quarterback won’t have wasted his precious early years. Even if he’s not the man to restore the Colts to full glory, with any luck he won’t be a step in the wrong direction.

Some have suggested Hue Jackson is a front runner for OC, but I still hold out hope the Colts can land an outside the box thinker like Trestman or even Carmichael. Trestman makes $2 million a year in Canada, so that would be a hefty sum for Irsay to shell out to a coordinator, but it would certainly show a massive commitment to winning and to giving Luck the right framework for a successful career. Carmichael would be difficult (impossible?) to pry away from the Saints without surrendering a draft pick, but again, the right man is the right man.

There are more dark days ahead for Colts fans as the franchise still has a black cloud hanging over it. That storm is only just beginning to break.

Today, however, fans can celebrate.

The Colts have a new head coach.

And they could have done a lot worse.