INDIANAPOLIS – When Owner and CEO Jim Irsay and new General Manager Ryan Grigson decided a few days ago to take a new direction with the team’s head coaching decision, a nine-day process started that included interviews with eight candidates.
When Irsay tabbed Grigson on January 11 for his new post, Irsay sensed something different that made Grigson stand out. His choice was easy.
When Chuck Pagano interviewed last Tuesday just hours after Baltimore dropped a last-minute, heart-breaking game at New England in the AFC Championship game, Irsay encountered a pleasant recurrence of déjà vu.
“He came into it with his soul, with his heart,” said Irsay. “He came into it with the type of passion that we are looking for. (We) couldn’t be more excited.”
Irsay said the decision when hiring Grigson was an intuitive one, but that Grigson’s intelligence, perception, toughness, awareness and teamwork attitude made him the evident choice among other solid candidates. He felt the same way about Pagano during the process.
“No question about it. I think I saw the magic there,” said Irsay. “The thing that I’ve always seen with head coaches, the great ones, is obviously leadership and the component where players really want to play for them. They are ready to run through the brick wall, to run through the tunnel and take the field and really want to play for them. Ted Marchibroda was that way and Tony Dungy, so many great coaches.
“His (Pagano’s) passion, his intelligence, all those things (were evident). He’s intense and emotional. Having in-depth conversations, I also realized he’s very composed and up for the large task of being that leader at the highest level. That’s something to me that’s all there with him. I think you can see the passion and those sort of things and the energy.
“Clearly, he understands the aspect of the leadership position of a head coach in terms of composure and (other) things as well, too.”
Grigson was a key component in the process, too. During his 13 years in the league, nine of which included playoff appearances, Grigson, like Irsay, compiled short lists of people who impressed him along the way. Grigson had an interest in Pagano a year ago when he was with Philadelphia, but Baltimore promoted him from a position coach to being the defensive coordinator. A year later, Grigson tried again. He joined Irsay in liking what he saw from Pagano right off the bat.
“Right from the minute he stepped in the room, like Jim (Irsay) said, he has things that you can’t fake,” said Grigson. “He has true leadership. He’s a leader of men. His style transcends age in this league, from 12-year veterans to rookies. That is something that is special.”
Some people are natural in their abilities. It is a gift that can be used to motivate people to produce. Grigson firmly states Pagano has that natural touch.
“The way he communicates and motivates are things that you can’t fake or teach,” said Grigson. “There are things that are innate and there are things that are part of your core and your being. He has played an impressive, physical brand of football and been very successful dating far back into the early parts of his career at the (University of Miami). He has a great football background. It is in his family. It is in his blood and like all of us, he loves the game.”
The process happened quickly for Irsay and Grigson because of their previous knowledge of Pagano through the years. The three-hour interview last Tuesday was followed up by one additional fact-checking phone call. Everything clicked, and Irsay and Grigson had their man.
“After reviewing all the candidates, we decided to call Chuck and have one more conversation with him on a couple of points that I wanted to go over with him that Ryan (Grigson) and I had discussed. Then (we) offered him the job,” said Irsay. “He was quite taken aback. He was like, ‘Really, can I call my wife.’ I said, ‘Sure, go ahead and call her just call me back in a couple of hours.’ He called back all fired up and said, ‘Let’s hunt!’
“It was unfortunate we knew we were putting him through a real tough, emotional process of coming off that loss (AFC Championship), getting in here so quickly, going through the interview, flying back and then being presented with such an opportunity. I said to Ryan, ‘Well, what do you think? Do you think he’s too emotionally burned out? Is he going to be too overwhelmed? Is he just going to want sit back and say he’s become one of those coaches who likes to get their names out there, but who’s not ready to take it and next year go out there and take it or something?’ He (Grigson) said, ‘No, he’s a tough (guy). He’ll take it.’ Sure enough, he was right.”