INDIANAPOLIS – Ryan Grigson presided over a Colts team last year that was young across the board.
Three games into the season, Grigson’s head coach, Chuck Pagano, was diagnosed with leukemia, and a young team would be without its leader for 12 weeks.
Bruce Arians stepped into the fray and led the team on a 9-3 run until Pagano returned. Like Pagano, he was a football lifer who was playing field general for the first time.
From the Bear Bryant school of, “Coach ‘em hard, hug ‘em later,” Arians coaxed results from Pagano’s team by stressing the absent coach’s message.
Indianapolis responded by going 11-5 and making the playoffs, doing so one year removed from a 2-14 finish.
The Colts last year, according to Grigson, had great veteran leadership in every meeting room, supplementing assistant coaches with their chores.
In the tight end room, Alfredo Roberts was the voice to a young position group that excelled wildly for Indianapolis.
While character and integrity are musts from players as a culture is established, so is the proper knack from the coaches.
An effective coach must be many things, perhaps being a teacher is the top requirement.
“That’s what we are – teachers,” said Pagano. “We’re teachers first. You say, ‘coaching,’ but really it’s teaching.”
“You have to get them in the classroom as well as on the field,” said Pagano. “What we told them from the beginning is, ‘We’re going to be consistent. We’re going to be demanding, but we’re going to teach.’ ”
By camp’s end, Pagano was pleased with how newcomers responded. They were able to absorb information from the classroom and perform it on the field.
Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky has been in the league for 25 years as a player and coach. He played under head coaches Joe Gibbs and Marty Schottenheimer as well as Tony Dungy, his defensive coordinator in Minnesota.
Gibbs, Schottenheimer and Dungy are three of 39 coaches with at least 100 career victories, amassing a combined total of 524 triumphs with a .621 winning percentage.
Manusky was an attentive student.
“I think you teach things in a good environment,” said Manusky. “Once you get to know a player and you know how he reacts, is it hard coaching? Is it less coaching, more teaching, more fundamentals? What is it?
“I had a lot of respect for Tony Dungy. He didn’t curse, but he got his point across. I’m not like that that so much, I curse a little bit too much (smiles). I try to make it fun, also from a teaching perspective.”
Hamilton worked for five NFL teams in a 10-year span before going onto Stanford, where he started as position coach before moving to offensive coordinator.
He had a hand in developing
“As coaches, we teach in demand,” said Hamilton. “In the NFL, you are dealing with grown men. At times it may be pointless to yell and scream.
“It’s more important that we convey the message that we are trying to convey and make sure that guys understand what we want.”
The son of a coach, Pagano knows this is a results-oriented business above anything else. Striking the right chord might be more effective that cracking a constant whip.
“Sometimes if it’s always at a pitch that’s really, really high, players tend to tune you out,” said Pagano. “We always talk about building relationships, building that trust with the players.
“Players really don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. I think our guys do as good or better a job as anybody in the National Football League as teachers.”