INDIANAPOLIS — Chuck Pagano will return for his sixth season as the Indianapolis Colts' head coach in 2017, team Owner Jim Irsay confirmed on Saturday.
Irsay, who had called a press conference to announce that the team and general Ryan Grigson had parted ways — as well as the ensuing search for the team's next head of personnel — said of Pagano: "He's our coach for 2017."
"The new general manager will come in, evaluate our whole football program, and we'll see where we're at," Irsay said. "Again, I hope Chuck can be our coach for many years to come. He is our coach this year, and going through this process and interviewing general managers and having whoever the new general manager come in to work with me, to evaluate where we're at will play a big role in that in the long term. But for 2017, Chuck is our coach."
Pagano returns off the heels of two straight 8-8 seasons, each of which ended without a postseason appearance for the Colts, who had made the playoffs in each of Pagano's first three seasons at the helm of the franchise, including 2014, when the team advanced to the AFC Championship Game.
Since that season, however, the Colts simply haven't been as dominant as in seasons past, especially within the AFC South Division, where the Houston Texans would emerge as division champions in both 2015 and 2016.
As such, Irsay said Saturday, a change had to be made. That change was the removal of Grigson, who in five seasons was unable to build a consistent winner the past two seasons around quarterback Andrew Luck, who signed the most lucrative contract in NFL history prior to the 2016 season.
In announcing the move to Pagano earlier in the day Saturday, Irsay said he laid out plenty of expectations moving forward, but declined to go into much detail.
"Chuck understands some of the things that we talked about internally that I believe have to be done better, and have to be pinned down better," Irsay said of Pagano, who has a 49-31 (.613) regular season record in his five seasons as the Colts' head coach. "I'm not going to go through the details about internally how we worked on that thing. But let me just say this, there was a lot of work going on within our organization to evaluate how interaction happens, how people communicate, how people get better.
"I do believe that Chuck being here, that improvement has to be made and he understands that and he is excited," Irsay continued. "Him and I met for a while this afternoon. He is fired up for 2017. He understands what we have to do. I really believe he will be the best coach he has ever been going into this year — I really do."
Pagano last addressed the media Jan. 2, the day after the Colts' Week 17 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars to conclude the 2016 season. At that point, he was yet to discuss his future with Irsay, but when asked if he expected to return to the team, Pagano told reporters, "That's the plan."
"I think just like everybody else wants answers – the fans, my kids, my wife, the owner," Pagano said at the time. "Yeah, we're going to have a discussion on where we're at, what do we need to do, where we're going and how we're going to get there. We understand where we want to go and so yeah, we'll have that conversation."
Pagano did say he was confident that the Colts weren't far from returning to their winning ways, and hoped he could be a part of it.
"Sometimes you have to go through some stuff to get places," he said. "Again, every season is different. There are challenges that come with every one of them. Because we set the bar so high so early, those expectations are what they are. They were high when I got here and I wouldn't change a thing.
"Getting all the way to the AFC Championship and having the disappointing loss there and then to have back-to-back 8-8 seasons, again, I think every player would tell you, I would tell you and every coach would tell you that it's not where you want to be," Pagano continued. "It's disappointing and it's not acceptable and we have to be better and we will. We'll keep working until we get there."
The decision to bring back Pagano comes a year after Irsay decided to retain both Pagano and Grigson, signing each to multi-year contract extensions, and declaring that the two would be tied at the hip moving forward.
But over the past three weeks, as he went through his options and made his final decision, Irsay said of that Pagano-Grigson partnership: "I untied 'em."
"I can only tell you that, because it was in the best interest of the franchise," Irsay said. "Chuck did not ask for Ryan to be fired, it wasn't 'me or him' or anything like that, neither did Ryan. My decision was based on what's best for the Horseshoe, what's best to make us the best football team on the field."
Pagano on Saturday evening issued a statement, saying he was "grateful for the opportunity Ryan gave me."
"We shared many great memories, moments and victories together over the past five years," Pagano said. "I wish nothing but the best for Ryan moving forward."
Like usual, Irsay said Pagano's next move will be going to the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., to evaluate some of the top prospects for the 2017 NFL Draft. Pagano will be joined by Jimmy Raye III, the team's Vice President of Football Operations, who will be the lead on personnel matters moving forward while Irsay finds Grigson's permanent replacement.
"There's excitement in people's eyes in the building today, you know, in talking to Chuck Pagano and Jimmy Raye and others," Irsay said. "So there's a lot of excitement, and a tinge of sadness with leaving someone behind who worked so tirelessly to try to bring Colts fans a championship."
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