INDIANAPOLIS –A nine-day, eight-candidate search by Colts Owner and CEO Jim Irsay and General Manager Ryan Grigson concluded in late January with the hiring of Chuck Pagano as head coach.
For Irsay, it was a time that marked a new era for his organization, now in its 29th year in Indianapolis.
It meant that an 11th head coach, counting two interim choices, was being installed on the sideline, and Irsay found the right field leader for his team.
"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," said Irsay. "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. … He's very composed and up for the large task of being that leader at the highest level. You can see the passion and those sort of things and the energy. He understands the aspect of the leadership position of a head coach.
"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."
Pagano spoke that night of his passion for the game, a passion that was stoked partly by being the son of a successful high school coach in Colorado. He espoused the value of relationships, and his practice of that has been evident readily over the past seven months.
Colts fans have embraced Pagano and on Sunday in Chicago, they will see his sideline style in regular season form for the first time. They have seen the past manners of Pagano's 10 predecessors.
Dungy was a calm, composed and deadly-effective presence on game days. Marchibroda is every bit the graceful person as is Dungy and though his style reflected Dungy's, Marchibroda's in-game fire burned intensely. Indianapolis followers have seen more animation from some of their other coaches like Ron Meyer, Jim Mora and Frank Kush.
Coaches do have their own styles, but part of it is shaped by their environments. Eighteen of Pagano's previous 28 seasons have been spent in the collegiate ranks. In 1986 at the University of Miami, Pagano worked under Jimmy Johnson. Johnson, later a two-time Super Bowl winning head coach at Dallas, had a commanding and vocal sideline presence.
The last four years of Pagano's career were spent under John Harbaugh, also a coach's son. The tone in Baltimore was forceful and effective. Now that his time has come, Pagano will use a style shaped by who he is and where he has been.
"I think there is a fine line there. You will see some animation from time to time," said Pagano earlier this year. "At the same time having spent time around some great coaches, some Hall-of-Fame coaches, Super Bowl-winning coaches like a Jimmy Johnson, you have to manage the game. You have to let your coaches coach and you have to let your players play, but you have to be one step ahead of everything."
Pagano cites Butch Davis as the man most responsible for him making it to the NFL. They worked together for 12 years both collegiately and professionally. Davis believes Pagano has many strengths.
"He's a terrific communicator. One of the things working with him all these years that you see is that he has great people skills. He has a good ability to relate to every, single guy in the locker room," said Davis. "He's meticulous, very detailed, very organized. He wants things to be right. He's full of a lot of energy.
"He's not one of those guys who's going to stand on the sidelines with his arms folded and just be a casual observer. I used to say he's a little bit like a flea on a hot brick. He's bouncing around from one position to the next position. He's a good teacher. He has really, really good ideas. Working with him all those years, you loved watching the ideas and presentations he came up with."
Fabled basketball coach John Wooden often cautioned not to mistake activity for achievement. Davis says achievements will meet the activity fans observe from Pagano.
"Absolutely. If you look at the impact he's had at every place he's coached and the positional groups he's had, they always have performed extraordinarily well," said Davis. "I think a lot of players would tell you that without Chuck's tutoring they would not have become the players they became. Some guys you give them good athletes and four years later they're just good athletes and okay players. You give Chuck good players and they became the best players in all of college football.
"He has a very, very bright, smart football background. His father was a coach. He's been around football and some excellent coaches. His ability to get the best from his players (is exceptional). The way he uses personnel (is good), 'What's the best thing Terrell Suggs can do? What's the best thing Ed Reed can do 11 years into his career?' I think that takes some real insight and real intelligence. He was born to be a football coach."
Former Colts offensive lineman and long-time University of Miami radio analyst Don Bailey observed Pagano previously. Bailey is an astute judge of character and acumen, and he expects great things from Pagano.
"You hope the football team takes on the personality of Chuck Pagano the coach," said Bailey. "With that, you're going to get intelligence. You're going to get people who are prepared. You're going to get an intensity level, and you're going to get a focus that is needed to win championships.
"The first time I met Chuck Pagano, the question was not if, it was when. When is he going to be the coordinator and when is he going to be the head coach? You could tell in a short period of time that he possessed all the things needed to be a great leader and a great coach.
"There is a lot of Jimmy Johnson in Chuck Pagano. Jimmy Johnson, to me, is a guy who is not backing down from anybody. I think that's the same thing with Chuck Pagano. He may have influenced Chuck, but the nature of not backing down is because they're prepared. It's not because they're cocky or arrogant. It's all rooted in preparation.
"Jimmy Johnson thought he was going to win every football game because he felt his preparation was at such a level that it would allow him to do that. I think that's the same way Chuck feels. It's based on preparation, history and fact. That confidence will flow over to the football team."
As Pagano sets foot on the turf at Soldier Field on Sunday, he will do so with a staff featuring 16 assistant coaches new to the program. Thirty of his 53 players will be making their debut in league play in Colts uniforms. Fifteen of the players will be christened into professional action as well.
Pagano stated one thing for certain upon being hired, and he will start it on Sunday.
"I am going to be me," said Pagano. "They're going to get a face-full of Chuck Pagano. "Whoever we play on Sunday is going to get a face-full of Colts, and on a weekly basis. We are going to have fun doing it."