INDIANAPOLIS – Indianapolis ended its season on January 1, missing the playoffs for the first time in nine seasons.
The Colts watched as other teams waged battle for the right to play in Lucas Oil Stadium on February 5 in Super Bowl XLVI. As the Colts watched the playoffs, Owner and CEO Jim Irsay hired a new general manager, Ryan Grigson. A new head coach was in the near future for him, too.
What was on Baltimore defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano's mind was to reach Indianapolis to play for a World Championship. His Ravens waged a spirited battle at New England last Sunday for that right. Two failed plays in the red zone preceded a missed field goal in the final seconds. A trip to Indianapolis was punched for the Patriots.
Pagano went home. He soon was informed by Head Coach John Harbaugh the Colts were interested in his services. After a Tuesday interview, Pagano was tabbed on Wednesday to be the 11th field leader in the Colts' Indianapolis era. Today, with emotions swirling, he spoke as the Colts head coach for the first time. A dream had come true, one vastly different than he had just days ago.
"Wow. It has been a whirlwind," said Pagano. "Words can't describe the emotions that I'm going through right now, and the feelings, coming off of probably the most devastating loss I've ever been a part of in the AFC Championship game and to go in that locker room and face those men and see those faces, and we all know how hard it is to get to that stage and just see how disheartening it was…the tears. It's an all-time low. The last thing I ever expected came across my table, and now here I sit at an all-time high. … Now, I'm at the top of the pinnacle. I've spent 28 years of my life in coaching waiting for this opportunity. I have Mr. Irsay to thank, first and foremost, for that."
With little chance to prepare for likely the biggest interview of his life, Pagano was told by Irsay and Grigson to come and sell himself as a person. It worked.
"I can't tell you how excited I am. It's the next chapter, another journey. It's going to be a great journey," said Pagano. "I thought for sure I was going to be coming to Indy to play for a World Championship. That's what I thought I was going to be coming to here for, and certainly not standing before you today as the next head football coach of the Indianapolis Colts. I thank Ryan (Grigson) for his persistence. I can't wait to go to work and start building and re-creating the excitement and passion and energy that's been here for so long."
Pagano is a 28-year coaching veteran who has spent 10 of his last 11 years in the NFL with Cleveland, Oakland and Baltimore. His four-year tenure with the Ravens was littered with defensive success. He assisted in helping the Ravens continue a nine-year streak with a top 10 total defense in the NFL. Over the last four seasons, Baltimore permitted 13.3 points per game at home, second-best in the NFL. The Ravens posted a 27-5 home mark during that span with an average victory margin of 14.5 points. Baltimore held 27 of 32 opponents to 17 or fewer points at home. In overall games since 2008, Baltimore surrendered 16.3 points per outing, the second-stingiest league total, intercepted 82 passes and held opposing quarterbacks to a league-low 69.6 rating. Baltimore has been just as solid on the ground, owning a league-record 16-year streak of not allowing opponents to post a 4.0 seasonal rushing average. The Ravens stood as the only team with victories in each of the four NFL playoffs.
"I could not be more excited," said Irsay of the hiring of Pagano. "When this process began and I saw at the end of the year where there would be restructuring of the franchise at the very top, and this is something I didn't dictate to, it dictated to me when I saw a vision of restructuring the franchise, rebuilding the franchise, whether it was through injury, salary cap aspects, aging players, different visions. … My goal was to get an outstanding team, and at this point led by Ryan (Grigson) and Chuck (Pagano), that would take us into the future. I wanted it to be an authentic group of two men that would define us going forward. I didn't want to have a re-tread process. I didn't want to play an old song from another era, from another franchise. I wanted to bring in what I thought was going to give us the best chance to go forward.
"I really feel Chuck is bringing in an energy, a connection with his players, a toughness. The sort of leadership you need at this point for this franchise. Just like Ryan, in sitting down with Chuck I could feel it. I could see we had a special guy. I am excited about the future going forward."
Grigson is 15 days into his tenure with the Colts. He sought leadership from the onset of his hiring. It is something he knows he has with Pagano.
"He brings leadership. First and foremost, he brings people skills," said Grigson. "He's known for reaching players, no matter veteran or rookie. He has that gift, which I think is very instrumental and imperative in a defense and a team in general. The allure of him was the fact that he doesn't have to try to be a leader. He is a leader. Players respond to him. He does those things you can't teach. He's a leader of men."
Pagano is grounded. He is in Indianapolis, where he planned to be this week. Pagano will work with Irsay and Grigson in piecing together a coaching staff. He identified the importance of reaching out to players and getting to know them quickly and thoroughly so bonds are formed. Those are hallmarks of his career to this point. They will be hallmarks with the Colts, a franchise he calls storied.
"I am a people person," said Pagano. "First and foremost, I want to get to know these players. I want to know what they are about. I want to know where they're from. I want to know family (and) kids. I want to build a relationship.
"Something I've always had everywhere I've been is a relationship with the people I've worked with and the players I've coached. To me, if you don't have that relationship and you don't have that trust, you don't have anything. Our foundation and our vision and our dream, all our goals and aspirations, everything is going to be built on that, and that alone. I will reach out as soon as possible to get to know each and every one of these men. We have some great men in that locker room. I can't wait to get to know all of them and start building those relationships."