INDIANAPOLIS -- Chuck Pagano’s six-year coaching stint with the Indianapolis Colts has come to an end. Now the onetime playoff staple franchise has to find the right person to get it back on track after missing the postseason each of the past three seasons. And for that to happen owner Jim Irsay needs to let general manager Chris Ballard lead the coaching search.
Irsay has started taking a backseat to Ballard in the role of franchise spokesman. Outside of a brief comment during the NFL owners meetings last month, Irsay hasn't spoken to the media since Aug. 31, 2017.
Irsay is a big reason why Indianapolis is in its current situation of having to find a new coach. He decided against firing Pagano at the end of the 2015 season, one that the Colts entered thinking they were good enough to make a run at a Super Bowl. Irsay, in fact, did the opposite. He rewarded Pagano with a contract extension after that 8-8 season.
What about 2016?
Irsay remained silent for three weeks after the season while he kicked the tires on Jon Gruden’s interest last January before saying that he could guarantee Pagano's being the coach only for this season. Irsay could have cleaned house completely by making it a package deal and firing Pagano and former general manager Ryan Grigson at the same time.
Keeping Pagano got the Colts a 4-12 record this season. The one positive is that they will have a top-three pick in the April draft.
The Colts are in a worse position now than they were when they finished with a 2-14 record in 2011. They knew then they were going to be fine because the plan was to select quarterback Andrew Luck with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 draft to replace Peyton Manning. The same can’t be said today about the franchise.
Irsay, who once boasted about winning multiple Super Bowls with Luck, has a tendency to worry about making a splash. The Colts can’t worry about making a headline hire. Not while they’re sitting near the bottom of the AFC South for the second straight season and not with the uncertainty surrounding Luck’s health.
The days of having Luck to mask the roster’s flaws are over. At this stage, the Colts will just be happy to have Luck back as their starting quarterback after he missed all of this season with a shoulder injury.
That’s why Ballard needs to lead the coaching search. His vision has been obvious since he was hired in January 2017. He wants to draft well, develop the Colts' players and re-sign their own while being a frugal spender on the outside free-agent market. Now Ballard needs to be the one responsible for finding the right coach who shares in his vision.