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GM Chris Ballard's toughest job yet is finding right coach to fix losing Colts

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Pagano out as head coach after six seasons (1:40)

ESPN's Mike Wells says Colts owner Jim Irsay held on to coach Chuck Pagano two years too long and now GM Chris Ballard has to search for a coach that shares the same vision for the organization. (1:40)

INDIANAPOLIS -- It was almost this time two years ago when Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay held a news conference late on the night of Jan. 4, 2016, to announce the contract extensions of coach Chuck Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson because he felt like the duo could work together following their 8-8 season that also featured internal turmoil between the coach and general manager.

Pagano and Grigson are both gone, and the Colts are about to enter a vital offseason in which general manager Chris Ballard is looking for the right coach to get the franchise back on track after three straight seasons missing the playoffs.

The Colts aren’t in a position to continue their downward spiral. Not with Irsay as the owner, and not with the years ticking away on Andrew Luck's body.

“We’re going to get the right fit for the Indianapolis Colts,” Ballard said. “We have a great organization, we have a lot to sell and this is going to be a great place. We’re going to do a lot of great things going forward.”

Irsay and Ballard started talking about what they wanted out of their head coach shortly after Ballard was hired to replace Grigson in January 2017. Ballard spent the year evaluating Pagano to see if he had the characters the general manager was looking for, such as the ability to develop players and lead. Pagano never lost the locker room, but the results weren’t showing up. There was thought of firing Pagano during the season, but the team held off and let him finish out its 4-12 season.

“It really came right up until that game coming to an end Sunday late afternoon,” Irsay said. “Chris and I looking each other in the eye for the last time for 15 or 20 minutes, just being sure that we were very thorough in how we evaluated everything. As tough as it was in terms of letting such a good man go, the decision was made then. So, really, it was something that I think we were leaning towards making a change as the season went on.”

Finding the right coach will be Ballard’s toughest move yet because Irsay is giving him authority to lead the search before the owner meets the final candidates for the job. That’s why Ballard won’t put a timetable on when a hire will be made. Assistant coaches. Former head coaches. Even college coaches. Ballard is looking at all possibilities.

Ballard said you’re “not doing your job” if you don’t compile a list of potential candidates as the year goes on so that you’re prepared when you need to make a hire. It won’t be surprising if he extends the search so that he’s able to talk to candidates who are on teams that make a deep playoff run.

The Colts have already requested permission to interview Houston Texans defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel, New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks.

“At the end of the day, it’s going to be my years of experience, Mr. Irsay’s years of experience in football, and you’ve got a gut feel of when it’s the right guy,” Ballard said. “I think the longer you spend with people, the more time you spend, the better you get to know them. You get a pretty good feel of who that person is and if he’s a good fit and you can have a good working relationship.

“Look, is there going to be banter and disagreements? Absolutely. You want that. If we’re all agreeing, then something’s wrong. But you’ve got to be able to do both when you end up making a decision. We’re moving forward and it’s all about the team.”