INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts have fired coach Chuck Pagano after six seasons, the team announced Sunday.
"Chuck Pagano provided Colts fans with many exciting wins and memories as head coach of the Colts," Colts owner Jim Irsay said in a statement. "Throughout his tenure in Indianapolis, he impacted the lives of the players he coached, those who he worked with in the organization and Colts fans across the globe. ... We are thankful for Chuck's contributions to our franchise and community and we wish him, Tina and the entire Pagano family nothing but the best moving forward."
In a nearly empty locker room, a few Colts players offered their thoughts on Pagano on Monday.
"He's meant so much, great guy, great coach," quarterback Jacoby Brissett said. "Been an excellent example as a man to look at. Can't thank him enough"
"The thing about Chuck was that he was authentic," safety Darius Butler said. "He was himself from the day I met him. I met him in 2009 when I was coming out for the combine. He's been that same guy up until I saw him today. I'm sure he'll remain the same. Things didn't fall our way. We didn't live up to expectations, what the standards are for this organization. That falls on all of us, definitely doesn't just fall on Chuck. Falls on the players, falls on everybody involved. Everybody has to look in the mirror and see what can be done better."
Pagano went out with a 22-13 win over the Houston Texans, and after the game, Irsay presented him with the game ball.
"It would have been real easy for these guys to throw in the towel, but they never quit," an emotional Pagano said after the game, before the firing had been announced. "That's my football family in there. It's always been about relationships. It's always been about love with me. It's always been about connection. The price of love is sometimes you have to say goodbye.
"I don't know what tomorrow brings, but I am grateful for every one of them."
The 4-12 Colts, who were without quarterback Andrew Luck all year because of a shoulder injury, had their worst season since finishing 2-14 in 2011 and have missed the playoffs in each of the past three seasons.
Sunday, Brissett threw for one touchdown and Marlon Mack ran for another in the Colts' win. Pagano had tears in his eyes as he left the field, and he talked about what those final minutes on the field meant to him.
"We do this for those five minutes," Pagano said. "We got to enjoy those five minutes. The blood, the sweat, the tears, all the sacrifices that you make ... it's really, really hard to win a game in the NFL, a game.
"That's why we do it, why you keep coming back, why you compete, prepare, fight, and scratch and claw and keep digging -- for those five minutes. And those five minutes we just had was the best five minutes of my life."
Pagano led the Colts to the playoffs, including reaching the AFC Championship Game in 2014, in each of his first three seasons as coach. The Colts went undefeated in the AFC South in 2013 and 2014. The future appeared to be bright for the Colts and Pagano because they had Luck leading the way for the franchise.
But things started to change in 2015 for the Colts. That was the start of back-to-back 8-8 seasons and missing the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since 1997-98. Luck played only seven games in 2015 because of a shoulder injury and a lacerated kidney. He continued to battle the shoulder injury for most of the 2016 season.
Despite the mediocre record, Pagano survived the 2016 season and Irsay decided to fire general manager Ryan Grigson and retain Pagano. Irsay said at the time that Pagano, who is under contract through the 2019 season, would be the coach for the 2017 season.
First-year general manager Chris Ballard expected some tough times for the Colts, especially with Luck (shoulder) out, and that's how it played out with Indianapolis finishing among the worst teams in the NFL.
Pagano arrived in Indianapolis in 2012 in a season of transition. It was the first year the Colts were without longtime franchise quarterback Peyton Manning.
Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia that season and he missed Weeks 5 through 16. The team, with offensive coordinator Bruce Arians coaching in the interim, rallied. Pagano returned with his cancer in remission for the last week of the regular season. The Colts finished 11-5 and lost to the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens in the wild-card round.
Pagano had arrived with a defensive reputation after being defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens. But the defensive results never showed up for the Colts under Pagano. Indianapolis finished 20th or worse in total defense in five of Pagano's six seasons, including 31st in 2017.
Pagano's inability to beat AFC rivals Pittsburgh and New England also hurt him. The Colts were a combined 0-8 against those two teams under Pagano. They lost by an average of 24.3 points to the Steelers and by an average of 24.6 points to the Patriots.
Pagano had a 53-43 regular-season record as coach of the Colts.