With all the folderol about the future of Peyton Manning, and the alleged coldness in the halls of the Indianapolis Colts' head offices, and all the Rob Lowe "breaking news," and Jim Irsay's ongoing twitterpation, the decision to replace ex-head coach Jim Caldwell with a new man was done in surprisingly under-the-radar fashion. On Wednesday the team announced that former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano will be their new head coach.
Baltimore's defensive coordinator position has been a hotbed for NFL coaching talent — in the last decade alone, Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan and Rex Ryan used that consistently great defensive unit as a launching pad to further their professional development. Pagano made the grade after just one year at the postion.
It didn't take long for Pagano's former charges to recognize his abilities -- in fact, Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs knew in September of 2011 that his new defensive coordinator would not be long for the team.
"That guy Chuckie Pagano, man, he's as smart as he is ruthless," Suggs told Yahoo! Sports' Mike Silver after the Ravens' season-opening win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. "I guarantee he'll only be our defensive coordinator one year, because he'll be a head coach somewhere next year."
Ah, the value of a Ball So Hard University education.
It was the second time in as many days that a team named a one-year defensive coordinator as its head coach — on Tuesday, the Oakland Raiders hired Dennis Allen, formerly of the Denver Broncos, to fill their vacant role. Pagano will be working with a new general manager — the recently hired Ryan Grigson — and a new coaching staff. Including Caldwell, 11 of the 20 coaches who worked for the Colts in 2011 are gone.
"It's difficult to leave the Ravens but I couldn't pass up on this great opportunity," Pagano said in a statement released by Pagano's former team. "I'm just thrilled and so excited."
An NFL assistant since 2001, Pagano got his start with the Cleveland Browns as a secondary coach through 2004 — in 2003, the Browns set their franchise record for fewest passing touchdowns allowed with 13. He then spent two seasons in Oakland coaching a defensive backs unit, led by Nnamdi Asomugha, which was one of the league's best. After a one-year stop at North Carolina, Pagano was hired by the Ravens in 2008 to be their secondary coach before his promotion to defensive coordinator in 2011.
"Chuck has a leadership quality about him. He's humble but he also knows when to take the reins and take charge," Ravens linebacker Paul Kruger told the Associated Press. "He doesn't try to dominate you in every meeting. He's just a coach that knows exactly how players are and what direction they need."
This past season, Pagano presided over a Baltimore defense that was special by any measure — third in the NFL in points and yards allowed, and first overall in Football Outsiders' opponent-adjusted Defensive DVOA metric. Of course, when you have Suggs, Ray Lewis, Jarrett Johnson, Haloti Ngata, Ed Reed and Lardarius Webb as your co-pilots, it's a lot easier to fly that plane. Indy's defense may look a bit thin in comparison — especially if free-agent lineman Robert Mathis goes elsewhere.
In 2011, the 2-14 Colts finished 27th in Defensive DVOA, and ranked 28th in points allowed and 25th in yards allowed. There is talent on that defense — Dwight Freeney, Pat Angerer, and a young secondary provide interesting personnel landing points — but there's a reason that former team president Bill Polian is no longer with the team. The Colts' last five drafts haven't provided much in the way of starter talent on either side of the ball. Pagano will likely have Andrew Luck as his new quarterback when the 2012 NFL draft rolls around, but there's much more work to be done.
First among the personnel decisions to be made, of course, will have to do with Manning's future. Due a $28 million payout in March if the Colts don't cut him, Manning recently said that he doesn't recognize much about the new Indianapolis organization.
"I'm not in a very good place for healing, let's say that. It's not a real good environment down there right now, to say the least. Everybody's walking around on eggshells. I don't recognize our building right now. There's such complete and total change.''
It won't likely be known for a while whether Manning will be Pagano's issue or not. The quarterback, who missed the entire 2011 season with a serious neck injury and nerve regeneration issues, is still rehabbing and trying to get back into playing shape.