The arranged marriage of Colts head coach Chuck Pagano and general manager Chris Ballard lasted just one year.
Pagano was fired Sunday after the Colts' 22-13 victory over the Texans in what he told his team earlier this week would be their “last rodeo.” WISH-TV's Anthony Calhoun first reported the firing.
The Colts (4-12) concluded their worst season since 2011, when Pagano’s predecessor and another coach who may have just coached his final game with his current club, Detroit’s Jim Caldwell, was fired.
And like Caldwell’s final season, sabotaged by Peyton Manning’s neck injury, Pagano’s was marred by the absence of Andrew Luck all year following shoulder surgery.
But Pagano’s Colts missed the playoffs in his final three seasons — the longest such stretch since prior to the Manning-Bill Polian regime — and he survived the firing last offseason of GM Ryan Grigson, with whom Pagano was supposedly contractually tied via matching extensions from owner Jim Irsay just one year earlier, and arrival of Ballard.
Pagano’s firing will be first and foremost the result of a defensive-minded coach’s inability to coax even adequate play from that side of the ball for the vast majority of his six-year tenure.
Pagano’s ‘D’ ranked 31st in yards and 30th in points allowed this season after an overhaul under Ballard. From 2012-17, Pagano’s unit ranked above 19th in total defense (11th in 2014) and points allowed (9th in 2013) once.
In the first three seasons of Pagano’s rein, the Colts earned three consecutive postseason berths. That included his debut, in 2012, when Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia and left the team for nearly three months with offensive coordinator and eventual Coach of the Year Bruce Arians while undergoing treatment.
But Indianapolis, which advanced one round further in each of three preseason trips, were dismantled by the Patriots in the 2014 AFC title game — the “Deflategate” game — and haven’t been back to the playoffs since.
Pagano’s early success coincided with Luck starting 54 consecutive games to begin his career. But Luck’s missed 26 of the past 48 games, when a pair of 8-8 campaigns preceded this year’s rebuilding season.
NFL Media’s Mike Silver tweeted Saturday afternoon that Tom Cable, the’ Seahawks assistant head coach and offensive line coach, will receive “serious consideration” to replace Pagano. Ballard's former colleague with the Bears and Chiefs, Kansas City special teams coordinator Dave Toub, is also likely to be on the Colts' short list.
The mystery surrounding Luck's surgically repaired right shoulder — which kept him out the entire season and recently led him to Europe to seek treatment — could serve as an asterisk on the attractiveness of the Colts' vacancy.
But Luck, in his first public comments Friday in months, attempted to restore hope and said he doesn't anticipate requiring another procedure, and the Colts have an up-and-comer GM in Ballard and established, never mind eccentric, owner in Irsay.