Ryan Grigson’s first few major moves as the Colts new general manager were sizable detonations, but the intention of those implosions couldn’t truly be gauged until the reassembly of the foundation he crumbled began. First he fired head coach Jim Caldwell, then he canned pretty much everyone else.
There are no clear, definitive signals regarding the future of the franchise and the future of Peyton Manning to be gleaned from Grigson’s hiring of Chuck Pagano today to replace Caldwell as the 19th head coach in team history. Conclusive, concrete answers don’t exist in late January when the playing career of a hall of fame quarterback is in question.
But there have been strong hints, and the hiring of Pagano could hint at a franchise that still believes it’s competitive in its current form offensively, with the defense is an area that needs intensive care, and that’s Pagano’s specialty.
The opposite hint could have been deduced from the hiring of an offensive mind, and someone like Marc Trestman, the Montreal Alouettes head coach who was reportedly interviewed last week. Trestman is an experienced quarterback coach, a position he’s held in various forms eight times through his coaching career, which includes work with Tim Tebow. So a hiring of that nature that brought aboard an experienced quarterback mentor is a gesture that would have embraced Andrew Luck, and a new beginning.
A total dismantling could still happen, especially on the offensive side of the ball with Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon likely taking a cannonball into the free agency pool in March, along with Robert Mathis defensively, and Dwight Freeney entering a contract year. But Pagano is coming from a defensive factory in Baltimore after he served one year there as the defensive coordinator, making his goal in Indianapolis abundantly clear right away.
He has to fix a problem that’s existed for years with the Colts, a problem that’s dramatically slowed championship-caliber teams. Defense has been their downfall, one that’s restricted the Colts to one championship throughout Peyton Manning’s prolific run, when more were well within reach during his four MVP seasons.
So buried among the relative obscurity of Pagano’s name after he became the second head coach hired today with only one year of experience as a coordinator is a possible clearing in the murky skies around Indianapolis. Grigson and owner Jim Irsay could bring back Manning while relying on Pagano to refine an aging defense coming off a year when it allowed 370.9 yards per game (25th) and 26.9 points per game (28th), and saw key starters Gary Brackett and Melvin Bullitt miss most of the season.
Mathis walking will hurt, but if Manning stays and one of Garcon and Wayne are retained–likely Garcon because Wayne will turn 34 next November–Pagano can at least restore Indy’s defense to its 2006 championship form, when there was bending, but little breaking.
With or without Pagano and a coach with an elite defensive mind, the chances of Manning being in a Colts uniform next fall still seem slim, especially with how uncertain he sounded while assessing his situation earlier this week. It’s much more than just the vision of Grigson and Irsay that’s uncertain–Manning’s neck and general health is obviously still the main factor, and even if he’s healthy it’s hard to envision a Colts roster where Manning and Luck co-exist on the same sideline. The mental image of the Colts’ pocket book in that scenario is scary enough.
It’s highly improbable, but it’s not impossible, and today’s change in philosophy to address an area that needs heavy attention, and neglect another that’s just fine with a healthy franchise quarterback means it’s conceivable that Grigson and Irsay tipped their hand.