The Thursday report is further confirmation of a change that has been speculated since the Colts’ season of high expectations immediately went south from the outset. The Colts (7-8) need nine favorable outcomes Sunday to make the playoffs.
A short time after the story broke, the Colts released a statement from owner Jim Irsay: "As of today, no decision has been made with respect to any structural changes within the Colts organization for 2016 and beyond.”
But it was Irsay who said in preseason he had high expectations for this season. This team thought it could be a legitimate Super Bowl contender, but struggles on the offensive line, quarterback injuries and a defense that has regressed brought everything crashing down.
Pagano said Wednesday, “I will fight my ass off to be the coach here,” but missing the playoffs for the first time since he was hired in 2012 would reportedly be the last straw. His relationship with general manager Ryan Grigson has been described as “toxic” and “100 times worse” than the team’s subpar play, according to ESPN.com.
Pagano turned down a contract extension last offseason. His current deal expires in February.
Grigson, who has one year remaining on his contract, is expected to assist with hiring a replacement, according to the report, although that doesn’t guarantee that Irsay won’t fire his general manager. Grigson will not be back if the new head coach has a general manager preference, sources told Wells. Irsay is expected to be actively involved in the selection of a new head coach.
Pagano supporters who defend the likable coach cite how the Colts went from 2-14 before his hiring to three consecutive playoff berths and a 43-26 overall record counting the playoffs. Critics of Grigson will point to the general manager not giving the coach the necessary players, particularly on the offensive line, to live up to the preseason hype.
The fact that three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Andrew Luck was lost for nine games due to injuries didn’t help. Backup Matt Hasselbeck has also been hurt and sidelined by injuries in four of his eight starts. Backup Charlie Whitehurst was placed on injured reserve Monday. The Colts needed to sign free agents Josh Freeman and Ryan Lindley this week for Sunday's regular-season finale against the Tennessee Titans at Lucas Oil Stadium.
But the Colts lost some ugly games last season and that trend continued this season with double-digit losses in the first two weeks. A 45-10 loss at Pittsburgh on Dec. 6 was embarrassing, then the Colts lost 51-16 at Jacksonville the next week, ending a 16-game winning streak against AFC South Division opponents.
And that’s one of the knocks on Pagano, that his teams feasted on inferior division foes but couldn’t measure up against the elite teams. The Colts lost 45-7 at New England in January’s AFC Championship Game. Since 2013, his teams have lost nine games by at least 17 points, with the average margin of defeat in those games an astounding 29.1 points. His record against the AFC South is 19-4, but 24-22 against everyone else.
Pagano got this job after serving as Baltimore’s defensive coordinator. But the defense has struggled, particularly this season, ranking tied for 28th in total yards allowed and 26th in points allowed. He said when hired he wanted a team that would run the ball and stop the run, but neither has panned out, either. The Colts are 30th in rushing yards per game and haven’t had a 100-yard rusher in 55 games while the defense is 24th at stopping the run.
All this after Irsay made it public during preseason his offseason chat with Pagano to be more hands-on with the defense this season.
Pagano, ironically, has had some upbeat moments in a few of his recent press conferences, despite the fact his team faded at the most important time with a three-game losing streak before Sunday’s 18-12 win at Miami.
Earlier this month, he said he didn’t regret turning down the extension. He repeatedly said nobody should worry about him.
“They can fire you, but they can’t eat you,” he said. “So if the worst thing is a year from now, let’s say I'm in Boise (Idaho) playing with my granddaughters, I’m going to be fine.”
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.