Chuck Pagano’s final day instead became four more years as Indianapolis Colts head coach.
Despite continual reports for five days that Pagano had coached his final game after four seasons, the 55-year-old coach emerged victorious with owner Jim Irsay and general manager Ryan Grigson for a late Monday night press conference to announce a four-year extension.
Pagano, the 2012 cancer survivor, said, “This is absolutely the best day of my life.”
He smiled proudly. Of the three men, Pagano was visibly the happiest.
“Now given this opportunity to move forward, (wife) Tina and I, we love this city, this community, this organization, this football team,” the coach said. “I can’t tell you, words can’t describe how I feel right now.
“I just … it’s a great, great day. And I owe it all to Jim for believing in me and believing in Ryan and our vision. Together, from day one our mission has been the same. Four years ago, we started coming to this building with the same vision, the same mindset, and we’ll continue to do that day and day out. That mission and that goal has never changed.”
His contract to expire in March, Pagano had sounded reflective and almost expecting the worst in the final month of the season, telling reporters, “Don’t worry about me” and that he had “no regrets” about turning down a one-year contract extension in the offseason.
A rift between Pagano and Grigson supposedly added strain throughout the organization — players said the conflict was a distraction — and then a season with Super Bowl expectations ended at 8-8 and no postseason.
Almost just as unexpected, Grigson is now tied contractually to Pagano, Irsay said. The general manager, thought to be on the hot seat for his share of questionable player additions and reported meddling with Pagano’s decisions, had one year remaining on his contract.
“When we came out moving forward, Chuck and I had agreed on the extension, it’s four years, (and) he said to me, ‘Jim, I want to make sure I’m tied at the hip to Ryan and I want to make sure when we get to the mountaintop that Ryan and I are there together because we’ve been through a lot together and we have a special relationship, a close relationship. We’ve accomplished a lot. We’ve overcome a lot,’” Irsay said.
The resolution for all three men came after a series of meetings that began early in the afternoon and continued into the evening. The media was advised there wouldn’t be a press conference or statement on Monday, that a Tuesday advisory update would be issued.
Then the Colts announced an extension and a 10:30 p.m. press conference.
Grigson said any differences with Pagano weren’t an issue.
“We have a lot of meetings together. We’re in the arena together every day. He’s in a different part of the arena than I am. But at the end of the day, whether we have difficult decisions to make or he has a differing opinion than I do, I think we both know what we are made of at our core,” Grigson said. “We worked to resolve anything to make the best decision for the franchise. We’re both human beings and this is a tough business. You’re going to have tough decisions. There’s going to be times when we both are passionate because we are trying to win a championship.
“To win as many games as our head coach has, something that Chuck brings to the table every day, even with the season that we had this year, is just hope. And that’s just the man he is. It’s his experiences and hope, even though all the different quarterbacks, we never feel like we’re dead. We always feel like we have life. That’s something that you can’t replicate. That’s a gift. Chuck’s a guy who can get us to the mountaintop. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
Pagano’s 44-26 record is among the NFL’s best for the past four seasons. But reported concerns focused on bad losses — nine by an average of 29.1 points since 2013 — and most especially disastrous outcomes against the New England Patriots, five blowout losses by an average of 24.6 points.
Another criticism suggested the emotional Pagano was too much of a players’ coach, loyal to a fault to his athletes. His teams have also often started slow — the Colts trailed in all but three games this season — and in-game mistakes were sometimes called into question.
But Irsay insisted continuity mattered most and gave the Colts their best shot in the future.
“I’m convinced we have the right stuff on my right (Grigson) and my left (Pagano) going forward to win a world championship,” Irsay said. “There’s no doubt in my mind.”
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.