That was the conventional wisdom as the NFL’s offseason arrived Monday for those 20 teams not still playing. It was regarded by many observers, at least in Pagano’s case, as a near certainty.
But it didn’t happen. Colts owner Jim Irsay provided the first surprise of the league-wide firing-and-hiring cycle by extending the contracts of both Pagano and Grigson.
“I think it’s important to be thoughtful and to lean on continuity when you can. … It was always my hope that this was the direction that we would head,” Irsay said at a late-night news conference. “But I had to be sure.”
Pagano, only a few years removed from returning to coach the team after being treated for leukemia in 2012, said Monday: “I’ve had a lot of great days in my life but none better than today. This is absolutely the best day of my life. I’m grateful and I’m thankful to Mr. Irsay and his family for the opportunity that he’s given me.”
Pagano, whose contract was expiring, agreed to a four-year deal. Grigson’s contract was not expiring but apparently was extended to last, like Pagano’s, through the 2019 season.
Irsay described Grigson as being “contractually tied” to Pagano.
“We’re moving forward,” Irsay said. “This is our team. This is our guys. … This is definitely what’s best for the Indianapolis Colt going forward. I’m sure of that.”
The Colts reached last season’s AFC title game before losing in decisive fashion at New England in the game that produced the DeflateGate saga. They had a young franchise quarterback in Andrew Luck and added a group of aging players in the offseason — including tailback Frank Gore, wide receiver Andre Johnson, offensive lineman Todd Herremans and pass rusher Trent Cole — in a bid to take the next step.
It failed miserably. Luck’s play was not up to his standards and then he got hurt. The Houston Texans won the AFC South.
The Colts must start anew and most figured they’d do it without Pagano, whose professional fate had seemed all but sealed when he ordered a fake punt with embarrassing results in the DeflateGate rematch this season against the Patriots.
There also were frequent reports of a rift between Pagano and Grigson, not exactly put to rest when Pagano suggested publicly this season that Luck should be accustomed to playing with less-than-superior play from his offensive line.
Grigson also attended the news conference Monday night and both men spoke of being able to work together productively.
“We talked about it many, many times,” Pagano said. “We’ve been candid. We agreed to disagree but at the end of the day, leave every meeting with a handshake and a hug and you say, ‘Okay, look, it’s about one thing and one thing only. It’s about the team. It’s about making decisions that are best for the horseshoe.’ It’s not about me. It’s not about Ryan. It’s not about any one person.”
Irsay almost certainly could have lured a big-name coach with an offensive-genius label to Indianapolis to work with Luck. He essentially acknowledged that Monday. He chose to stick with Pagano instead.
“I could’ve walked someone in that door tonight or tomorrow night and have them walking in with [a contract worth] eight figures a year on themselves or whatever and say, ‘I’m making a big splash,’ ” Irsay said. “Look, if that was the best for us, believe me, I would do it. [But] this guy is a great coach.”