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Colts coach Chuck Pagano: ‘I’ve got to be better, I will be better’

Chuck Pagano

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – During a mid-January organizational shift that altered the leadership structure of the Indianapolis Colts, Chuck Pagano became a head coach with short-term security but long-term uncertainty.

It was Jan. 21 and owner Jim Irsay decided to sever the five-year relationship of general manager Ryan Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano. Grigson soon was replaced by Chris Ballard. Pagano was heading into his sixth season.

Irsay predicted Pagano “will be the best coach he has ever been going into this year,” but also indicated Pagano’s fate past ’17 would rest with Ballard’s evaluation of “our whole football program.”

If Pagano is feeling increased pressure to prove himself to his new GM, he’s doing a great job of hiding it.

Pagano met the media Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine, his first interaction with reporters since Ballard was hired and Irsay confirmed Pagano was going nowhere, at least for now.

He hardly resembled a lame-duck head coach who’s under contract through 2019. Or one who’s under the gun after the Colts finished 8-8 and failed to reach the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1997-98. The last Colts’ head coach who endured three consecutive non-playoff seasons was Ted Marchibroda (1992-94).

“I think we all understand the expectations that come with this job,” Pagano said. “You guys know how I feel. You know I have great perspective on this thing.”

Pagano’s perspective was sharpened by his 2012 battle with leukemia. It didn’t lessen his passion for coaching, but realigned his life priorities.

“We’re all on one-day contracts,” he said. “Every season’s different. Every team’s different. We’re going to work hard, roll up our sleeves like we always do.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do, and a ton to do. My focus is on that. Control the controllables. There’s things I can control and there’s things I can’t control. I’m going to focus on the things that I can control.”

The Combine represents a significant milepost as teams look to upgrade rosters, address deficiencies and position themselves to make a run – or a return, in the case of the Colts – for the postseason.

The Colts must overhaul a defense that a year ago was too old and void of difference-making talent. They must continue to strengthen the offensive line and find a young replacement for running back Frank Gore, who turns 34 in May and is entering the final year of his contract.

They absolutely must return to relevancy following back-to-back 8-8 finishes.

Irsay and Ballard have made it clear they’ll take a patient approach at reshaping the roster, making certain to lay a solid foundation.

But a patient approach might be difficult for a coach whose job could well hinge on a return to the postseason, perhaps even a deep run.

“We know it’s a process,” Pagano said. “We know how we’re judged and that’s by wins and losses; 8-8 the past two years is not good enough.

“The standard is the standard. The expectations are what they are. We’re never going to be satisfied until we get back to where we need to be.”

Pagano ranks fourth in team history with a 52-34 record, trailing Tony Dungy (92-33), Don Shula (73-26-4) and Weeb Ewbank (61-52-1). He has taken the Colts to the playoffs three times. Only Dungy (seven), Shula (four) and Marchibroda (four, three times in Baltimore) have done so more often.

Yet there’s no denying Pagano is coaching for his job. In most cases, a new general manager prefers his own head coach, not an inherited one.

Pagano was asked if there still are things he has to work on as a head coach.

“I’ve got a lot of work on. Just ask Tina,” he said, referring to his wife. “If I wasn’t willing, that thing might’ve ended years ago. I think two years into my marriage I lost full control and the law was laid down.

“We’re all working. I’ve got to be better. I will be better.”

Pagano made light of a couple of his pet clichés.

“My blinders are off,” he said. “My earmuffs are off. The eyes are wide open.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity. I’m grateful to be here. I’m grateful to be the head football coach and have another opportunity to get the organization and get our franchise back to where it needs to be.”

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51