Jim Irsay: Colts have the right guys with Ryan Grigson, Chuck Pagano
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – At the risk of hyperbole, the long-term course of Jim Irsay’s professional football team hinged on a 90-minute meeting involving general manager Ryan Grigson and lame-duck coach Chuck Pagano.
It was Jan. 4, and the Indianapolis Colts were 24 hours removed from a season chockfull of injuries, frustration and – if numerous reports were to be believed – some level of discord between the GM and head coach. The result was an 8-8 record and the Colts missing the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
What was Irsay to do? Keep Grigson and let Pagano walk? Extend Pagano and fire Grigson? Keep ‘em both, or blow it up and hit the reset button?
Tuesday, Irsay offered a behind-the-scenes snapshot of what went into Grigson and Pagano remaining in control of the on-field operation of the Colts. Pagano was given a four-year contract and Grigson a three-year extension.
Their next step moving forward comes Sunday when the Colts open the season against the Detroit Lions at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“Both men insisted upon the other man to be hitched to them,’’ Irsay said. “Not at my demand by any stretch. At their request, strong request.’’
But only after a day of harsh debate and emotional dialogue. As Irsay mentioned, the NFL is a cruel business when it comes to firing – even considering firing – a coach or general manager.
In this instance, Jan. 4 was shrouded in uncertainty. Nothing was pre-determined, and nothing decided until after the heart-to-heart between Grigson and Pagano.
“When they met man-on-man, for about an hour and a half, let me tell ya – tears fell, voices were raised, but they both came out different people,’’ Irsay said. “And when they came to me, they insisted that they be chained together (in length of contracts).
“If the ship were to sail in to find the Statue of Liberty, shining so bright, or the cold, dark Atlantic Ocean on the bottom, they would be together. So let’s hope it is the Statue of Liberty and more visits to Canton, Ohio.’’
Irsay seemed to confirm there had been “friction’’ between Grigson and Pagano, but insisted that’s not unusual in the NFL arena. He pointed to tension that existed between long-time New York Giants GM George Young and Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells.
They made it work, winning a pair of Super Bowls.
Pagano, Irsay said, emerged from Jan. 4 “tougher.’’ He basically gutted his coaching staff.
“He let guys go that were friends of his,’’ Irsay said. “That’s a hard thing to do. That was the first time he had to do that to someone like (defensive coordinator) Greg Manusky, who’s a good man and a good coach.’’
The rigors of ’15, apparently, led to some self-evaluation by Grigson and Pagano. Irsay shared a conversation he once had with Tony Dungy “how fire makes the diamond.’’
After going through tough times, he added, “Ryan and Chuck are closer than ever and more understanding of each other’s positions than ever before . . . and giving each other more room to operate.
“It’s a great working relationship and, yes, it’s grown.’’
Grigson, according to Irsay, “has decided, without me forcing him, to let Chuck have his way on many things he wants. And Chuck on the opposite of the coin respects Ryan’s vision and Ryan’s point of view.’’
The bottom line: Grigson and Pagano had better make it work.
“I am banking in the investment of what I put into Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson,’’ Irsay said. “There’s been a lot of time, money and many hours of investment and conversations and mentoring and talking to these guys. That’s what I’m banking on.
“Of course, you’ve got to have the right people.’’
Jan. 4, Irsay determined Grigson and Pagano were the right people.
“You have to be able to hear things at the right moment, at the bewitching hour, and then you will make that decision at that flashpoint moment in the 11th hour,’’ he said. “That’s the truth. It’s not always pre-decided. Sometimes it is. A lot of times it is. But in this case it wasn’t.
“This case organically came together. It showed me, the football gods, whatever you want to call it, the powers that be created this synergy that said ‘OK, Ryan Grigson and Chuck Pagano, they are going to be our guys going forward and there is no question about it.’
“Continuity was the way to go for us. I do believe we have the right guys.’’