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Colts coach Chuck Pagano says team and defense not there ‘yet,’ calls new GM Ballard ‘great communicator’

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano stunned reporters during his NFL Scouting Combine news conference Thursday.

He joked that “my blinders are off” and “my earmuffs are off,” an indication that he was abandoning some of his well-worn “coach speak” clichés.

Pagano has been quoted numerous times about the importance of players and staff keeping “their blinders and ear muffs on” to avoid distractions.

But Pagano’s abandonment of his signature phrases didn’t last long. He was soon talking about “one day at a time” and referring to how everyone was on “one-day contracts.”

Pagano spoke to reporters for about 20 minutes to discuss the offseason and what the Colts planned to do to rebound from a lackluster 8-8 season. He’s looking forward to working with new general manager Chris Ballard, hired in the offseason to replace ousted GM Ryan Grigson.

Ballard, spoke to the media Wednesday and addressed a variety of issues, including his relationship with Pagano. Pagano echoed Ballard’s comments that they’d built a good foundation.

“We’re off to a great start,” Pagano said. “Like Chris said, everybody in the organization is working extremely hard. We have one vision. We have one goal. The entire organization is like-minded. I think communication is outstanding. I think that’s obviously huge.”

Of Grigson, Pagano said he had “all the respect in the world” for his former GM, whom he referred to as “a good man.”

“I wish him and his family nothing but the best moving forward,” he said.

Pagano said he was grateful for the opportunity to stay with the team and get things moving in the right direction.

When Ballard spoke on Wednesday, he didn’t give a timeline for the return of quarterback Andrew Luck, who had surgery for a lingering issue in his right shoulder. Pagano said Thursday that preparing for next season with Luck’s status uncertain poses challenges.

“You want everybody out there, obviously. You’d love to have your starting quarterback out there the entire time, and so we’ll work through it. We’ll get through it,” he said.

Pagano referred to his new general manager as a “great communicator” and said Ballard has had “great relationships” with everyone in the Colts organization, including players.

He reflected on improvements he can make as coach.

“Once you think you’ve got all the answers, I think that’s when you’re done,” he said. “Every season is different and (has) different experiences you have to learn and grow from.”

Pagano said there were “no excuses” for a second straight 8-8 finish that kept the team out of the playoffs.

“I’m grateful of the opportunity to be back and keep building this thing,” Pagano said, who expressed personal disappointment in the play of his defense given his background as a defensive coordinator.

“The things we talk about, we have not done yet,” Pagano said. “And I emphasize ‘yet.’ I think that’s very, very important. Yet is a great word. Another opportunity, we have another chance to improve and do better. Where we’re at is certainly not good enough, record-wise, defensively, that’s not where we want to be.”

He referred to the offseason—which included the dismissal of Grigson and questions about Pagano’s own job—as a “roller coaster.”

Pagano addressed the early retirement of punter Pat McAfee, who announced he wouldn’t return to the Colts this season.

“Pat’s a special, special dude and a special talent. You don’t replace guys like that,” he said. “We hate to lose Pat, but he’s got a bright future.”