Chuck Pagano: ‘would love another opportunity’
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – It ended badly here for Chuck Pagano, but there might be another phase to his NFL coaching career.
Fired in January following an eventful six-year stint as the Indianapolis Colts’ head coach, he yearns for another shot.
“Absolutely,’’ Pagano insisted during an appearance this week on NFL Network’s ‘Good Morning Football.’ “I’m young; 57 years old. I figure I’ve got a couple of years left in me and got some unfinished business.
“I’d love to get another opportunity. I don’t care what it is. I just love being around the guys and being on the grass and competing.’’
Pagano’s coaching resume spans more than three decades and began in 1984 as a graduate assistant at USC. He moved up to the NFL for the first time in 2001, and got his first shot as a head coach when Colts owner Jim Irsay fired Jim Caldwell after the 2011 season.
Pagano’s Indy experience ran the gamut: galvanizing Colts Nation by beating leukemia during the 2012 season, leading the franchise to three consecutive playoff appearances with identical 11-5 records, but then three straight non-winning records. Irsay decided enough was enough after the Colts, forced to play without injured quarterback Andrew Luck, finished with a 4-12 record last season.
There were incredible highs on the field: rallying from a 38-10 third-quarter deficit for a 45-44 victory against Kansas City in a 2013 AFC wild-card playoff game; beating the Peyton Manning-led Broncos in Denver in a ’14 AFC divisional round game to reach the conference championship game.
And there were head-scratching lows. Remember the epic failed fake punt against New England in 2015? Also, there were 16 losses by at least 20 points, including seven by at least 30.
Even so, Pagano largely departed Indy with fond memories. His 52 overall victories (52-34) rank fourth in team history.
“We had some great, great moments,’’ he said. “I always talk to the guys and the players . . . ‘This is why we sacrifice. This is why we do what we do. The blood, the sweat and the tears. It’s for the moments.’
“It’s for those five minutes after one of those huge games in the locker room where you get to share that victory with your coaches and your players. There’s nothing like it. And we had some great ones.’’
Pagano’s final season will be remembered for which player wasn’t able to help avert the 12 losses: Luck. The team’s franchise quarterback saw his attempt at returning from offseason surgery on his right shoulder end in mid-October.
“We all felt like he was going to be back,’’ Pagano said. “And he’d be the first one to tell you (that). He’s a top competitor. He’s a great, great player. He’s a better person. He’s brilliant . . . he’s got all the intangibles.
“It killed him to be out. It absolutely crushed him. And he tried to do everything he possibly could to get back, and maybe pushed too hard like most people do . . . and it didn’t happen.’’
Pagano was reunited with Luck when he returned to Indy in April for his sixth ChuckStrong Gala to raise money for leukemia research.
Is he worried Luck might not make a full recovery? He’s immersed in what amounts to a second comeback and, as of last week, had yet to resume throwing.
“Not at all,’’ Pagano said. “It’s unfortunate what happened. Shoot, he hasn’t done anything for 17, 18 months now and everybody’s scared to death. Rightly so.
“But I was with Andrew in late April. I think everybody sees he’s in great physical shape right now. His mindset’s great. Mentally he’s great. He’s just got to get back on the grass. He’s doing all the fundamental stuff, the footwork stuff, things like that. He’s just not throwing yet.
“But as soon as he starts to throw and he regains his form and those type of things, he’s going to be fine. He’ll be back out there and he’ll be as good as he ever was.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.