ANDERSON – Colts coach Chuck Pagano is just trying to be himself.
He’s resisting the urge to flip his baseball hat backward and sneak over to the defensive position drills as he’s done for more than two decades.
This year he’s handing off duties to assistant coaches, spending more time with the offense and the media, less at positional drills and tugging at the bill of his cap over his forehead. It’s a big change for the 51-year-old who is finally running his own team.
The hardest part is administrative. You’re delegating, you’re trying to get guys in practice in the right spots, make sure everything is working from an organizational standpoint, Pagano said. At the same time, you want to get hands on. That’s the biggest thing is you got to stay involved, and you want to stay close to coaching and teaching as best you can.
Of course, there will be times Pagano can get back to those basics.
When safeties coach Roy Anderson left training camp at Anderson University because of a death in the family, it was Pagano who filled in as the position coach.
The Colorado native knows that cannot be the norm if he’s going to make a successful transition from longtime assistant to first-time head coach. Some have made the jump seamlessly, and others excelled when given enough time. But the league is littered with assistants who have failed to make that jump, especially on their first attempt.
Pagano may wind up being one of the lucky ones.
Team owner Jim Irsay has spent much of the offseason pleading with fans for patience after presiding over the franchise’s biggest housecleaning project in more than a decade. Besides hiring Pagano, Irsay brought in a first-time general manager (Ryan Grigson), oversaw the release of Peyton Manning, the hiring of new offensive and defensive coordinators, adding a new franchise quarterback and changing at least seven offensive starters.
That’s the predicament Pagano walked into in Indy.
The longtime defensive guru is already attempting to put his stamp on the Colts by bringing more balance to the offense and more aggressiveness to the defense.
Tony Dungy, who turned Tampa Bay from one of the league’s worst franchises into a Super Bowl contender, believes Pagano is on the right path because he’s sticking to his principles.
(The key) really is probably just being resolute more than anything else, Dungy said after visiting Colts camp at Irsay’s invitation. I just sense that from coach Pagano; that he has a plan and he’s not going to deviate from it.
His father, Sam, won 164 career games and three state titles as the head football coach at Fairview High School in Colorado. His brother, John, is now the San Diego Chargers defensive coordinator.
By all accounts, Chuck Pagano is a player’s coach.
Defensive lineman Cory Redding said when he and Pagano were in Baltimore, Pagano listened to the players’ concerns and addressed many of them.
It was one of the reasons Redding, defensive tackle Brandon McKinney and safety Tom Zbikowski left one of the league’s top defenses to help rebuild the Colts.
So far, they’ve seen the same, old guy.
I’ve seen him step back and let the coaches do their jobs, Redding said.
Every once in a while, you’ll see him grab a ball, roll up his sleeves, put his hat on backwards and run some drills.
Those with longer ties to Pagano have detected a difference.
When receiver Reggie Wayne arrived at the University of Miami in the late 1990s, Pagano, the secondary and special teams coach, was loud, direct and demanding. While those traits still exist, Wayne said Pagano has a found a way to send messages a little less vocally to pro players.
He’s toned down totally. This is a different Chuck Pagano than the college days. At the same time he’s still fun, he still loves the game, still loves to teach, still gets a kick out of guys improving and getting better each day, Wayne said. That’s always good. As long as he keeps that edge I’ll take any Chuck Pagano any day.
Pagano’s unassuming personality and folksy comments seem to be a perfect fit in Indianapolis, too.
Irsay likes something else – player reaction.
Defensive players have embraced Pagano’s motivational techniques and earthy approach to the game. Offensive players like seeing all those defensive looks, which is giving rookies such as Andrew Luck an opportunity to learn the ropes of NFL defenses before the season opener.
Irsay knows it’s a combination that can work.
I think that our players were always with Tony. Their great respect for him automatically gave him a lot of capital and a lot of credibility when he addressed things with them, Irsay said. It’s the same thing with Chuck. You talk to those guys in Baltimore, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed and those guys, the trust and the admiration that they have in Chuck was tremendous. That’s something that they both have and bring into the room when they get with the players because a leader is followed a lot of the times from the heart and from the deep belief.
Pagano insists that part and his desire to win won’t change.
What will? How he runs the team.
I try to get around and show my presence, have my presence at all the individual drills, he said. I’m going to gravitate to the defensive side just naturally. I’ve got to watch myself in that regard because that’s my background, that’s what I’ve done my whole life, my whole coaching career.