Less than three years ago, the Indianapolis Colts were just one game away from the Super Bowl, with one of the NFL’s best young quarterbacks under center and a beloved coach on the sideline.
Chuck Pagano took over a 2-14 team, beat leukemia and won 11 games in both of his first two seasons, and here they stood, just below the NFL’s mountaintop. Few coaches are ever so fortunate. Pagano had the city behind him, Andrew Luck at quarterback and the NFL’s easiest division to navigate. He and the Colts were set for the next decade.
And then, it all fell apart overnight. It’s remarkable, really, how quickly things crumbled: Luck’s shoulder. The front office’s plans. Pagano’s credibility. In a matter of two catastrophic years, the Colts went from perennial playoff contender to leading candidate for the No. 1 pick, and on Sunday, they’ll kick off as home underdogs against the visiting Browns, who’ve won just four of their last 30 and haven’t been road favorites since October 2014, when the Colts were last on course for the AFC title game.
After two weeks of the NFL season, it is natural to overreact. Firing a coach at 0-3, just like anointing a Super Bowl winner at 3-0, is usually misguided. Three games, even in a 16-game season, just isn’t enough of a sample size to make any iron-clad conclusions about anything.
But when it comes to the raging dumpster fire of mismanagement that is the Indianapolis Colts, we can make an exception. Because I’ve seen enough to say that Chuck Pagano should be coaching for his job this weekend.
Luck’s absence is the simple explanation for the Colts’ downfall, even though their issues are rooted far deeper than that. After Luck had surgery on his shoulder in January, the Colts have been unnecessarily cryptic about his status while also refusing to sign a capable backup. When the season rolled around and Luck was unable to go, the Colts were left with Scott Tolzien, a quarterback more suited for work as an insurance agent in Bloomington than helming an offense against the Rams.
The results have been predictably disastrous since. The Colts’ plans, for the better part of two decades, have revolved around their elite quarterback being healthy. And without Luck, their total lack of a plan otherwise has been dutifully exposed. The defense, which Pagano was known for, is now a league-wide punchline. The Rams stomped them for 46 points in Week 1 — so thoroughly, in fact, that Pagano forgot which team had…