JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- After a promising start to his head-coaching career some five years ago, Chuck Pagano's time as coach of the Indianapolis Colts likely will end in a dud.
The upbeat, always optimistic Pagano is assured of his first losing season after the Colts fell to 3-9 with a 27-10 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. This is just the third time since 2001 that the Colts will finish the season with a losing record.
If Pagano hopes to rebound with a winning record next season, it may not be as coach of the Colts, because there’s been no indication that he’ll be returning.
The Colts used to sit on top of the AFC South on a regular basis. They once had a 16-game winning streak over their division counterparts. But since their 51-16 loss to Jacksonville on Dec. 13, 2015, Indianapolis is just 5-9 in the division, including being swept by Jacksonville and Tennessee this season.
Jacksonville beat the Colts by a combined score of 57-10 in their two meetings this season. The Jaguars did it with quarterback Blake Bortles (639 yards) looking like a Pro Bowler and a defense that sacked Jacoby Brissett 13 times.
This season was expected to be a challenge for Pagano and the Colts. They entered it with uncertainty surrounding quarterback Andrew Luck (shoulder), who would end up missing the season. Plus, the team was in the midst of a roster overhaul under first-year general manager Chris Ballard.
But for Pagano, it goes beyond just wins and losses. A significant part of his evaluation has been on the development of players. An argument can be made that very few players have improved significantly from the start of the season. That’s not a good thing when you’re in the rebuilding process.
Pagano’s decline has been a steady one. He arrived in 2012 with new general manager Ryan Grigson, Luck, receiver T.Y. Hilton and tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener as part of their rookie class.
The Colts had immediate success, with three straight 11-5 seasons, and made the playoffs in each of those years, including reaching the AFC Championship Game in 2014. It seemed Pagano and Luck would be be linked for years to come. But the more Luck got injured, the more Pagano’s coaching got exposed.
The Colts have seven losses by at least 20 points since the 2015 season, which was the year that Luck originally injured his right shoulder, and they're about to miss the playoffs for the third straight season.
Back-to-back 8-8 seasons were good enough for Pagano to hang on to his job, but the inability to close out games this season (3-6 when leading or tied at halftime) and the lack of roster development likely means Pagano's time as coach of the Colts is coming to an end.