OWINGS MILLS – Chuck Pagano and his fiery personality have left the building following one successful year running the Baltimore Ravens’ stingy defense.
Now, the popular defensive coordinator is the Indianapolis Colts’ new head coach after being hired Wednesday and will be formally introduced at a press conference today by owner Jim Irsay and general manager Ryan Grigson.
“It’s difficult to leave the Ravens but I couldn’t pass up on this great opportunity,” Pagano said. “I’m just thrilled and so excited.”
Pagano is the fourth former Ravens defensive coordinator to be named an NFL head coach, joining Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan and Rex Ryan.
Colts management met with Pagano on Tuesday, two days after the Ravens’ AFC championship game loss to the New England Patriots. And Pagano wowed them during the interview, enough so that they tabbed him to run their football team as a first-time head coach.
The Colts, who are coming off a disastrous 2-14 season where quarterback Peyton Manning didn’t play at all due to a neck injury that has cast his future playing career in doubt, chose Pagano over San Francisco 49ers special-teams coach Brad Seely, former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, New Orleans Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr, Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray and Montreal Alouettes coach Marc Trestman.
"We are so happy for Chuck, Tina and their daughters," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We are proud of him. Like me, Chuck grew up in the game and loves it. We will miss him and thank him for all he did for the Ravens."
Meanwhile, the Ravens have yet to make a decision on whether they’ll retain oft-criticized offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. His contract has expired, and no negotiations are going on at this time. Cameron has been at the Senior Bowl practices this week in Mobile, Ala. with Harbaugh.
During Pagano’s first year as defensive coordinator after replacing Greg Mattison when he went to the University of Michigan, Pagano led the defense to the third overall ranking in the league.
Known as an aggressive coach with a confident, occasionally outspoken personality, Pagano will definitely be missed by his players.
“He’s a fantastic coach, he gets along good with his guys,” inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe told the 24×7. "Players want to play for them. He deserves this. He’s a great guy.
“He’s creative. He’s all about defense. He puts it all out there emotionally. He’s a great guy to play for. I’m sorry to see him go, but I’m happy for him.”
Pagano, 51, is a former secondary coach who also coached for the Cleveland Browns and the Oakland Raiders and collegiately at the University of Miami, where he recruited and coached Ravens safety Ed Reed, as well as UNLV, Boise State and USC.
The Ravens recorded 48 sacks to lead the AFC after being limited to a franchise-worst 27 sacks the previous year under Mattison.
Pagano’s free-wheeling style was a major contrast to the relatively conservative schemes Mattison ran.
During a 23-20 loss to the Patriots, the Ravens intercepted star quarterback Tom Brady twice and held him to no touchdown passes. He compiled a 57.6 quarterback rating.
Baltimore also finished first in red-zone defense, second in rushing defense, fourth in pass defense and third in scoring defense, allowing 16.6 points per game.
"Chuck’s one of those coaches who gets after you, but you always have the ultimate respect for him," outside linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "The sidelines always get heated. When somebody is fiery and aggressive and has a similar personality as we do, we love it. With his personality, his knowledge of schemes, we’re definitely going to be aggressive
The Ravens had four players named as starters to the Pro Bowl: outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, middle linebacker Ray Lewis, free safety Ed Reed and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.
Suggs excelled last season, recording a career-high 14 sacks and setting a team record with seven forced fumbles and emerging as a candidate for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
“I think coach has his own swag to him,” Suggs said last August. “I think this is our first Italian defensive coordinator., so it’s going to be fun. We like the aggressiveness that the coach portrays at times, and we like the smartness that he portrays at times. So, I think he’s got his own swag and his own two shoes and it’s going to be great for the city of Baltimore.”
Pagano recruited and coached Reed at the University of Miami when the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year was a young quarterback and defensive back in St. Rose, La.
A feisty, hard-hitting strong safety at the University of Wyoming, Pagano hails from a rich football background as his father, Sam Pagano, coached high school football in Boulder, Colo., for 26 seasons.
And Pagano’s younger brother, John Pagano, is the San Diego Chargers’ defensive coordinator.
Pagano was an undersized safety at 155 pounds who emerged as an intimidating hitter, knocking around much larger players.
“He helped me with my mental preparation so much,” Reed said. “He always got me thinking what could be the next play or what could be the next thing that the offense does. He always kept me thinking ahead and what could possibly come next of the football field.”
The Ravens allowed 288.9 yards of total offense per contest last season, surrendering 92.6 rushing yards per game and 196.3 passing yards.
The top internal candidates to replace Pagano on the Ravens’ staff are linebackers coach Dean Pees and defensive line coach Clarence Brooks.
Pees is a former Patriots defensive coordinator.
He’s known for his cerebral approach to the game, impressing players and coaches with his instant recall of opponents’ formations and tendencies.
Brooks is a well-respected, well-liked assistant who could be a candidate to join Pagano’s staff in Indianapolis if he doesn’t land the Ravens’ defensive coordinator job.
Both Pees and Brooks were considered for the job a year ago when Pagano was elevated from coaching the defensive backs.
Pagano is known as a players’ coach, but doesn’t have quite the bombastic style as Ryan. He does have some parallel traits as far as temperament and personality.
“Both of them are very fiery, and I think there are a lot of similarities because both are ‘player’ coaches,” Lewis said. “They really relate to their players and things like that. Both are very outgoing.
“I think Chuck is more settled when it comes to the outside world but to us, Chuck is Chuck. That’s what we appreciate, and that’s why we’re doing the things we are doing, because of the flexibility he gives us.”