In what’s easily been the most frustrating week in the history of the franchise, the Ravens will now need to look for a new defensive coordinator as Chuck Pagano has been hired as the next head coach of the Indianapolis Colts.
Leading the Ravens to the No. 3 overall defensive ranking in his first season as coordinator, Pagano interviewed with Indianapolis on Tuesday before being offered the job on Wednesday. The 51-year-old spent three seasons as the Baltimore secondary coach before being promoted to replace former defensive coordinator Greg Mattison last offseason.
“It’s difficult to leave the Ravens but I couldn’t pass up on this great opportunity,” Pagano said to the Ravens’ official website. “I’m just thrilled and so excited.”
Pagano was extremely popular with his defensive players and brought a more aggressive play-calling style than Mattison, helping the Ravens improve from a franchise-low 27 sacks in 2010 to an AFC-best 48 this season.
“He just had an inkling for [making the right calls],” linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo told AM 1570 WNST on Wednesday afternoon. “More than anything, he wasn’t going to rely on just going vanilla and saying, ‘Oh, we’re going to beat everybody just going vanilla.’ That’s what coach Mattison liked to do.”
The Ravens sent four defensive starters to the Pro Bowl this year, including linebackers Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, and free safety Ed Reed.
Pagano will be introduced to the Indianapolis media in a press conference on Thursday afternoon. The Colts fired general manager Bill Polian and head coach Jim Caldwell following a disastrous 2-14 season without quarterback Peyton Manning.
“We are so happy for Chuck, [his wife] Tina and their daughters,” coach John Harbaugh said in an official statement. “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.”
The 51-year-old will likely usher in a new era with Indianapolis primed to take Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the first overall pick in April’s draft. Ayanbadejo said the Colts will immediately take to Pagano’s infectious personality.
“He was one of those guys [where] it was like he was out on the field of battle with you and you’d never want to let him down, because he’s such a good guy,” Ayanbadejo said. “He’s also a family guy and a great person. You really felt like you knew him, and more than anything, you just didn’t want to let him down.”
Pagano had previous stints as a defensive assistant with the Cleveland Browns and the Oakland Raiders and also coached at several colleges, including most recently at the University of North Carolina before being hired by Harbaugh in 2008.
The Ravens will also wonder what impact Pagano’s departure might have on their list of defensive players with expiring contracts. Linebackers Jarret Johnson, Jameel McClain, and Ayanbadejo, defensive end Cory Redding, safeties Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura, and defensive tackle Brandon McKinney are all set to become unrestricted free agents and could now view Indianapolis as a viable alternative to the Ravens, who will not have a great deal of salary cap space.
After former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan was hired as the head coach of the New York Jets in 2009, linebacker Bart Scott and safety Jim Leonhard joined him in the Big Apple as free-agent signings.
Baltimore will now have its fourth defensive coordinator in five years after Rex Ryan, Mattison, and Pagano all held the job under Harbaugh. The most logical in-house candidate to fill the role would be linebackers coach Dean Pees, who was the defensive coordinator of the New England Patriots from 2006 to 2009 before moving on to Baltimore.
“I don’t think you’ll see any letdown if Dean Pees takes over,” said Ayanbadejo, who described Pees’ relationship with players as one based more on respect than the emotional Pagano. “You might even see a better defense if Dean Pees takes over because he likes things done a certain way, and he’s really particular about the way he does things.”
Pagano becomes the fourth defensive coordinator in the history of the franchise to depart for a head coaching position elsewhere, joining Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan, and Ryan.