With the end of the Colts’ season Sunday came an end to a surprisingly long reprieve. Chuck Pagano was fired as head coach, after six seasons, none more tumultuous or unsuccessful than this last one.
So the coaching search that was almost universally expected after the 2015 and 2016 seasons can officially begin.
It will begin with the uncertainty over Andrew Luck’s health, after the franchise quarterback missed the entire season. Colts owner Jim Irsay and general manager Chris Ballard (who inherited Pagano before this season, his first), will likely include these names for consideration.
Nick Saban, head coach, Alabama
Irsay certainly is the type to roll the dice and take a shot at the gem of the college coaching candidate pool. It would calm the rage of the local fans who see the Andrew Luck era being wasted.
Saban’s legacy is set, especially if he manages to win it all again with Alabama this year; that makes this different from his last college-to-NFL leap, from LSU to the Dolphins. Why not?
David Shaw, head coach, Stanford
Once again, Shaw and Luck reuniting seems to make too much sense to overlook — even if, as he continues to do, Shaw insists on staying in college. Everything about him makes him an ideal choice to make the transition, especially the Luck connection.
No, the grab at the Luck ties didn’t work out before, with offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. This is different, though.
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Bruce Arians, head coach, Cardinals
Arians vehemently denied recent reports of his retirement from the Cardinals. Seeing him walk away from there to return to his first head-coaching job, even though it was as an interim while Pagano won a cancer battle, still isn’t implausible. Neither would some sort of deal for the Colts to get him out of Arizona in a trade.
Again, back in Indy, with a healthy and older Luck, and likely with a combo of his Colts and Cardinals staffs … it’s not crazy.
Matt Patricia, defensive coordinator, Patriots
One of the two long-time coordinators off of Bill Belichick’s staff ready to fly the coop, Patricia would be doing it for the first time, after getting feelers last offseason.
This job would be in the top tier of availabilities, because of the quarterback in place, presuming Luck will be healthy and back to his old self. The Colts need lots of fixes elsewhere, like on defense.
Josh McDaniels, offensive coordinator, Patriots
McDaniels is going to get a serious look once again from teams, and he’d be smart to look at this opening longer than the others. Luck is going to be the deal-breaker for a lot of the top candidates, and on the surface, this seems to be an ideal marriage.
If somehow Luck’s recovery goes off track (again), though, Jacoby Brissett is still there and showed potential in his first year as a starter … and guess who was his coordinator in his rookie season: McDaniels.
Jon Gruden, broadcaster, ESPN
Again, this would be Irsay reaching for the stars, even if this particular star does what he continues to do and turns inquiries down.
What would lure a still-young, Super Bowl-winning, buzz-generating coach out of the booth, other than a boatload of money? An established star quarterback.
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Todd Haley, offensive coordinator, Steelers
No, Haley and Ballard did not cross paths in Kansas City; they missed each other by a year-plus. All Haley is, is an offensive mind who has gotten the max out of an embarrassment of riches in Pittsburgh, and who has to be attracted to the idea of coaching Luck after having worked with Ben Roethisberger.
Matt Nagy, offensive coordinator, Chiefs
Nagy has shared time with Ballard in Kansas City, Nagy as a coach under Andy Reid and Ballard in the front office. Connections always matter.
Nagy has established his identity there to the point of being given play-calling duties late this season, just in time for Alex Smith and the rest to rediscover their potency.