All season, Chuck Pagano, the Ravens' brash first-year defensive coordinator, had dismissed questions about his potentially landing a head coaching job, saying his sole focus was helping the defense be the top unit in the NFL and getting to Indianapolis for the Super Bowl.
Pagano is headed to Indianapolis after all, but it won't be with the Ravens. Three days after their stunning AFC championship loss to the New England Patriots, the Ravens were dealt another blow when they learned that Pagano has been named the new head coach of the Colts.
The 51-year-old will be introduced at an afternoon news conference Thursday by Colts owner Jim Irsay and new general manager Ryan Grigson.
"It's difficult to leave the Ravens, but I couldn't pass up on this great opportunity," Pagano said in a statement released by the team. He was the team's secondary coach from 2008 to 2010 before replacing Greg Mattison, who left after the 2010 season to take the defensive coordinator job at Michigan. "I'm just thrilled and so excited."
Under Pagano's leadership, the Ravens finished the regular season ranked third overall in total defense, second in rush defense, fourth in pass defense, third in points allowed per game and first in red-zone defense. They also ranked first in the AFC with 48 sacks, 21 more than they had the previous season.
In their season-ending 23-20 loss to the Patriots last Sunday, Pagano's defense forced quarterback Tom Brady into two interceptions and a 57.6 passer rating.
While Ravens coach John Harbaugh and several of his top assistants headed to Mobile, Ala., the day after the game, Pagano traveled to Indianapolis to interview for the Colts' head coaching job, which became vacant when Jim Caldwell was fired last week after a 2-14 season. Pagano spent the better part of two days talking with team officials before he was offered the job Wednesday.
"We are so happy for Chuck, [Pagano's wife] Tina and their daughters," Harbaugh said in a 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."
Veteran linebacker Jarret Johnson said after learning of Pagano's departure, "For us, it's mixed emotions. When he told us he was flying there to interview, first reaction, you're disappointed. It's like your girlfriend is cheating on you, but you're also excited for him because he has earned it. He's excited for the opportunity there. You can't pass up an opportunity like that."
The Ravens haven't announced their plans to fill their defensive coordinator vacancy, though sources confirmed that linebackers coach Dean Pees is one of the front-runners for the job. Pees, who has been with the Ravens the past two seasons, was the lone defensive assistant with Harbaugh this week at the Senior Bowl. He also was the Patriots' defensive coordinator from 2006 to 2009. Defensive line coach Clarence Brooks could also be a candidate.
"Both of them would do awesome," Johnson said of Pees and Brooks. "I can't see us going out of house. Both of them know the defense and are deserving of the opportunity. We wouldn't bat an eye if one of them stepped in."
While they know that they have at least one coordinator vacancy, the Ravens still haven't announced whether much-maligned offensive coordinator Cam Cameron will return. Cameron's contract expires next month.
Meanwhile, Pagano enters an organization going through dramatic changes. Vice chairman Bill Polian and his son, Chris, the team's former general manager, were fired. Caldwell, who led the Colts to the Super Bowl in his first season at the helm, was also dismissed, as were 11 of his 20 coaches.
The Colts have the No. 1 overall pick in April's draft, and they are expected to select Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, a move that will further call into question the future of Peyton Manning, who missed all of this past season with a neck injury.
However, several Ravens players said they feel that Pagano is ready for the opportunity.
"The Colts organization got a great guy, a great coach," linebacker said Jameel McClain in a team release. "I think he'll make an amazing head coach."
Two weeks ago, Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb compared working with Pagano to being around your "father or older brother who is very, very smart."
"I wish I could be with him the rest of my life," Webb said. "I like him, man. He knows football and he knows people. He treats me with the utmost respect and I do the same with him."
Pagano, a charismatic coach known for having a fiery temperament and boundless energy, was especially close with safety Ed Reed, whom he recruited to the University of Miami. Pagano had two stints each with Miami and East Carolina and also coached at Southern California, Boise State and Nevada-Las Vegas before Butch Davis hired him to coach the Cleveland Browns' secondary in 2001.
After four seasons with the Browns, he coached the Oakland Raiders' secondary for two years before going back to the college ranks for one season in 2007 at North Carolina. He joined the Ravens the following year.
In his first -- and only -- season as the Ravens' defensive coordinator, Pagano made good on his promise to "wreak havoc," advocating an aggressive, up-tempo style the Ravens' defensive personnel embraced.
Linebacker Terrell Suggs saw the writing on the wall in December when, after the team had beaten the Colts, he said of Pagano, "If anybody is trying to hire a head coach, if they ask, I'm going to say he [stinks]."
As it turns out, the Colts weren't listening, and now the Ravens will be searching for their fourth defensive coordinator in five years.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun