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July 27, 2012

Pagano could be breath of fresh air for Colts

Head coach brings big personality to Indianapolis

ANDERSON, Ind. — It’s easy to see new Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano as some sort of “Rex Ryan Lite.”

Like Ryan, he comes from a football family steeped in defensive principles. He also shares Ryan’s love of aggressive tactics, which both men honed as defensive cooordinator for the Baltimore Ravens.

Perhaps, most significantly, Pagano shares Ryan’s gift of gab.

Fans who grew frustrated with former Colts coach Jim Caldwell’s guarded answers likely will warm quickly to Pagano.

One example from June’s minicamp?

Here’s Pagano’s initial answer as to why he chose former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians for the same position with Indianapolis.

“It wasn’t his looks,” Pagano said. “Arians was a good looking guy, go back and see the pictures. He had a little wig going on and a little goatee going.”

Then Pagano quickly turned serious.

“I’ve known Bruce (since) we worked together in Cleveland in 2001,” he said. “His track record speaks for itself.”

Pagano has only been in his new post since February, but it already appears as though he could be a media favorite.

He doesn’t shy away from any question, and he’s quick to add some levity to the proceedings.

Pagano’s one of the guys who gets it. Football is a serious business, but at heart it’s still just a game. And games are meant to be fun.

Perhaps that’s why he inspires such devotion in his players.

“He is like a dad, friend, brother,” Ravens safety Ed Reed said during the 2011 season when Pagano still was his defensive coordinator. “When I shed tears, he sheds tears. He and I are truly family. He helped me grow up when I was at (the University of) Miami. He helped with my mental preparation so much. 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 ... on the football field.”

That’s high praise from an eight-time Pro Bowler and the 2004 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. And it’s been echoed in the Colts’ locker room by former Ravens Cory Redding, Tom Zbikowski and Brandon McKinney.

If Indianapolis fails to return to the heights it reached under Tony Dungy and Caldwell, it won’t likely be the result of Pagano’s inability to get his players’ attention.

He isn’t likely to follow Ryan’s lead and guarantee a Super Bowl win, but Pagano has made it clear he’ll never set the bar low in Indianapolis.

It started with the motto he emblazoned on t-shirts on the first day of offseason conditioning — “Build the Monster.”

To the outside world, Pagano’s first season is all about rebuilding. But that’s not a term you’re likely to hear come out of the head coach’s mouth.

“We know we’ve lost some great players and there has been turnover here, huge change,” Pagano said during rookie minicamp in May. “The culture and the dynamics are totally different. So we’ve just raised the bar. The expectations are way up here. We said (to the rookies), ‘You wouldn’t be sitting in this room if somebody didn’t see something in you. So it is next man up. Get yourself ready to go, learn what you are supposed to do, and somebody in here is going to be the next Dallas Clark and somebody is going to be the next Joseph (Addai). Someone will take their place. It happens all of the time.’ Rebuilding, though, we are not talking about rebuilding. Ever.”

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