ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — John Elway and the Broncos held their first interview for the team’s head-coaching vacancy, meeting with former Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano at UCHealth Training Center on Wednesday.
The Boulder native, who spent the 2018 season as an NFL consultant, met with the Broncos’ search committee — led by Elway — to discuss the job.
Pagano, who finished 53-43 in six seasons with the Colts and led Indianapolis to three playoff berths, could bring an immediate jolt to the Broncos.
After taking over a team that went 2-14 in 2011, Pagano guided the Andrew Luck-led Colts to an 11-5 record and a wild-card berth.
That sort of quick turnaround could appeal to the Broncos, who haven’t made the playoffs since a Super Bowl 50 win. Denver has tallied a 20-28 over the last three seasons, including a 11-21 mark during the previous two years.
Pagano led the Colts that year despite a set of life-altering circumstances. Early in the 2012 season, Pagano took a leave of absence to undergo treatment for leukemia. Later in his treatment, he found time to visit his team, which included addressing his team following several games at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Pagano returned for a Week 17 game against the AFC South-winning Houston Texans, and the Colts earned a 28-16 win to help secure the fifth seed in the AFC. The Colts would lose to the eventual Super Bowl champion Ravens.
He followed that 2012 season — his first as an NFL head coach — with another pair of 11-5 seasons and two division titles.
Each year, the Colts advanced a round further in the playoffs. In 2013, Pagano and the Colts capped a 28-point comeback against the Chiefs in the Wild Card round to earn a 45-44 win.
A season later, the Colts defeated the Bengals in the Wild Card game, beat the Broncos in the Divisional round and traveled to New England for the AFC Championship.
The Colts would not make the playoffs again during Pagano’s tenure, but he coached many of those remaining games without a fully healthy Luck, who battled a series of injuries.
Pagano guided the team to a pair of 8-8 seasons in 2015 and 2016 despite Luck missing 10 games and being limited in many others.
Luck missed the entire 2017 season as the Colts fell to 4-12, and Pagano was fired after the year. That season, though, Pagano ensured the Colts stayed competitive despite the absence of their franchise quarterback. The Colts held a lead entering the fourth quarter in nine of their games that year, a number that was only matched by four other teams that season. The Colts, though, weren’t able to win the majority of those games; they finished 4-5 in such situations.
After being relieved of his duties in Indianapolis, Pagano served as an NFL consultant during the 2018 season.
Should the Broncos decide to hire Pagano, he could bring many of the qualities that Elway identified in his end-of-season press conference on Monday.
“I want them to be great on one side of the ball and great at what they do — whatever that position that may be — whether it be a coordinator or whatever they’ve done,” Elway said. “I look for greatness on that side. For me, I look for experience. I want the guys that understand the game, they understand X’s and O’s but also have the ability to lead men. That’s a big part of it in today’s world. Those are two things that I look for, and there are guys we have feel for. I think there are a lot of things that go into a head coach that it’s a feel thing. We’re going to try to find that guy with that ‘it’ factor, that can make those right decisions and also lead men. We’re confident that we can find that guy.”
Pagano likely meets the desired experience threshold after spending six years as the Colts’ head coach. He also brings a level of defensive acumen after serving as the Ravens’ defensive coordinator in 2011 and their secondary coach from 2008-10. Across the span of those four seasons, the Ravens finished third in scoring defense each year. The Ravens also finished third in total defense during Pagano’s lone year as the defensive coordinator.
Before arriving in Baltimore, Pagano guided the Browns’ secondary, which totaled 28 of a league-leading 33 interceptions in 2001. He also helped the Raiders’ defensive backs rank first in the league in passing defense in 2006.
In all, Pagano tallied 25 years of experience — spread across the collegiate and professional ranks — on the defensive side of the football before accepting the Colts job in 2012.
Luck has also spoken about Pagano in a way that suggests he fulfills Elway’s desire to find a coach who can lead men.
“I’ll be forever indebted to Coach Pagano,” Luck told Colts.com on Jan. 1, 2017. “He’s been an incredible leader, an incredible friend. We’ve shared a lot of good memories, some not-so-good memories. I feel very fortunate to count him as a friend and count him as someone in my life. I know he’s going to be successful wherever he is next. Very thankful, very fortunate to be able to spend these last six years with him.”
Pagano already has ties to the Denver area. His father, Sam Pagano, won three state titles as a coach at Boulder’s Fairview High School and was elected to the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame in 2018. Chuck Pagano’s brother, John, is the Texans’ outside linebackers coach, but he had served as a defensive coordinator in the previous six seasons.
A 9News report suggested that if Pagano were to be named the Broncos’ head coach, former head coach Gary Kubiak could serve as the team’s offensive coordinator and John Pagano could be Denver’s defensive coordinator.
According to additional media reports, the Broncos are expected to interview several other candidates, including Patriots defensive coordinator Brian Flores, Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, Rams quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor and Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak.