AFC North: Colts hire Chuck Pagano

The Ravens' players thought they might lose a coordinator this offseason. But everyone thought it would be Cam Cameron and not Chuck Pagano.

Losing Pagano -- who was named the Colts' new head coach Wednesday -- is a big shock and a big blow to the Ravens' defense. He did more than take Baltimore from being the 10th-ranked defense to the third-ranked one. Pagano brought back the swagger to a Ravens defense that had lost its way.

Changing defensive coordinators is nothing new to the Ravens. They've maintained success in going from Marvin Lewis to Mike Nolan to Rex Ryan. But it's different with losing Pagano. There's an uneasiness now because of what preceded him.

Before Pagano took over the defense, Baltimore rarely blitzed and recorded a team record-low 27 sacks in 2010 under coordinator Greg Mattison. In their first season under Pagano, the Ravens went into attack mode and finished first in the AFC with 48 sacks.

The front-runner to replace Pagano is linebackers coach Dean Pees, who was the Patriots' defensive coordinator from 2006 to 2009. The Ravens also could look at defensive line coach Clarence Brooks.

Whoever it is, the new coordinator can't allow the aggressiveness on defense to leave with Pagano, who wasn't afraid to blitz linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks. Under Pagano, the Ravens' defense played like the one of old. Pressuring the quarterback led to turnovers, which led to easy scores. The Ravens led the NFL with 21 forced fumbles this season, which was three more than any other team.

The Ravens took on the personality of Pagano, who took pride in being a gambler when it came to defense.

"My motto's always been: They can fire you but they can't eat you," Pagano said during the season. "If we go down, we're going down saying we put it all out there. Not that we want to be stupid. We have to take calculated risks. But we will let the fur fly."

The Ravens' challenge isn't finding another defensive coordinator. They have to find another risk-taker.
When Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano got to interview for the Indianapolis Colts' head coaching job, I thought it was a good first step that would help him prepare for the future when he had a better shot at becoming one.

[+] EnlargeJohn Harbaugh and the Ravens host the 3-2 Texans in Week 6.
Icon SMIDefensive coordinator Chuck Pagano (right) helped the Baltimore Ravens achieve a 12-4 record in 2011.
Pagano had never interviewed for a head coaching job. He was only one year removed from being a secondary coach.

But surprise — Pagano was named the new head coach of the Colts today, as first reported by Pro Football Talk.

"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 Ravens. "I'm just thrilled and so excited."

Pagano is exactly what a Colts team needs in what should be an offseason of change in Indianapolis. He has a take-charge approach that was beloved and respected by the Ravens players. His enthusiasm is infectious.

When a Ravens defensive back broke up a big pass in practice, he's on the sideline starting the chant of that player's name. And, during last year's training camp, when the defense stopped Joe Flacco a few yards short of the end zone in a two-minute drill to end practice, Pagano was the first one running on the field with his fist raised high.

He exudes confidence and wants his players to be aggressive. As a coach, he's been known to throw hats and headsets in fits of anger. As a college player in the early '80s, he was known for delivering big hits — "a headhunter," as Ravens linebacker Jarret Johnson once put it — as a 155-pound safety at Wyoming.

When he talks, it's a mixture of brashness and a sense of humor. His approach is Rex Ryan light.

Once asked if he ever considered working again for the Raiders, Pagano said, "a two-year sentence in Oakland is enough."