For the bulk of his 14 season in Indianapolis, Peyton Manning did excellent work setting a high standard he expected the rest of the team to maintain.
It was the way he led, with an intense desire to see things done and executed with precision and reliability. If you couldn’t plug into that quickly and prove dependable, he and the Colts didn’t have a lot of patience for you.
There was nothing wrong with that mode of operation. It was a foundational element for a team that consistently went to the playoffs. It paired well with Bill Polian, who ran the team and was in lockstep with Manning.
But last year, the team crumbled while Manning sat out the season rehabilitating a neck injury. Polian was fired and Manning was released after owner Jim Irsay decided on getting a fresh start on all levels.
Nothing that happened last year dented the record Manning and Polian posted during their time working together.
Still, my ears perked up during my couple of days in Indianapolis this week when players talked of the looser environment.
I hit on the vibe Pagano’s creating in this post from Indianapolis on Wednesday.
Safety Antoine Bethea said that although things are still business-like, they are also looser.
Perhaps more notable were Reggie Wayne’s comments after Wednesday’s practice at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Via Phil Richards of the Indianapolis Star, here’s Wayne on Manning’s successor, Andrew Luck:
"He's got some work to do. But I like him, man. He's got a great ball; nice spin on it. He's confident. He's having fun out there. He's not totally serious.
"Whenever you've got your leading quarterback out there just having fun, you've got no choice but to have fun. So, so far, so good. We've got a long way to go, but I like where we're heading."
Saying Luck’s “not totally serious” suggests to me that Manning was viewed as totally serious -- though that may be too broad a conclusion.
I’m not being critical of the way Manning operated -- and he was hardly humorless. He has some prankster in him, he could fire off a zinger in a news conference and he was a commercial star with stuff like his “cut that meat” chant.
At practice and in games, his demanding style and perfectionist personality worked for him and worked for his team.
And Pagano and Luck will need to be demanding, too.
Still, as the Colts look to reinvent themselves, “not totally serious” might be a bit of an underlying theme.