There’s something about those University of Miami connections for Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano.
For the past three years, it was Pagano and veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne. Now that Wayne is no longer part of the Colts’ picture, it’s running back Frank Gore and wide receiver Andre Johnson.
Wayne, Gore and Johnson were all standouts at Miami while Pagano was an assistant coach. He ended up in having a hand in all three players winding up as Hurricanes as a recruiter.
Flash forward several years. Pagano had just been named as Indianapolis’ new head coach. Wayne had just played out his contract with the Colts and was fielding offers from several teams around the National Football League.
Just when it looked as if Wayne was headed out the door, presumably to New England, in stepped Pagano the recruiter once again. He convinced his long-time friend to stay with the Colts and be an important part in the remodeling of the franchise.
When the decision was made to finally part ways to Wayne after the 2014 season, largely due to age and a series of injuries that had finally begun to affect his on-field performance, Pagano went right back to his Miami connections.
This time it was Gore and Johnson. Both players had received lucrative contract offers from other teams. In fact, for awhile it appeared as if the former San Francisco 49ers running back was headed to Philadelphia.
But, as Indianapolis general manager Ryan Grigson likes to say, once Pagano gets a potential roster addition in the door, the chances are pretty good that they’re not going to leave. Such was the case with Gore and Johnson.
Both players are expected to be important cogs in the Colts’ offense this season. With Wayne gone, Johnson steps in to give Indianapolis another Pro Bowl caliber wide receiver. He gives the franchise something it hasn’t had for quite a long time, a big physical receiver.
While Johnson’s former team, the Houston Texans, decided to part ways, Pagano and Grigson both firmly believe the veteran receiver still has a lot left to offer.
“He’s the same. Same guy, just better version. From day one from recruiting him and then when he came to the University of Miami as a freshman until now. He’s a tireless worker. He doesn’t say anything. He does his job,” the Colts head coach offered.
“He’s where he is supposed to be, and he’s very trustworthy, accountable, a great teammate. Guys can look to him and say, ‘OK I’m a young receiver and I’m going to get in his hip pocket and whatever he does, I am doing.’ He just does everything the right way, plus he has a ton of talent.”
Pagano has the same feel for Gore, who may make his mark just as much as a pass blocker as he will as a runner.
“Certainly you have to have the mental aptitude to understand protections. You are going to get a bunch of exotic blitzes nowadays. People are going to challenge your protections on every third down situation. From a mental standpoint, [Gore’s] got the football IQ and aptitude to understand that and get on the right people. Then from a physical standpoint, he’s a tough guy,” the coach said.