Column: 'I told him, 'Dang, you're good.'


Column: 'I told him, 'Dang, you're good.'

We can quantify most of the things a football coach does to help his team win games.

Count the hours he puts in. Track whether players get better or worse. Turn his schemes inside out, tote up blown timeouts at the end of close games, and more. Or just go straight to the standings.

All of those things combined don't quite explain what's been going on with the Indianapolis Colts. They were 1-2 six weeks ago, when coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia. They're 4-1 since, and he just got some promising news from his doctor - that the cancer is in ``complete remission.'' The turnaround was already a conversation starter in Indianapolis. Now that the rest of America got to watch Pagano addressing the team after it narrowly beat the Dolphins, try to put a number on inspiration.

Think back to last season, when it was Tim Tebow confounding the experts and the Broncos who were somehow more than the sum of their parts. Now he's stuck on a bench in New York and the momentum has resettled 1,100 miles or so to the east in Indianapolis. The Colts are still a long from being a playoff contender, but they made themselves the best story in the NFL so far. They weren't expected to do much, not after losing Peyton Manning from a team that went 2-14 without him, and not even with Andrew Luck coming to town. That's one reason why the franchise was willing to roll the dice on Pagano, who hadn't been a head coach at any level.

But he had big plans.

``He never believed this was going to be a rebuilding year. That's why he took it on,'' Sam Pagano recalled Thursday over the phone from Boulder, Colo. ``I was there for the talk he gave the team before the first exhibition game. He told them he really believed they could be successful. It was good stuff.

``So I asked him afterward, `Do you get nervous when you talk?' Because he was a typical coach's son growing up. A lot of `yessir' and `no, sir' and not much else. But he said, `No, I don't.' I told him, `Dang, you're good.' ``

Sam Pagano knows plenty about talking to a team. He delivered 200 speeches and more during 21 years as the coach at Fairview High in Boulder, where he won two state titles and split a third. He spent time abroad and even took a team with limited English-speaking skills to the Italian Super Bowl. Both Chuck and another son, John, who's the defensive coordinator of the San Diego Chargers, played for him.

And neither got the playing time they deserved, Sam says now, because he treated them more like a father than a coach. ``Like the dad with the kid in right field who's praying the ball doesn't get hit there,'' he said. His wife, Diana, even called the principal once to ask him to make sure Sam played his son.

``You know how far that got?'' he laughed. But Sam also realized about the time both were bouncing from the ranks of graduate assistants into full-fledged jobs on good college and NFL staffs, that the boys had no problems fending for themselves.

``It's painful, just painful, to watch him go through this - the suffering, how awful it is. ... That's the word he used, `awful' - and to be so far away,'' Sam said. ``But I just couldn't believe how elegant and truthful he was, talking about his vision and being around for his daughters' weddings. You can tell he's a fighter.''

What's that worth? Bruce Arians, the interim coach and a close pal of Chuck Pagano, won't even pretend he's done any calculations. Pagano was in the locker room before the game, too, and sneaked into the coaching booth five minutes before kickoff to watch the players. They knew it.

``I don't know how you put that into any form of value,'' Arians said Monday, when asked what Pagano's presence meant to the team. ``It was very special to have him walk through that group of guys and see their reaction to it and take that message. Obviously, in the second half we played with that same fight.''

But a moment later, he slipped back into coach speak and reminded us why NFL coaches watch so much film. They can afford to believe in only those things they can actually see.

``We did a great job two weeks in a row, defensively, of swinging the tempo from a first-half basically average performance, to a really good second-half performance. The young offensive guys battled their tails off with a bunch of injuries during that game. At one point in time, we had a rookie flanker, a rookie split end, rookie tight end, rookie running back and rookie quarterback fighting on third down against the number one third-down defense, and I thought they did a good job.''

Good enough, anyway, that it didn't come as much of a surprise back in Boulder. The Paganos knew sorrow years ago, when their daughter died accidentally. They learned that by honoring something or someone with your effort, some good is guaranteed to come of it.

``Like I said, he was a coach's kid. Always asking, `What do you want me to do? What's my next move?' He always put a lot of thought into things, but he didn't really come out of his shell until college,'' Sam said. He paused and added, ``Isn't he something now?''


Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.

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It's hard to tell after three games how the Wizards and Pacers would match up in the playoffs

It's hard to tell after three games how the Wizards and Pacers would match up in the playoffs

The Wizards crossed off an important goal on Saturday night by beating the Indiana Pacers and therefore securing the season series. If the teams tie with the same regular season record, the Wizards will get the higher playoff seed. As of today, that would mean home court advantage in the first round.

Though the Wizards have beaten the Pacers in two of their three matchups this season, we only know so much about how they would match up in the playoffs. The first game between them didn't feature Pacers All-Star Victor Oladipo and John Wall didn't play in any of the three games. The Pacers were without both Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis on Saturday night.

Given the Pacers underwent so much change over the summer, there is no real data to go off of from before this season. They are a completely different team with Oladipo leading the way and Paul George now in Oklahoma City.


There are reasons to believe, however, that the Wizards would fare well against the Pacers over the course of a seven-game series. For one, they figured out how to slow Oladipo and his teammate Bojan Bogdanovic on Saturday night. Both had killed the Wizards in previous matchups.

Oladipo was held to 18 points, over five points below his season average of 23.5. He had four turnovers, shot 7-for-16 (43.7%) and finished a -18 in a game the Pacers lost by seven.

The Wizards had some success with Tomas Satoransky guarding Oladipo. Satoransky is 6-foot-7 with long arms. He was able to recover on several occasions to alter Oladipo's shots.

Satoransky and Bradley Beal also did a good job keeping pace with Oladipo on the fastbreak. The Pacers had only four fastbreak points in the game. Oladipo is especially dangerous in the open court.

“We just made sure that we were aggressive with him and made sure he saw a lot of bodies in the paint," Beal said. "The last game, he got a lot of easy ones in transition. We just made sure that we got back on the shot, loaded to the ball and forced the other guys to attack.”

For Bogdanovic, it was about limiting open shots from the perimeter. Bogdanovic had 11 points, three below his season average and had four turnovers. Beal and Otto Porter stripped Bogdanovic for steals and Marcin Gortat took a charge on one play in the third quarter.


But it was all about taking away the outside shot. Bogdanovic only hit one shot in the first half and it was a three. The only reason he got it off is because Kelly Oubre, Jr. lost his balance backing up. That gave Bogdanovic the window he needed. Otherwise, Oubre helped frustrate the former Wizards small forward. So did Gortat and Ian Mahinmi, who did a good job covering their teammates off screens.

The Pacers are an average offensive team, ranking 16th in points per game and 14th in offensive rating. They are better defensively, ranking ninth-best in opponents points per game and 12th in defensive efficiency.

If the Wizards can limit Oladipo and Bogdanovic, the Pacers' two leading scorers, they should have a good shot at beating the Pacers in the playoffs. Beyond them, the Pacers are thin in the scoring department. Turner only averages 13.6 points and no one else beyond him can consistently make an opposing defense pay for mistakes. Conversely, several Wizards players have given the Pacers major trouble through three games this season.

Gortat, who had 18 points and eight rebounds on Saturday, has averaged 13 points and eight rebounds on 57.7 percent shooting against Indiana. Kelly Oubre, Jr., who had 16 points in 18 minutes, has averaged 15.5 points and is shooting 50 percent from the field.


In addition to those guys, Markieff Morris, Porter, Mike Scott, Mahinmi and Satoransky are all shooting over 50 percent against the Pacers. Satoransky is shooting 71.4 percent through three games.

The Wizards have the pieces to counter what the Pacers do best. Indiana is seventh in three-point percentage, but the Wizards are the best team in basketball in opponents three-point percentage. The Pacers are built around an All-Star guard, but the Wizards have two All-Star guards. The Pacers have a collection of talented wing players, but so do the Wizards.

"Hypothetically, I do like Indiana," Beal said. "I like how we match up with Indiana and I feel like there is a lot of stuff that we can take advantage of. In a lot of categories, I think we can win them."

Add it all up and the Wizards have every reason to feel confident if they see the Pacers in the posteason. Keep that in mind because they very well could meet up in the spring.

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Need to Know: Looking ahead—Key Redskins 2019 free agents

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Need to Know: Looking ahead—Key Redskins 2019 free agents

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, March 18, 39 days before the NFL draft.  

Looking at next year’s free agents

There is still work that the Redskins can do in free agency and they still have some of their own players they want to retain. But with a lot of the player movement already in the books, we can take a look forward some of the key Redskin who currently are set to be free agents when the 2019 league year opens.

Note: I’m not including Brandon Scherff here because the team has a fifth-year option on him that they surely will activate before the May 2 deadline.

QB Colt McCoy (Week 1 age 32)—Lots of questions here. Will the Redskins want to keep him around for another year as Alex Smith’s backup? Or will they want a younger and cheaper backup? Will McCoy want to move on rather than back up another QB who doesn’t miss many games?

OL Ty Nsekhe (32)—The Redskins gave him a second-round restricted free agent tender this year so it’s possible that he could be gone or on a long-term contract in Washington. If he is a free agent, his value and the difficulty of retaining him could depend on if he ends the season as a reserve tackle (easy) or as a starting guard (hard).

OLB Preston Smith (25)—As we saw with Trent Murphy (three years, $21 million with up to $30 million), pass rushers get paid. Smith also makes big plays. Since Smith came into the NFL, he is the only player with at least 20 sacks, 3 interceptions, and 4 forced fumbles. If the Redskins can’t reach a deal on an extension with him this year the franchise tag is a distinct possibility.

WR Jamison Crowder (25)—This year the supply of quality receivers both as free agents and in the draft sent contract prices skyrocketing. To guard against that happening next year, the Redskin should start talking to Crowder about an extension soon.

ILB Zach Vigil (27)—As I noted here, Vigil went from being cut in September to a very valuable reserve in November. Both Zach Brown and Mason Foster will still be under contract, but the Redskin still should make an effort to retain Vigil for special teams and as a capable backup.

Other Redskins who are slated to be UFA’s next year are DL Ziggy Hood and ILB Martrell Spaight.

It’s also worth noting that WR Maurice Harris and DE Anthony Lanier will both be restricted free agents next year. Both positions were pricey in free agency this year, so both could require at least second-round tenders, which likely will increase to about $3 million in 2019.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

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Regarding the reported visit of defensive lineman Jonathan Hankins with the Redskins:


Days until:

—Offseason workouts begin (4/16) 29
—Training camp starts (approx. 7/26) 131
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 175

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