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Ben Smith

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Associated Press
The Colts’ hiring of Chuck Pagano as head coach suggests Peyton Manning’s farewell is all but certain, Ben Smith says.

Hiring Pagano sets stage for Manning’s exit

And now one more domino falls, and not with a whimper but a bang.

The next guy to wear the Big Headset for your Indianapolis Colts?

It’s Chuck Pagano, folks.

Who comes to Indy after one year as coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens’ celebrated defense.

Who comes with a reputation as a man who knows how to connect with players, who fosters the sort of family atmosphere long valued by Jim Irsay, who is a certain head coach all over again if you tilt your head and squint just right and hope a little, too.

“He treats you like more than a player,” Ravens’ defensive end Cory Redding told ESPN.com late Wednesday. “It’s like we’re his sons.”

And, yes, that does sound like Tony Dungy. And likely not by accident.

Know what else it does?

It sounds like the exit music for Peyton Manning.

If you’re starting over, after all, this is as starting over as it gets, plucking a guy from the next thing to obscurity because he ran a defense for array, and you need someone to come put it in order – someone who both reminds you of the glory days but is an absolute break from them at the same time.

Which makes Manning seem even more like yesterday’s news, especially given the fact that Pagano’s a defensive guy who, unlike Dungy, doesn’t seem to have a Tom Moore in his back pocket to run the offense.

The other day, No. 18 spoke with Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star for an extensive interview, and if it wasn’t intended to be his last will and testament as a Colt, it certainly came off that way. He left the distinct impression that he felt like a ghost floating through the echoing emptiness of the Colts’ complex, and everything he said seemed to come with a backward glance, tinged with regret and a certain yearning for the good old days.

“It’s been a privilege to play here,” he said at one point.

Not is a privilege. Not will be a privilege again. Has been a privilege.

Sounded like a man who knows the curtain is drawing down fast on a nearly unmatched career. Or at least this chapter of it.

And, sure, maybe reading the Pagano hire as a clue to that is reading way too much into it, but I don’t think so. I think Manning already knows he’s gone. I think the fact he hasn’t even met with the new GM, Ryan Grigson, tells both him and everyone else as much. And I think plucking a virtual unknown from the defensive side of the football is finally and fully picking up the eraser and wiping the blackboard clean.

The blackboard that has Peyton Manning’s name right up at the top.

“He wants us to do well,” Redding said of Pagano on Wednesday. “He keeps it fresh. He knows everybody’s strengths and puts them in a position to make plays.”

Or not to, perhaps.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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