The deeply sad and shocking news that Colts head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia and will remain hospitalized for at least 6-8 weeks while undergoing treatment serves as a stark reminder that football doesn’t scratch the surface of what truly matters in life.
Pagano, 52, and his wife, Tina, three daughters, Tara, Taylor and Tori, and two granddaughters, Avery and Addison, are in my thoughts and prayers, as they should be in yours and those of the millions of NFL fans.
My only time interacting with Pagano was in a room full of reporters following his first loss as an NFL head coach, so I don’t pretend to know him personally. But I know Pagano will approach his treatment and recovery with the same energy, relentlessness and no-nonsense demeanor that helped him quickly win over his players and coaching staff in less than a year on the job.
Colts owner Jim Irsay, as well as GM Ryan Grigson and Pagano’s doctor, Dr. Larry D. Cripe, delivered the news in a press conference Monday, in which they outlined Pagano’s path to recovery. Dr. Cripe said the goal for Pagano’s treatment is that “he’s returned to a fully functional life, the life that he worked so hard to earn, and he’s looking forward to leading the Colts to some Super Bowls.”
Added Dr. Cripe: “However, the process is long, and complicated, and we are just starting right now. For the next several weeks, this will be day-by-day. We’ll be vigilant and we’ll do everything we can to assure and help him reach a full recovery.”
Irsay indicated it is “unlikely Pagano will be all-in as a head coach this season,” and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians has been named the interim head coach.
What this means to the Colts is trivial compared to Pagano’s health, but it is my job to discuss the potential impact.
From my view, the decision by Irsay, Grigson and Pagano this offseason to re-sign WR Reggie Wayne and OLB Robert Mathis — which had already looked brilliant, what with both veterans off to the fastest starts of their careers — now looms even larger. The monster on-field contributions from the pair could end up paling in comparison to what their leadership will mean to a young team in the face of such major adversity. Remember, Wayne and Mathis, along with OLB Dwight Freeney, were part of the 2005 Colts club that dealt with the shock of former head coach Tony Dungy losing his son to a suicide late in that season.
This is a different situation and, obviously, one that is impossible to plan for, but Grigson’s insistence on keeping strong, veteran leadership at the core of his rebuilding effort should come back to pay major dividends during this difficult time.
Not only does Arians, who turns 60 on Oct. 3, bring 20 years of NFL experience as an assistant coach and coordinator to the table, he’s a prostate cancer survivor who will be a tremendous asset to the Colts’ players and coaches.
There is no handbook on how to deal with this process and no guarantees regarding the fate of Pagano. All we know at this point is that he and his family have an incredibly difficult road ahead, and they will receive the best medical attention possible to attempt to cure Pagano’s illness. We also know that Pagano’s intense love and passion for the game means he will be following closely the developments of his football team while he is away.
Hopefully, Pagano can take comfort in knowing that his club will be in good hands. I believe the Colts have the right mix of established veterans and savvy youngsters who, along with Arians, can shepherd this team through the ups and downs that were already expected before this horrible news broke.
The Colts suffered their biggest loss of the season without playing a game, yet a swift and full recovery by Pagano would amount to a much greater victory than any the Colts could earn on the field this season. Get well soon, Coach. We’re all pulling for you.