Colts head coach Chuck Pagano watches over team from hospital
The Colts experienced the full range of emotions the last two weeks, from the low of learning first-year head coach Chuck Pagano was hospitalized for treatment of leukemia on Sept. 26 to the high of rallying from an 18-point halftime deficit to defeat the Packers this past Sunday.
"One of the most emotional weeks I've ever had in sports," said Colts punter Pat McAfee.
As the Colts battle the Jets today, Pagano will be in his room at Indiana University's Simon Cancer Center. The 52-year-old is undergoing aggressive treatment that doctors say will not allow him back to the Colts sideline this season, his first as a head coach after nearly three decades as a college or NFL assistant, or defensive coordinator.
As Bruce Arians, the Colts offensive coordinator and interim head coach put it this week: "It was more about getting Chuck the game ball than a football game, and they got that done. Now they've gotta go win football games."
Davis understands perhaps better than most. Aside from a personal relationship with Pagano that stretches over two decades, Davis had to step away just after taking the UNC job in March of 2007 when he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. He would return in time for the start of the season that fall, but he delegated much of his spring coaching duties to his coordinators, Pagano among them.
"You have to learn to rely on these coaches you trusted enough to bring on board with you," Davis, now a special assistant to Bucs coach Greg Schiano, told Newsday earlier this week. "To be successful as a head coach, you have to have chemistry with your whole staff and your whole team. In a situation like Chuck is in right now, he needs what he's already built in his time there."
Arians said after the comeback 30-28 win over the Packers, he delivered the game ball to Pagano on Sunday and the two met again on Tuesday in Pagano's hospital room. The inspirational texts and messages to and from Colts coaches and players with Pagano were important to last week's game, but now the harsh reality of the sport has set in: It's time to develop a routine, especially as Pagano needs to maintain his strength for chemotherapy and radiation to treat his form of cancer, acute promyelocytic leukemia, a cancer of the bone marrow.
"We've got to watch how much we go after him because his strength right now is critical," Arians said. "But he's watching every practice, he's got his IPad streaming and if he sees something, he'll text me. Mostly by text. If it's something big, we'll talk.
"We'll be in our meetings, he'll text [defensive coordinator] Greg [Manusky] what he sees on defense, me on offense. It's fun having him that active. I think it's helping him."
The messages and support have poured in. Packers coach Mike McCarthy had his players wearing "CHUCKSTRONG" gear in warmups before Sunday's game; Jets coach Rex Ryan, who had Pagano coaching the secondary for his defense in Baltimore in 2008, called Pagano a personal friend. Michigan coach Brady Hoke had his players in "CHUCKSTRONG" gear Saturday for their game against Illinois.
"He's our kind of guy," Hoke told reporters earlier this week.
That sort of approach can only help. "When you're fighting cancer, a positive, bright outlook is important," Davis said. "He's got a great family, great support and a team he helped put together that are all behind him.
"And knowing Chuck, it's not a stretch to get him to stay upbeat. It's unfortunate this happened at all, let alone his first year as a head coach. But he can take heart in seeing his team do what he prepared them for."