Dave Edwards was going through his usual Monday morning routine when his secretary called him with an urgent message: Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano had been diagnosed with a treatable form of leukemia.
Edwards dropped what he’d been doing and sought out the nearest television. As he sat watching Colts owner Jim Irsay explain the situation to fans and media during a hastily assembled news conference at the team’s headquarters, one question raced through Edwards’ mind.
“Who in the world will take over?” he remembered thinking Tuesday.
Such is the impact Pagano has had on the Colts community in his short time in Indianapolis.
Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians will fill in for Pagano on an interim basis, but nobody will be able to replace the coach’s energy and enthusiasm.
Hired in late January as the city was preparing to host Super Bowl XLVI, Pagano has brought a fierce intensity and quiet confidence to the franchise.
With all the changes in Indianapolis’ front office during the offseason, Edwards wasn’t certain what to expect. What he found was a warm and engaging head coach who nearly insists on connecting at a personal level.
Nearly every day during the three-week camp, Pagano would park his golf cart next to Edwards’ just outside the practice field. Then he’d engage in small talk about the weather, the day’s events, and sometimes even football.
When Edwards asked Pagano’s father, Sam, to appear as a guest on his Saturday morning radio program on WQME, the elder Pagano agreed with one provision. Make sure it was OK with his son.
“It’s not a problem,” Chuck Pagano told Edwards. “But don’t let him tell any of my secrets.”
Edwards proceeded to discuss the finer points of coaching and families with Sam Pagano, who is one of the most respected high school football coaches in Colorado history. Sam’s other son, John, is the defensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers and had worked with the Colts during the Jim Mora era.
Edwards came away from the conversation wowed by Sam’s coaching resume — which includes a world championship in an Italian professional league — but even more impressed by the strength of the Pagano family.
On the Monday after the radio interview aired, Chuck Pagano made certain to seek out Edwards to praise him for the quality of the show.
“He’s got a good family, and that’s how he’s going to get through it,” Edwards said. “You gotta have faith. If you don’t have faith, I don’t know how you do it.”
Pagano’s faith is strong.
And support has poured in from across the NFL since the news of his illness hit. Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan even wrote “Get well Pags!” as a tribute on the back of his defensive play sheet during the team’s “Monday Night Football” game against the Chicago Bears.
AU spokesman Chris Williams easily understands the goodwill toward Pagano. In his brief dealings with the coach this summer, he saw a genuine man who lives up to the glowing reports.
But that only added to the shock he felt when he heard the news about Pagano’s health Monday.
“We were saddened to learn the news along with others (Monday),” Williams said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Coach and his family and the entire Colts organization.”
The American Cancer Society reports Pagano’s form of the disease — acute promyelocytic leukemia — has a 70 to 90 percent cure rate.
But the coach is in for a long fight. He’ll spend the next four to six weeks in the hospital receiving treatments as doctors monitor his body’s response.
“It’s not going to be easy,” Edwards said. “This (recovery) is not a done deal. But he’s going to have a lot of support.”
— George Bremer is a reporter for The Herald Bulletin. Story reposted with permission. Photo Credit: Stuart Hirsch.
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