Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano, who spent the past three months fighting leukemia, wiped away tears on Monday as he returned to work, saying the team’s success helped his recovery.
Under interim coach Bruce Arians, the Colts’ offensive coordinator, the team that finished with the National Football League’s worst record last season, won nine games and at 10-5 has clinched a playoff spot with one game remaining.
“Watching them week in and week out, from a hospital bed or in my living room was not easy,” Pagano said. “You felt helpless at times, but watching them coach and play, they inspired me. They have no quit. They find ways to win.”
Pagano, who took the job in January, met with players in his first hours back on duty after having taken an indefinite leave in September in order to undergo chemotherapy and other treatments to fight blood cancer.
“You just keep the right frame of mind, stay positive and know you can win. You keep that mindset and know you can overcome,” Pagano said. “It’s your faith and belief and will. It’s like with our players. We talk about beating their man. It’s just lining up against something else. We still talk about that will to win. Circumstances don’t make you. They reveal you.”
Colts owner Jim Irsay was confident Pagano was ready to return to guide the team as it prepares to close the season on Sunday against Houston and then open the playoffs on the road the next week against an undecided foe.
“I know Chuck is ready for this challenge,” Irsay said. “I know the time is right for him to grab the reins and get that head coaching cap on and get the coaching journey back. The main thing we’re ecstatic about is Chuck is here and he’s healthy. I couldn’t be happier. So many other things happen besides wins and losses. The inspiration Chuck has been to others, it’s a fairy tale, it’s a Hollywood script. But it’s real.”
Arians, himself a prostate cancer survivor, guided the club into the NFL playoffs with a victory on Sunday at Kansas City.
“What a masterful job you did, Bruce,” Pagano said. “You carried the torch and won nine ball games and you got us in the playoffs and you did it with dignity and with class. The sky is the limit with the club and it’s because of you, Bruce.”
Pagano said he will try to take charge without hurting the chemistry the team and Arians have built the past three months.
“Tough act to follow. I’ve got my hands full,” Pagano said. “I’ll try not to get in the way. It’s great to be back, like a kid in a candy store to be back around the guys again.”