Colts' Pagano resumes coaching duties
A tearful Chuck Pagano thanked his family and the Colts organization for helping him get through one of the toughest challenges of his life.
The Colts' head coach returned to work Monday after battling leukemia all season. His doctors recently cleared him to return to the sidelines.
"When I got diagnosed and [Dr.] Larry Cripe looked me in the eye and said, 'Here's what you have and here's the steps you have to take the beat this,' there was never a doubt in my mind that I'd be standing up here at some point addressing you and the team again. I told the team that there was never a doubt in my mind that they would be 10-5 right now. And then the playoffs, that's what we set out to do a long, long time ago. Never take one day for granted. It is a privilege to be standing here today. It is a blessing," said Pagano.
Pagano talked about the 25 days he spent getting chemotherapy and said his wife Tina was by his side the entire time, only going home to do laundry in the mornings.
"I want to thank you. She's a soldier, a warrior, my soulmate," Pagano said. He also thanked his family, saying, "You can't get through something like this without somebody as strong and loving as your family and I thank you."
"You got me through, and I thank you," he said to his wife.
Pagano also talked about something he's brought up to his young team about circumstances: "They don't make you. They reveal you."
Pagano has been in constant contact with the team while undergoing treatment. He'll coach the team in the final regular season game at home against the Texans.
The coach thanked the Colts organization, including owner Jim Irsay.
"There's not a better man in the entire National Football League," he said, speaking of Irsay.
The coach thanked his doctors and nurses, along with the team, saying, "You guys have done your part. Man, have you done your part."
The coach says CHUCKSTRONG has given him a life mission.
"But that whole CHUCKSTRONG, the way I look at it is my job has just begun with that. Besides my job here, now we talk about serving, my job now is to give back everything that I can possibly give back to everybody out there that's fighting some type of illness, some type of disease, some type of cancer," he said.
Pagano told some great stories about what carried him through the hard days of treatment.
"You've got to battle every day. There's going to be some good days and there's going to be some bad days, but you've got to have faith and you've got to have trust. You've got to ask Him every day to be healed. I got a letter from a nine-year-old that was diagnosed when he was sick. He's now in remission and cancer-free. He was smart enough to tell me, 'Coach, you can beat this. But your attitude has got to be really good. You've got to be really kind to your nurses, they mean well. I know you're not going to feel good but be very nice to them. Make sure you chew on ice, Coach, when you're taking your chemo, it will help you so you don't get the sores in your mouth. I prefer strawberry Popsicles. You might want to try those Coach, that's what I did.' So to everybody out there, just the same things, it's your faith and it's your belief and it's your will. Just like our players, we talk about the will to win and the will to beat your man. You're just lining up against something else and with that will, you can overcome anything," he said.
Pagano will be taking special steps to take care of his hard-won good health.
"I've still got a strict regimen to stick to and there's a plan for the next couple years and then a few years after that. Again these guys, this thing is rolling pretty good so again if I just don't get in the way. I feel great, my weight is back, my energy is back and again, it's just a blessing to be back here," he said.
He praised the "outstanding job" by interim Coach Bruce Arians, who racked up nine wins in Pagano's absence, tying the record for the number of wins by an interim coach in NFL history.
"When I asked for Bruce to take over, I asked for him to kick some 'you know what' and to do great. Damn Bruce, you had to go and win nine games? Tough act to follow!"
Pagano was on indefinite leave to battle leukemia since Oct. 1. The day he left, he had asked Arians to step in and take over.
Pagano said at Colts headquarters Monday: "You carried the torch and all you went out and did was win ballgames."
He adds Arians "did it with dignity" and "class."
Pagano expressed his gratitude to Colts fans, the community and the media for their coverage of his illness.
The coach returns one day after his rookie team clinched an AFC playoff berth.
Sunday's win over the Kansas City Chiefs wasn't always pretty, but the Colts got it done in the end, 20-13. The team is now 10-5 - a stunning turnaround from last season, when they won just two games without quarterback Peyton Manning.