INDIANAPOLIS – When Bruce Arians stood before the Colts at 8:40 on Wednesday morning, he had one specific message in mind on his first field preparation day as interim head coach.
He told his players and coaches to do their jobs, nothing more. It was his first order of business as the team took its steps toward Sunday without Head Coach Chuck Pagano.
Like every message Arians sends, it was clear and succinct. Arians knew his crowd and was certain his hard-working charges would understand it well.
“This bunch is a very resilient bunch, and they know how to work,” said Arians. “The one thing that I think we’ll have to be very aware of is not getting over excited, over hyped, to try to do something extra. We don’t need to do anything extra.
“We just need to play, coach, every day and prepare like we have and not get caught up with snot bubbles and tears. They don’t beat anybody. We all want to win the game for a lot of reasons, but we can’t put extra expectations on it because of what has happened.”
In what is an emotional sport, it has been a trying week for the team. Monday’s news about Pagano, a popular and beloved leader diagnosed with leukemia, hit hard. Players and coaches digested and dealt with it and still do so.
As game time ticks down, Arians wants the focus to be on honing talents to face Green Bay. It is the best way to salute Pagano, who had a birthday last Tuesday.
“I think as time progresses, the initial shock waves will be over,” said Arians. “The initial shock waves of this thing, you can’t get too caught up in that emotion. The football field is kind of our safe haven and when we get out there, it’s business as usual. We stay focused at that moment – one play at a time, one day at a time. That’s just what we have to do. We can’t get caught up.
“I think more and more as the week progresses, more and more emphasis is going to be, ‘Try to win this game for Chuck.’ Chuck doesn’t want that. He doesn’t want to put that extra pressure on these guys. Just win the game because we want to win the game. That’ll be the extra icing on the cake to give him that birthday present.”
The message extended past the players. Arians does not want his coaches doing anything but their normal duties. It is a time-honored approach, and one that works. The entire coaching staff was a part of putting the structure in place before the season, so it is best to work the structure and trust it.
“I think we’re all trained rats. We know what day it is by what we’re doing, ‘We’re working on the red zone today, it must be Thursday. We’re working on the goal line, it must be Friday,’ ” said Arians. “I have a board in my office and whatever I’m writing up on the board, that’s how I know what day of the week it is.
“You grind it out until you play the last play of the season. That’s where we’re at. The players, they know the schedule. They know what’s expected of them on a Monday, a Tuesday, a Wednesday, a Thursday, a Friday, a Saturday and on a Sunday. We just stay the course. The foundation has been laid, and we don’t have to get off of it.”
“Bruce has been around a long time. He knows what it’s going to take,” said Vinatieri. “He’s already embraced that leadership role and taken on the extra responsibility that we’ll be ready to go. We know what we need to do. We’ll miss Coach (Pagano) while he’s not here, but we know what needs to get done. Bruce will lead, and we will follow. We will pick up the extra slack and do what needs to be done.”
“B.A. (Arians) has been around the block a few times,” said Powers. “He’s not going to change any philosophies that Chuck has instilled in us. Coach Pagano has started a great foundation. Everybody is on board with that foundation. B.A.’s just going to continue to preach what Chuck is preaching.”
Luck has guided the offense with a manner far beyond his years, but the challenge of competing on Sunday with the news he and his teammates learned this week makes it a circumstance he is encountering for the first time in his football life.
How to balance dealing with the news and focusing on Sunday?
“That’s a good question,” said Luck with pause on Wednesday. “You try to put it aside a bit, as cold as that sounds. I think all of our thoughts are with him. We break it down after practice on, ‘Chuck.’ I think a lot of guys are going to be playing for him for a lot of games to come.
“I think we also realize that he’d be disappointed in us if we weren’t putting a full effort into practice, or maybe getting too low about what’s going on or too emotional about it. Try to go to work. Try to do right and put the work in because I think that’s what he would want.
“I think there will be a little bit of a focus to not get too emotional in this locker room. You understand you just go out there and play. Coach Pagano would not want us crying about him before the game, and I don’t think we will. That’s a good question, and we’ll have to wait and see how it all shakes out.”