INDIANAPOLIS – The smile on Bruce Arians’ face lasted for the entire press conference, and a few tears in his eyes were not going to be held back.
Arians watched his friend, Chuck Pagano, address those assembled in the pavilion at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center as the head football coach of the Colts.
For the past 12 games, Arians has “held the torch” that Pagano lit early this year, and he now hands it back to his head coach with the team’s destination being the playoffs.
“I mentioned it to the team this morning, the first phone call I made after I got this job was to Bruce and to see if he would be interested,” said Pagano. “I thank God that he was available and interested. I thank him again today.
“What a masterful, masterful job you did, Bruce. You carried the torch and all you went out and did was win nine ballgames. You got us our 10th win yesterday and you got us into the playoffs. You did it with dignity, and you did it with class. You’re everything that I always knew you were, and more.”
When players and coaches gathered this morning for a 10:00 a.m. team meeting, Arians happily took his seat with all eyes and ears fixated on Pagano.
“It was unbelievable, the feeling, the atmosphere, the energy that came into the room,” Arians said. “As soon as he came through the door, everybody jumped up and all hands were on deck. It was really an amazing feeling. It was a really good feeling, especially on Christmas Eve.”
The friendship between Arians and Pagano was evident listening to the two speak on Monday afternoon.
Pagano thanked him for the job that he has done over the past three months and while that was emotional for Arians to hear, the Colts’ offensive coordinator said he was just simply doing what friends do.
“Oh heck yeah, he got me good,” Arians said of if he were crying during Pagano’s press conference. “It’s just been an emotional journey, and you can’t be afraid to show your emotions. Every time I think about it, it gets that way, and that’s what friends are for.
“I take that word very serious, ‘friend.’ That’s what a friend does, carries on for you. Loyalty is something my father instilled in me. You’ve got to have a guy’s back.”
Outside of football, Arians said Pagano has embraced his role as a prominent figure that beat leukemia.
On different occasions Pagano has reached out to friends of Arians who have children that are battling cancer, and Pagano’s message has “meant the world to them.”
Come Wednesday, Pagano will be back in the mix of the daily practice repetition, and that includes him breaking down the post-practice huddle.
Since Arians became the interim coach the practice has ended with, ‘1-2-3, Chuck.’
What will it be with Pagano back in the middle of his team?
“That’s his job, now,” Arians said with a grin. “Whatever he wants to say, I’m hollering.”