In two seasons as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, Chuck Pagano has returned the franchise to its winning tradition. In back-to-back campaigns, the Colts recorded 11-5 regular season records and playoff berths. The success culminated with an AFC South Division Championship in 2013 preceding an AFC Wild Card Playoff victory against the Kansas City Chiefs in a game that marked the second-largest comeback in NFL postseason history.
Pagano became the first head coach in team history and the eighth in NFL annals to lead a team to 11 wins in each of his first two seasons. He has coached 32 games without losing consecutive contests, which is the second-longest streak for a Colts head coach and the longest streak to start a career in franchise history. Last season, Indianapolis recorded a perfect 6-0 division record for the first time since 2009 and claimed its eighth division title since 2002.
The Colts have faced adversity over the last two seasons. In 2013, Indianapolis placed 17 players on Injured Reserve and witnessed an NFL-high 73 different players take at least one snap with the team. Five of the players on Injured Reserve were starters, including tight end Dwayne Allen, linebacker Pat Angerer, running back Vick Ballard, guard Donald Thomas, and wide receiver Reggie Wayne. In 2012, the Colts overcame the loss of Pagano to acute promyelocytic leukemia for 12 games and responded with seven fourth quarter or overtime game-winning drives en route to an 11-5 campaign.
Since arriving in Indianapolis, Pagano has not let adversity become a distraction as he has instilled a fervent focus with his team. He has established a winning culture along with a process the Colts follow to obtain their vision of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
“Our goal and vision from day one has never changed and that was to build a program for sustained success,” said Pagano. “Win not one, not two, but we want to win multiple championships.”
The team’s resolve to stick to their process and follow their vision was no more evident during the 2013 season. Pagano guided Indianapolis to a 6-1 record in games decided by one possession or less as the Colts registered four victories in games when trailing in the fourth quarter. In addition, Indianapolis became the first team to finish a season with the least amount of turnovers (14) and penalties (66) in the NFL since 2002. The club also finished with a franchise-low in turnovers and fumbles lost (four) last season.
The year was highlighted by an AFC Wild Card Playoff victory against the Kansas City Chiefs on January 4, 2014. The Colts trailed by 28 points (38-10) with 12 minutes remaining in the third quarter. Following a 10-yard touchdown run by running back Donald Brown, quarterback Andrew Luck led the team to four touchdowns, including a three-yard pass to Brown, a 12-yard pass to tight end Coby Fleener, a five-yard fumble recovery for a score and the game-winning 64-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. The team embraced Pagano’s no-panic attitude as they inched their way to victory. The win marked the second-largest comeback in NFL postseason history, behind Buffalo’s 32-point comeback victory against the Houston Oilers on January 3, 1993. It was also the first time a team (regular season or postseason) won a game in regulation after trailing by as many as 28 points.
Pagano was named head coach of the Colts on January 25, 2012. His first season proved to be one of the most inspirational stories in NFL history. Pagano was forced to take a leave of absence just three games into the season after being diagnosed with a curable form of leukemia.
With a 1-2 record, the Colts were without their leader in the midst of a transition that had started taking shape in the offseason. Those who expected the Colts to falter didn’t understand the principles on which Pagano built his squad. Terms like trust, loyalty, respect and team resonate throughout the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center and are applied on game days.
Serving as the team’s interim head coach, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and the Colts defied the odds and rallied to a 9-3 record. During that time frame, Indianapolis secured a playoff berth and accomplished one of their primary goals – extending the season for Pagano. Some of the victories during Arians’ term included a comeback win against Green Bay (Week 5) after trailing by 18 points, an overtime victory on the road at Tennessee (Week 8) and a last-second victory in Detroit (Week 13). In all, the Colts posted a 9-1 record in one-possession games in 2012, including winning their last eight.
As the regular season came to an end, the culmination of Arians’ stretch as interim head coach concluded with the team’s playoff-clinching victory at Kansas City (Week 16). The stage was set for Pagano to return after missing 12 weeks of action.
Division rival Houston visited Lucas Oil Stadium in the regular season finale in hopes of clinching the AFC’s No. 1 seed in the playoffs. The Colts were not deterred, however, as the team corralled the emotion in Pagano’s return and compiled a 28-16 win to finish the regular season with an 11-5 record. The real victory, however, was the return of a healthy Chuck Pagano. It was a day the Colts organization and fans will remember for generations.
In just eight months as a resident of Indiana, the Indianapolis community, the state, and the country showered Pagano and his family with an outpouring of support as he endured his battle with leukemia. It was this support along with the caregivers at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center that he credits for his current state of remission. In return, Pagano has formed the CHUCKSTRONG Foundation, which has raised more than $1.7 million for continued cancer research. He also hosts an annual CHUCKSTRONG Tailgate Gala, which raises awareness and funds for cancer research. In June of 2014, Pagano released his book titled Sidelined: Overcoming Odds through Unity, Passion, and Perseverance. The book documents his battle with leukemia while giving readers insight into an inspiring 2012 Colts season. Proceeds from the book are donated to cancer research and other charities.
Indianapolis’ playoff run ended earlier than the team had wished after falling to the eventual Super Bowl XLVII champion Baltimore Ravens in an AFC Wild Card playoff contest. What was not lost were the numerous team and individual milestones that the Colts established in a season facing low expectations. Most notably, the 11-5 record was a nine-win improvement from the 2011 campaign, which tied for the third-largest one-year turnaround in NFL history. The Colts also registered their 12th 10-plus win season in the past 14 years, which is the most of any NFL team since 1999.
Pagano and Arians were honored together by the Maxwell Football Club as the recipients of the 24th Annual Earle “Greasy” Neale Award for Professional Coach of the Year. The two also garnered AFC Coach of the Year honors as winners of the annual NFL 101 Awards. Pagano was selected by the PFWA as the winner of the 2013 George Halas Award, given to the NFL player, coach or staff member who overcame the most adversity to succeed. Each year, the Fritz Pollard Alliance Foundation recognizes individuals who make a difference in diversity and inclusion at an annual awards banquet. In February of 2013, Pagano received the foundation’s Game Ball Award for the differences he has made to level the playing field in the NFL for minorities.
In two seasons with the Colts, Pagano has coached four Pro Bowl players, including wide receiver Reggie Wayne, outside linebacker Robert Mathis (twice), quarterback Andrew Luck (twice) and long snapper Matt Overton. In 2013, Mathis led the NFL and set a career-high with 19.5 sacks, earning him the inaugural Deacon Jones Award. In the process, he set a new franchise record with 111.0 career sacks.
The 2014 season will mark Pagano’s 31st year of coaching and 13th season in the NFL. Prior to joining the Colts, he spent four seasons with the Baltimore Ravens and the last (2011) as the team’s defensive coordinator.
In 2011, Pagano’s defensive unit finished third in the NFL in total defense (288.9 ypg.), second against the run (92.6 ypg.) and fourth against the pass (196.3 ypg.) on their way to an appearance in the AFC Championship Game. The Ravens also led the league in forced fumbles (21) and had the third-most sacks in the NFL (48.0), including a franchise record-tying 9.0 sacks in Week 12 against San Francisco.
Pagano served as the Ravens secondary coach for three seasons (2008-2010) before taking the reins as defensive coordinator. As the team’s secondary coach, he led a defensive backfield that had to adjust to a number of injuries, including a significant loss of seven-time Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed, who started the 2010 campaign on the PUP list. Even after missing the first six games, Reed still led the league with eight interceptions in only 10 games in 2010.
In Pagano’s first season with the Ravens (2008), the team led the NFL with 26 interceptions, including Reed’s NFL-high nine picks. Reed, the league’s only unanimous (50 votes) All-Pro in 2008, was also coached by Pagano at the University of Miami (Fla.). Pagano’s secondary ranked second against the pass (179.7 ypg.) as the defense ranked No. 2 overall in the league, a drastic improvement from a No. 20 overall finish in 2007.
In his four seasons in Baltimore, Pagano’s defenses allowed the second-fewest points per game (16.3) and the second-fewest net yards (292.3) in the NFL. The Ravens also ranked third in the NFL in scoring defense during that span.
Pagano posted a one-year stint as the defensive coordinator at the University of North Carolina in 2007, where he rejoined head coach Butch Davis from previous stops with the Cleveland Browns and Miami Hurricanes. Under Pagano, the defense improved from 92nd in the nation in 2006 to 35th in 2007.
Prior to UNC, Pagano spent two seasons (2005-06) as the defensive backs coach of the Oakland Raiders. In 2006, the Raiders led the NFL in pass defense, allowing just 150.8 yards per game, and ranked third in total defense, surrendering only 284.8 yards per contest. Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha ranked third in the NFL with eight interceptions in 2006.
From 2001-04, Pagano coached the Cleveland secondary under then-head coach Butch Davis. In 2003, the defensive backs helped the Browns tie the franchise record for the fewest passing touchdowns allowed in a season with 13. Under Pagano’s guidance in 2001, Cleveland’s secondary accounted for 28 of the team’s NFL-leading and team-record 33 interceptions. That season, rookie cornerback Anthony Henry led the NFL with 10 picks.
Pagano returned to the University of Miami (Fla.) from 1995-2000 for his second stint at the school, coaching the Hurricanes secondary as well as serving as the special teams coordinator. He coached four NFL first-round defensive backs: Duane Starks (Ravens, 10th-1998), Phillip Buchanon (Raiders, 17th-2002), Reed (Ravens, 24th-2002) and Mike Rumph (49ers, 27th-2002). During Pagano’s second tenure in Miami, the Hurricanes blocked 39 kicks in 59 games. In 2000, the secondary was named the nation’s best by Football News. His special teams unit also set a school record in 1996 with 12 blocked kicks.
Pagano started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at the University of Southern California (1984-85) before taking the same role at Miami (Fla.) in 1986. In 1987, he started a two-year stint at Boise State University where he coached outside linebackers. Pagano then spent one season (1989) at East Carolina University coaching the secondary before moving to UNLV where he led the secondary (1990) and eventually was named defensive coordinator in 1991. In 1992, Pagano returned to East Carolina, coaching the secondary and outside linebackers for three seasons (1992-94).
Collegiately, Pagano was a four-year letterman and two-year starter at strong safety for the University of Wyoming and graduated with a degree in marketing in 1984.
Pagano was a four-year letterman and two-year starter at strong safety at Fairview (Boulder, Colo.) High School. His brother, John, is the Chargers defensive coordinator and former defensive assistant for the Colts from 1998-2001. Both Chuck and John played for their father, Sam, who was the head coach at Fairview. Sam was selected to the 25th Hall of Fame induction class for the Colorado High School Activities Association in 2013. Chuck and his wife, Tina, have three daughters, Tara, Taylor and Tori, and three granddaughters, Avery, Addison and Zoey.
1984-1985 Southern California Graduate Assistant
1986 University of Miami (Fla.) Graduate Assistant
1987-1988 Boise State Outside Linebackers
1989 East Carolina Secondary
1990 UNLV Secondary
1991 UNLV Defensive Coordinator/Secondary
1992-1994 East Carolina Secondary/Outside Linebackers
1995-2000 University of Miami (Fla.) Secondary/Special Teams
2001-2004 Cleveland Browns Secondary
2005-2006 Oakland Raiders Defensive Backs
2007 North Carolina Defensive Coordinator
2008-2010 Baltimore Ravens Secondary
2011 Baltimore Ravens Defensive Coordinator
2012-2014 Indianapolis Colts Head Coach