Chuck Pagano's 2012 season proved to be one of the most inspirational stories in NFL history. Named head coach of the Indianapolis Colts on January 25, 2012, Pagano was forced to take a leave of absence just three games into the season after being diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia, a curable form of the disease, which is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow cells.
The news shocked not only the Colts organization, but the City of Indianapolis and people all over the country. With a 1-2 record, the Colts were without their leader in the midst of a transition that 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 when the Colts take to the gridiron on Sundays.
When Pagano hired Bruce Arians as the team's offensive coordinator, he knew exactly what kind of coach and person would be directing the Colts offense. Pagano and Arians coached together for the Cleveland Browns (2001-03) and went toe-to-toe in an AFC North Division rivalry when Arians served as the offensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pagano held the position of defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens. Pagano also knew that Arians would lead the team based on the foundation currently in place while continuing to develop the groundwork and expectations that Pagano established during his first months at the helm.
Now serving as the team's interim head coach, 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 much as Chuck Pagano inspired the 2012 Colts, the team did just the same for their ailing head coach. From his hospital bed, Pagano was in constant communication with the coaching staff and players. He analyzed practices while continuing to game-plan schemes. Along the way, Pagano continued to make his presence felt. After the team's Week 9 victory against Miami, the head coach gave a moving post-game speech to the contingent in the locker room.
"I've got circumstances," Pagano told the locker room. "You guys understand it, I understand it. It's already beat (referring to the leukemia). It's already beat. My vision that I'm living is to see two more daughters get married, dance at their weddings and then hoist that Lombardi Trophy several times."
Pagano made another return three weeks later during the team's win against Buffalo where he appeared in Owner & CEO Jim Irsay's suite while saluting the crowd on hand. Pagano received a rousing ovation from Colts fans in attendance.
As the season took shape, the Colts organization and Indianapolis community rallied behind their head coach. The CHUCKSTRONG movement was well under way. CHUCKSTRONG T-shirts and wristbands were offered with proceeds going toward leukemia research. The team established a collection benefitting leukemia research at their Oct. 21 game against Cleveland and also held a blood drive. Several Colts players shaved their heads in support of their head coach, while thousands in the Indianapolis community followed suit. Two Colts cheerleaders even raised $10,000 for leukemia research to shave their heads during the team's Nov. 25 contest against Buffalo.
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. In the week leading up to the game, Pagano addressed the media regarding his return.
"It's really great to be back," said Pagano. "Like a kid in a candy store, I get to come and be around the guys again. Do what I love to do and what I've done my whole life. Obviously we don't ever want to take anything for granted. I want you to know, our entire country to know and everybody in the NFL that was so kind, generous, loving and supportive what a privilege it is to coach in the National Football League. It is the greatest sport in the world and I feel very honored."
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.
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 an 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.
The 2013 season will mark Pagano's 30th year of coaching and 12th 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 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 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. Pagano's secondary also 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 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 North Carolina (2007), where he rejoined 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 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 (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: Reed (Ravens, 24th-2002), Phillip Buchanon (Raiders, 17th-2002), Duane Starks (Ravens, 10th-1998) 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 Southern California (1984-85) before taking the same role at the University of Miami (1986). In 1987, he started a two-year stint at Boise State where he coached outside linebackers. Pagano then spent one season (1989) at East Carolina 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 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. 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, Graduate Assistant
1987-1988 Boise State, Outside Linebackers
1989 East Carolin,a Secondary
1990-1991 UNLV, Defensive Coordinator/Secondary
1992-1994 East Carolina, Secondary/Outside Linebackers
1995-2000 University of Miami, 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
2012-2013 Indianapolis Colts, Head Coach