A CONVERSATION WITH CHUCK PAGANO

Chuck Pagano is in his first season as head coach of the Colts. Pagano has 28 years of coaching experience, including 10 in the NFL with Cleveland, Oakland and Baltimore. Pagano was the defensive coordinator with Baltimore in 2011, the final season of a successful four-year run with the Ravens. Pagano brings a strong defensive pedigree to Indianapolis. This is the second of a two-part visit with Pagano.

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How much of coaching is coaching the sport and how much of it is teaching young men?

"I think the two go hand-in-hand.  Coaching is teaching.  You have to be a great teacher.  Not everyone learns the same way.  You have to find a way to reach each player.  You can't miss one.  Some guys pick it up really well in a classroom, some guys do well on the board.  Regardless, you must get them on the field and walk them through it step-by-step.  We are teachers, and it is not just football.  You're constantly talking to them about doing the right things on and off the field.  You want them to be men of character and integrity.  You try to guide them on how to make great choices.  You let them know that for every choice, there are consequences.  Dealing with players in college for 18 years like I did and seeing them stub their toes, make poor choices and suffer the consequences, you can't preach to these guys enough about what kind of role models and public figures they are.  With social media the way it is these days, you have to make all the right choices.  Years ago, you used to be able to have a little leeway, but today, people are going to know who you are.  You can be the 53rd guy on the team or the star quarterback, people are going to know you.  We try to hit players in all areas of their lives.  Players needed guidance in high school and college, and they need it now.  It goes back to building relationships with players and letting them know you really care about them and their families.  You try to build the coach-to-player, player-to-coach bond of trust.  We're all judged at the end of the day by one thing and one thing only – wins and losses.  To me, it's more about the relationships you build along the way.  If you have strong relationships and there is a trust among the ranks and you're a tight-knit family, the wins will come."

Do you like the relationships along the way, or do you remember the accomplishments?

"It's crazy.  We get to reminiscing about different games and different years and places we've been as a family or friends and for some reason you can rattle off scores of games from 10 or 15 years ago, just crazy stuff.  My wife, Tina, asks, 'How can you remember those details?'  You remember that stuff but to me, it's more about the relationships that you build along the way.  To be able to stay in contact with guys all the way back to my first coaching job in 1987 at Boise State and stay in communication with guys in coaching that I coached, that means more to me than anything else.  The wins are great, but the relationships you build last a lifetime.  That's much more important to me.  You will remember if you hoist a Lombardi Trophy or win a National Championship in college, and it will mean a great deal, but it's who you did it with and who you share that moment with that will truly last the course of time."

What is the geographic area where you have lived or worked that you like the most?

"I love California.  I love Miami.  We had six great years down there, the sunshine, the weather, the beach, all those things.  Then you go to a place to Boise, Idaho.  You take your first job on the telephone sight unseen because you've never been there before and when you see that part of the country, it's beautiful.  Probably living down in Miami was neat because the girls were young.  When we had time to drive 15 minutes to the beach and spend time with the kids and do things like that, those were great times.  That time was great.  It was a long way from home in Colorado, but it's a neat place to be."

You seem to be the type of person who finds positive aspects to everything and adapts well.  That is important in this profession, isn't it?

"Absolutely, and most of the credit goes to Tina.  She basically had to raise our three girls, I wouldn't say totally by herself, but she did the brunt of it.  I give her all the credit for the success the girls have had to this point.  Whether it was Greenville, North Carolina when I was at East Carolina in my first coaching stint, or whether it was Las Vegas when we were at UNLV or Miami, whatever stops along the way, she's been tremendous.  We lived in Strongsville, Ohio and as gloomy as Cleveland is, we always found a way to make it home and enjoy it.  Tina and I met at Boise State.  Her brother, Terry, was a wide receiver for us.  I didn't meet her until my second year in coaching there.  My best friend on the staff was the wide receiver coach and he mentioned Terry had a sister and that perhaps we should meet.  We started dating in the middle of the season in 1988.  I only knew her for a couple of months before I took a job at East Carolina.  She came out for spring break.  I put her on a plane and sent her home.  I called her the next day and asked, 'Will you marry me?'  We got married that summer.  We didn't know each other longer than two or three months.  There were a lot of skeptics out there who said the 'over-under' on how long the marriage would last was about six month.  It will be 23 years this July.  I'm a lucky man!" 

Who is the person most responsible for you to make it to professional football and/or the NFL?

"Butch Davis is the person responsible.  Had Butch not taken me with him when we were at the University of Miami, I probably would still be in college football.  Butch and I are close.  He's a great coach, a great man.  He's been fabulous to my family and me.  We spent a lot of years together and shared a lot of great moments together.  I'll be forever indebted to Butch for what he did for my family and me."

What is your greatest football moment prior to the NFL?

"There are so many, but probably the one that comes to mind was beating Florida in the Sugar Bowl in my last game with Miami.  I didn't know at the time it was going to be my last game at Miami, but we beat them in the 2001 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, 37-20.  We beat Coach (Steve) Spurrier, the old' ball coach (laughs), and we finished ranked number two in the country.  That was a pretty special win."

What is your greatest NFL football moment?

"We beat Tennessee in my first year at Baltimore (2008) to go to the AFC Championship game.  We stopped them on a fourth-down play at their place and put us in the AFC Championship game.  I can remember the elation in the locker room, the way the guys felt, and where we were headed.  Having the chance to play Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship game was pretty special – winning on a fourth-down play, getting out of there with a win and going on to play for a title.  It was pretty special." 

Those moments and memories don't come along often.  They are priceless, aren't they?

"The highs are really high, and the lows are really low.  That's what people don't understand outside of your circle.  People don't know what these players and coaches go through on a weekly basis.  When you win, there's nothing better.  When you lose, especially when you get to a championship game and you're one game away from playing for it all on any level, the lows are really low.  That old 24-hour rule you have when you win a game and you go in and congratulate each other and then it's like, 'Okay, 24 hours is up.  It's over with and it's time to move on to prepare for the next game.'  That rule doesn't apply when you lose.  It stays with you until you have the chance to get back on the field the next Sunday.  It's kind of a crazy rule.  The wins are really good.  The lows are really low."

Do you feel fortunate that you have been able work in a career that involves every emotion you have when others might not experience that on a worksite?

"Yes.  You just don't have this kind of fun in every profession.  Maybe there is that excitement, maybe there isn't.  I can't imagine that people in a corporation can go into a place and enjoy the camaraderie and competition that we do in this sport.  I've told the players, we're so blessed and so fortunate to be coaching and playing in the greatest team sport in the world.  I've always said we'll all do it for nothing.  You can ask any coach down our hallway and get that answer.  We would do it for nothing.  That's how blessed we are to be in the NFL."

Jim Bouton once wrote that he always thought he had a grip on baseball but he found out that baseball had a grip on him.  Do you feel that way?  Does football have a grip on you?

"Absolutely, and that's a great way to put it.  That's how I feel.  There is probably life after football, but none of us ever want to see that day come."

Do you have any rituals or superstitions?

"Not really.  Everybody has a way to get ready for a game, the way they get dressed or whatever.  I don't ever remember doing things in a certain order.  You have your weekly preparation, how you're getting ready for an opponent, but I'm not biting any heads off any animals.  I'm not cutting chicken's heads off, or wearing a special shirt or socks.  I just do a lot of praying."

If you weren't coaching, what would you do?

"I'd probably find a way to work with kids or with people in some fashion.  Going to college and coming home in the summer, we didn't stay year-round like they do today, you had to go home and get a job somewhere.  I worked in construction.  I worked in landscaping.  I did every job imaginable.  I always loved being outside.  I love the outdoors.  If I were building houses or landscaping, I'd probably be just as happy." 

Who is the most memorable player you have coached?

"There have been so many and you don't want to leave anybody out because there have been so many tremendous players and people I have been fortunate to be around, people who have worked hard and gone to battle with.  I guess I could say Ed Reed and Ray Lewis in Baltimore.  I spent more time with Ed in college at Miami than I did with Ray.  I went back to the University of Miami in 1995 and Ray was a junior and only played one more year.  Having a chance to be with them at Baltimore, those are the two guys who made a huge impact on me, the kind of people they are, their respect and love for this game, their teammates, the way they play and handle themselves.  You like it from A to Z.  There are so many players, but those guys are two who come to mind."

If you could meet any NFL coach in history who you've never met, who would it be and what would you want to talk about?

"It probably would have to be Vince Lombardi.  He was tough.  He was tough as nails but then you listen to the players talk about him; they'll tell you just how tough he was but then they'll tell you how much they loved him.  I'm sure if you sat down with him and you could talk 'Xs and Os' and the tactical side of the game.  To me, it would be the motivational side of it and, 'How did you get your teams ready?  What did you do to get them to play at the level they played at?'  His teams played consistently at their peak level.  He was tough as nails on those guys.  At the same time, they would run through a brick wall for him.  I think it goes back to the relationship thing and what he built with those men." 

Your career likely has kept you from traditional holiday celebrations.  Do you have one that stands out in particular?

"Christmas is always the holiday that is affected.  That is Tina's day, it is her favorite.  We both grew up in big families and that was a special thing for both of us growing up.  She always did a phenomenal job of just making that a great day for our family and kids.  In college, there were a few times we'd be at bowl games and we'd have Christmas at a hotel with the kids in a makeshift deal.  You might do it a week early or open presents two or three days later, depending on where you were and who you were playing.  Thank God for Tina, she has always found a way to make it happen.  She keeps things normal and traditional.  She does an unbelievable job."

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