ANDERSON –Within hours after his 28th season in coaching ended with a difficult loss in the AFC Championship game, Year 29 of Chuck Pagano's coaching career began unlike any other.
Pagano was named the head coach of the Colts three days after that championship battle, and the career progression from assistant coach to coordinator to field leader was complete, and with symmetry.
This marks his 11th year in the NFL, and he is serving as the 11th Colts head coach in the 29-year Indianapolis era of the franchise. The year the Colts first hit Indianapolis (1984), Pagano started his coaching career at Southern California.
Pagano was reared on the sport, having played it and seen his father, Sam, forge a tremendous high school coaching career in Colorado.
Pagano's career took him to seven different collegiate locations over an 18-year period, and he spent 10 NFL seasons with Cleveland, Oakland and Baltimore, the last season as a first-year defensive coordinator, before landing with the Colts.
When he lands on Anderson University's campus today, he will be in his first training camp as a head coach. It is a role that excites him and for which he has prepared for years. As he surveys his new site, he is ready to attack.
"I am anxious. It's uncharted waters, except on the field it isn't," said Pagano. "We're going to a site where I haven't been before. I kind of know the layout. There is a little bit of anxiousness. I'll get up there early and do another walk-through, make sure everything is set from meeting rooms, to fields, to where the sleds go. You have a few more things on your table, so to speak from a position coach to a coordinator to a head coach (laughs). It's really, really exciting and a great opportunity."
When he was hired on January 25, Owner and CEO Jim Irsay and General Manager Ryan Grigson spoke in glowing terms about Pagano's personality, magnetism and leadership abilities. Colts fans have been able to observe Pagano over the subsequent six months, with many noting his positive demeanor and infectious style.
He is able to channel his inner Kipling despite the dizzying pace of the job.
"It's crazy exciting. There is so much going on now," said Pagano. "When I first stepped into the position in January, it was crazy. It smoothed out a little and things began running themselves because of the great support here from top-to-bottom. It was a good transition. We finished up with the off-season program in good shape and now, we're back to, 'Light your hair on fire,' so to speak. Everybody got their offices packed and relocated. It's crazy exciting, but it's under control and we are ready to go. I know every person here is ready to move forward."
Colts fans have seen different modes of sideline comportment in the previous 10 head coaches, styles that ranged from one-to-10 on the passive-active meter. While Pagano's style may be more up-tempo than some previous Colts coaches, there is method to his manner and achievement with his activity.
"Chuck and I spent 12 years working together, one when he was a graduate assistant working for Jimmy (Johnson at Miami) in the mid-eighties, then 11 years with me as an assistant at Miami and Cleveland and North Carolina," said Butch Davis, now with Tampa Bay. "He's a terrific communicator. One of the things working with him all these years that you see is that he has great people skills. He has a good ability to relate to every, single guy in the locker room. He's meticulous, very detailed, very organized. He wants things to be right. He's full of a lot of energy."
Rookie quarterback Andrew Luck will start cutting his professional teeth under Pagano. Luck was schooled early at Stanford under Jim Harbaugh, a former Colts quarterback known for a healthy level of flair. Luck flourished under Harbaugh and is bullish on Pagano.
"He's been great. He's very easy to relate to," said Luck. "He has a good sense for the pulse of the team, when he needs to be pushing hard and when he needs to pull back a little and give rest. He can relate to all the guys. He has a great football mind defensively. He's been great so far."
Colts fans have turned out in record numbers in each of the previous two camps at Anderson University. Pagano now is a key figure in the new era of the Colts. He wants the new era to retain the great training camp fan support.
"This is a great opportunity for fans to see us, and we want that," said Pagano. "The first day as a player and coach, you're excited. Once you get to the dog days, the fourth, fifth, sixth day, there is nothing like walking out there to the fans, especially at a night practice. The crowd is into it. We feed off it.
"There are tough parts to camp, days where there are no balloons in the sky, there are no TV cameras and you're sore and beat up. We like and need the energy fans bring. We love them. We'll take our time after practices signing autographs and spending a little time with them. I've heard of the nice crowds over the last two years at Anderson. I am looking forward now to being a part of it. We encourage the fans to come out. It gets our juices flowing."