Colts coach Pagano diagnosed with leukemia
INDIANAPOLIS — It took Chuck Pagano less than nine months to instill his fighter's mentality and hopeful spirit in the Indianapolis Colts.
He will need both to survive the biggest battle of his life — leukemia.
In a somber news conference Monday, the Colts announced that their new coach was hospitalized for cancer treatment and probably wouldn't return to full coaching duties this season. He will be replaced on an interim basis by offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who worked for the Steelers from 2004-11.
“He will do fine,” Arians said, his voice cracking as he recalled his own fight with prostate cancer in 2007. “I know him. He's a fighter. He's survived tough times already in his life. As a cancer survivor myself, I know that these first few days are really hard on you, but as he and I talked yesterday, it's just a matter of time.”
Team owner Jim Irsay, who began his career as a Colts ball boy in the early 1970s, said the only comparison he could come up with was Vince Lombardi's cancer diagnosis during the summer of 1970.
It didn't take long for the Colts to figure out how to honor the first-time head coach who rekindled excitement in the locker room and around town after the Colts' awful 2-14 season a year ago.
“I asked Mr. Irsay if we would leave the light on in his office permanently till he comes back, and we are going to do that,” Arians said.
The news trickled out publicly just as players and assistant coaches were returning to the team complex after the Colts' bye week and one day before Pagano's 52nd birthday.
He was admitted to an Indianapolis hospital last Wednesday to begin treatments for acute promyelocytic leukemia, an illness in which the bone marrow produces abnormal white blood cells that interfere with healthy blood cells.
Pagano's physician, Dr. Larry Cripe, said the coach will be treated with chemotherapy and drugs — a process that usually requires patients to spend four to five weeks in the hospital. Irsay said he expected Pagano to stay a bit longer, six to eight weeks.