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Colts' Arians ready to step in for ill Pagano

| Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Indianapolis Colts interim coach Bruce Arians talks about head coach Chuck Pagano, who has been diagnosed with leukemia, during a news conference Monday, Oct. 1, 2012. (AP)

INDIANAPOLIS — Bruce Arians always wanted to coach his own NFL team.

The chance has arrived, but not how he wanted it to go. He will be replacing an old friend on an interim basis in the middle of a season because of a serious illness. The longtime NFL offensive coordinator has no illusions about the job as he tries to help the Colts get better while everyone hopes coach Chuck Pagano returns soon from leukemia treatments.

“This isn't a head coaching job for me right now,” Arians said after being named Indy's interim coach. “It's just an expanded role as coordinator until Chuck comes back.”

Arians was an obvious choice.

The Colts' front office followed Pagano's advice and hired Arians, an assistant who had coached with or against Pagano for the better part of a decade. He's someone who mentored three quarterbacks selected No. 1 overall (Peyton Manning, Tim Couch and Andrew Luck) and has the same kind of personality that hooked the Colts on Pagano.

Team owner Jim Irsay and new general manager Ryan Grigson also liked his previous experience in Indy and his resume.

Arians also played a key role in the development of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and won two Super Bowl rings with the Steelers — one as the receivers coach, the other as offensive coordinator — before his forced retirement earlier this year. He spent two seasons as Paul “Bear” Bryant's running backs coach at Alabama and six seasons as Temple's head coach.

“He's a veteran. He knows this game well,” Grigson said. “Bruce is the man to lead us forward while our leader is down.”

Arians understands this peculiar predicament better than most.

In two decades as an NFL assistant, Arians has seen and done just about everything. And five years ago, Arians was the one being diagnosed with cancer. He needed a radical prostatectomy just before the NFL Draft.

“That phone call is not a fun one,” Arians recalled. “I was sitting in my office and they kept telling me there's nothing wrong, nothing wrong and then the doctor calls and tells you you've got cancer. ... It's devastating to get that message. Then you figure out, like we always do, what's the plan.”

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