Pagano back to coach Colts after cancer treatment

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“I feel great, my weight is back, my energy is back and again, it’s just a blessing to be back here,” Pagano said.

In the minds of Colts players and coaches, Pagano never really left.

He continually watched practice tape and game film on his computer, used phone calls and text messages to regularly communicate with players and occasionally delivered a pregame or postgame speech to his team.

“He texted me and called me so much, it was like he was standing there in my face every day,” said receiver Reggie Wayne, who has been friends with Pagano since the two were working together at the University of Miami.

But the Colts found plenty of other ways to keep Pagano’s battle in the forefront.

They began a fundraising campaign for leukemia research, calling it Chuckstrong. Players had stickers with the initials CP on their locker room nameplates, and Arians wore an orange ribbon on his baseball cap during games. Orange is the symbolic color for leukemia. At one point, nearly three dozen players shaved their heads to show their ailing coach they were with him.

That’s not all.

Arians and first-year general manager Ryan Grigson decided to leave the lights on in Pagano’s office until he returned. Pagano noted the team even installed plastic clips to make sure those lights were not mistakenly turned off while he was gone. Those clips were removed when Pagano arrived Monday morning.

And Arians said nobody sat in the front seat of the team bus.

“He’s always been our head coach,” Arians said.

So after getting medical clearance from his oncologist, Dr. Larry Cripe, to return with no restrictions, Pagano couldn’t wait to get to the office Monday morning.

Arians arrived at 7 a.m., three hours early for the scheduled team meeting. By then, Pagano had already driven past the inflatable Colts player with the words “Welcome Back Chuck” printed on its chest and was back in his office preparing for the Texans.

Players showed up a couple of hours later, and when the torch was passed from Arians back to Pagano, players gave their returning coach a standing ovation that Wayne said was well-deserved.

All Pagano wants to do now is emulate the success Arians and his players have had this season.

“I asked him (Arians) if he would lead this team and this ballclub and this organization and take over the reins,” Pagano said. “What a masterful, masterful job you did Bruce. You carried the torch and all you went out and did was win nine ballgames. You got us our 10th win yesterday and you got us into the playoffs. You did it with dignity and you did it with class. You’re everything that I always knew you were and more.”

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