Pressure on Chuck Pagano to Win in Indy is the Elephant in the Room

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Chuck Pagano’s courageous and victorious battle with leukemia was THE story of the 2012 NFL season. Pagano, having just been hired as an NFL coach for the first time had to step away from that role to undergo life-saving treatment – treatment that would one day allow him to go back to doing what he loves.

The 2013 NFL season represents a clean slate for Chuck Pagano, as he can finally look forward to his first full season as the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. When he originally accepted the position in 2012, he was taking over a team with the NFL’s worst record – preparing to move on without one of the game’s all-time greats.

Quite simply, Pagano was stepping into a low-pressure, rebuilding job where few would expect him to win right away, even with rookie quarterback Andrew Luck – a guy who many had already labeled as the savior of the franchise before he took a snap.

Fast forward to now. Pagano heads into 2013 as the coach of a team that won 11 games in 2012 and made a playoff appearance. That team was guided for the majority of the year by interim head coach Bruce Arians. Arians was only supposed to be the offensive coordinator, however, stepped into Pagano’s role and orchestrated one of the greatest one season turnarounds in NFL history. He was named the NFL Coach of the Year for his efforts.

Arians has moved on to become head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. The Colts have hired former Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, who coached Luck in college, as their new offensive coordinator.

Now reality sets in. On paper, the pieces are in place for Indianapolis to build on the 11 win season of a year ago. Everyone in Indy loves and respects Chuck Pagano for what he went through. He brought a city together and inspired a nation full of football fans in the process.

Two problems – and I hate to be THAT guy – but the game is not played on paper and the past is the past.

As many former coaches and players have learned the hard way over the years, the NFL is a league of very little memory and no loyalty. Unlike any other professional sport in America, you are rewarded, both as a player and a coach, for what you are doing now and could do tomorrow. Yesterday does not play into the equation.

Yesterday, banners with #CHUCKSTRONG lined Lucas Oil Stadium. Yesterday, the Colts took the city of Indianapolis on a miracle ride to the postseason. Yesterday, the Colts revamped the #CHUCKSTONG moniker to make it say #COLTSTRONG and slapped it on the team’s official website.

Yesterday doesn’t matter. 2013 matters. In Indianapolis, getting back to the NFL Playoffs matters.

If the Colts stumble out of the gate and finish with a losing record, how much will #CHUCKSTRONG really matter?

The nature of the NFL and the way business is done in the league makes me ask a question that I’m not comfortable asking and few others seem to want to. It is often debated as to how much time winning a Super Bowl buys an NFL head coach. Nobody seems to be able to nail down one solid answer, likely because there isn’t one.

How much time does winning a battle with leukemia buy a coach?

For Chuck Pagano on a personal level, the time he bought with the battle he won cannot be measured.

In order to avoid having others ask the same question about Chuck Pagano on a professional level, he and the Colts will have to improve on a season that was never supposed to happen.

Chuck Pagano had better be ready for that battle.

BY J.P. SCOTT ON APRIL 3, 2013

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