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 had been hospitalized for cancer treatment and probably would not return to full coaching duties this season. He will be replaced on an interim basis by offensive coordinator Bruce Arians.
The news hit hard in all corners of the team complex.
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.
New General Manager Ryan Grigson read stoically from his prepared notes, and Arians struggled to hold back tears.
After practice, players signed a get-well card that read in part, “We are in your corner 100 percent. Get rest, but we can’t wait to get our leader back.”
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. Symptoms can include weakness, weight loss and easy bruising or bleeding.
Pagano’s physician, 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. Indy (1-2) hosts the Packers (2-2) on Sunday.
Forte in, 3 Cowboys out
Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte was active for the Chicago Bears in Monday night’s game at Dallas after practicing on a limited basis all week because of a sprained right ankle.
Bears coach Lovie Smith had described Forte’s status as a game-time decision. Forte was injured Sept. 13 at Green Bay and sat out last week’s win against St. Louis.
Dallas was without linebacker Anthony Spencer after he missed practice last week with a strained pectoral. Pro Bowl nose tackle Jay Ratliff hasn’t played this season because of a high ankle sprain, and defensive end Kenyon Coleman missed his second game in a row because of a hyperextended knee.
Bears rookie fullback Evan Rodriguez (knee) and receiver Earl Bennett (hand) also didn’t play.