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Many of the stories and events Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano writes about in his new book, “Sidelined,” will be familiar to fans.
Pagano's fight with leukemia in 2012 was a fairly public one, reflecting his straightforward style. If you've heard Pagano talk or read articles about his ordeal, you'll recognize some of the moments, both light (his wife giving him the alias Duane Johnson for privacy when he first checked into hospital) and heavy (the emotional locker room speech when he returned to a game in midst of his battle).
But the book is a worthwhile read because of how it offers a glimpse into the way Pagano and his Colts players and the organization became a “family” only months after he took the job. This wasn't a coach, staff and team that had spent years in the trenches. Rather, it was a reconfigured team after the end of the Peyton Manning era. We know now that the Colts rebuilt quickly, putting together back-to-back 11-win seasons. At the time, there were questions whether they'd even break even.
Most people didn't know a lot about Pagano when his leukemia was diagnosed three games into his first season. But Pagano clearly knew how to build a team of players that have each other's backs and, in the case of the cancer fight, their coach's back.
“Many people have asked how I could've bonded with the Colts' organization and my players in such a short amount of time,” Pagano writes. “I don't have an answer, other than to say that we believed in each other. We tried to demonstrate trust, loyalty and respect in how we conducted ourselves with every single person in our organization. We need to see these three intangibles in action if we were going to believe in them and practice them.”
“Sidelined,” written with Bruce A. Tollner, allows readers to gain a taste of Pagano's personality and why he's able to strike a cord with his players.
As evidenced by his recollection of talking with then-free agent Reggie Wayne before the 2012 season, Pagano is a people person who has always evoked loyalty and friendship.
Pagano said one of his first calls after landing the Colts job was to call Wayne. The two met while Pagano was an assistant coach and Wayne a player at the University of Miami.
“(Wayne) has since told me that when his phone rang, he could see on his caller ID that I was on the line,” Pagano writes. “ 'I knew why you were calling and I didn't want to answer the phone!' he laughed. 'I wanted to throw the phone in the ocean because I knew how hard it would be to say no to you.'
“After the Colts' horrific 2011 season, I understood why Reggie would want to sign with a team that was a Super Bowl contender, and a lot of teams out there were interested in him. 'Hey, Reg, I don't want to do this without you,' I said. 'I'm asking you to just take a leap of faith.' “
Wayne leaped. He re-signed with the Colts. He became a key leader for the new regime and mentor with quarterback Andrew Luck. Wayne also wore orange gloves in a tribute to Pagano when he was fighting leukemia.
Other poignant moments are recalled in the book, including Pagano's interactions with his wife Tina, general manager Ryan Grigson, owner Jim Irsay, interim coach Bruce Arians and veteran defensive end Cory Redding. Redding played for Pagano in Baltimore and was close to the coach when he signed with the Colts. Redding's wife, in fact, sensed something was wrong when she was unable to touch base with Tina Pagano during the bye week when Chuck Pagano was admitted to the IU Cancer Center.
Pagano writes about how humbling the “ChuckStrong” campaign was as both a supporting rallying cry for the coach and a way to raise money for leukemia research. He recalls the emotions he felt throughout the process (one of his favorite words) and allows readers a condensed view of how difficult and painful his chemotherapy and treatments were to handle.
Pagano fought and beat the cancer, of course, returned to coaching and touches briefly on the 2013 season. He writes about how building a bond with his Colts players has allowed them to flourish.
“Regardless of the position they play, they all buy into the same level of sacrifice,” Pagano writes. “They have faith in one another and in the sacrifices of time, energy, strength, and emotional intensity they're investing. They want to pay the price to be part of something bigger than themselves.”
Pagano's book avoids anything that could be considered negative or controversial. He's a glass half-full coach. It's a style that has worked, before or after he was sidelined.