Football is serious business. The types of commitments vary, but from top to bottom, from face-painting fans to team owners, this country invest pretty heavily in the NFL. Every now and then, something happens that puts it all in proper perspective, reminding the world that it is just a game. That happened on Thursday morning when the NFL world awoke from another action packed Sunday to learn that Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano will be sidelined with leukemia.
Early reports indicate that Pagano has a treatable form of the disease. Treatable or otherwise, leukemia is a serious illness. It is not a sprained ACL.
Pagano is unsurprisingly optimistic about the situation. He has already vowed to return as quickly as possible. In an email to Albert Breer, Pagano promised that he will be back this season. Colts officials echoed that positive tone, telling Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star that the team was "very optimistic about his recovery."
More presently, Pagano's absence raises a few practical issues for the Colts. The timeline for Pagano's treatment and recovery has yet to be determined. Early reports suggest that he could be hospitalized for anywhere from four to six weeks. A Monday morning press conference with his doctors will offer more information about the process.
Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians steps into the interim position during Pagano's absence. Arians has never been an NFL head coach. He spent the last five years as the offensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers, a tenure that includes two trips to the Super Bowl and one championship.
Indianapolis is the midst of an organizational rebuild. How Pagano's illness and absence impacts the organization's plans is the most pressing on-field issue. Exacting, but popular, Pagano came to the Colts from Baltimore where he spent four years working under John Harbaugh.
From Stampede Blue, SB Nation's Colts blog:
Obviously, hearts and thoughts go out to coach, who has worked very hard for many years to land a coaching gig like this one. To have something like this happen now is just terrible. We wish him a speedy and complete recovery.
Some wondered whether or not the rookie head coach was the right choice to lead a team facing an uphill climb. Through three game the Colts are 1-2, having battled their opponents into the final minutes of each game. He has proven to be incredibly popular with his players, players that fought back tears upon hearing the news about their head coach. He and his prodigious rookie quarterback, Andrew Luck, have Colts fans putting the past aside and focused on a bright future.
Last season, the Houston Texans lost defensive coordinator Wade Phillips for two games while he had a tumor removed from his abdomen. Phillips, an experienced coach, was in his first season as the team's defensive coordinator and the turnaround was stark. Under Phillips' lead, the Texans defense gelled into one of the league's toughest units, largely with the same roster as the porous unit from the year before.
The defense struggled without him on the sidelines, losing both games during his absence. They were able to rebound just fine, narrowly losing to the Baltimore Ravens in the playoffs. So far this season, the Texans seem to be no worse for wear.
Phillips' case is not an exact parallel to the situation in Indianapolis. Pagano is a head coach. The Colts will probably struggle without him on the sidelines. It doesn't really matter. This transcends simple winning and losing, the business of football.
The Colts win when their head coach beats a serious illness and resumes his place on the sidelines.