Chuck Pagano returns to the Colts' sideline as the head coach today for the first time since September. A rush of emotions will undoubtedly be swirling through his head.
Pagano met with the media Friday for the last time prior to the 1 p.m. game against the Houston Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium. Here are some questions and excerpts of his news-conference comments:
How much will you lean on Bruce Arians in terms of game management?
“We communicated when I was here for the first three ballgames, we communicated across the board. Not only with B.A., with Greg (Manusky), the guys up in the box who do a great job, from a time management standpoint, timeouts, clock management, everything. Not only with B.A. but with all the coaches, I lean on everybody.”
When you hear people talk about Bruce Arians as coach of the year, what is your response? Also, what's it going to be like when you run out of the tunnel with the players?
“To answer the second part first, it's going to be awesome. Anytime you're taken away, 28 years I knew exactly where I was supposed to be and where I was in the fall, and certainly it wasn't at home. I just wasn't used to that. So being able to get back, we targeted this day and being able to get back and rejoining the team and run out with the team, make it back for the final home game and then into the playoffs is a true blessing.
“It's going to be a great day for everybody else. We've got business to take care of. The main focus obviously is the Texans and winning this football game. But I'm ecstatic obviously and feel very, very blessed to get back. The first part of your question, he's got my vote.”
Do you believe in momentum and that what happens on Sunday can carry over into the playoffs?
“No question. Just look at everything that has transpired over the last 12 weeks. This team has been resilient. They win a football game and then you have a couple of defeats. Come back and win the Green Bay game and then you go to New York and what happened at New York, they never lost two games in a row. They'd string three or four together, stub a toe here or there and then come right back and win a football game. So absolutely I believe that what they've created and what they have going on right now, for us not to go out there and play this football game and carry momentum.
“To be able to win this football game and send a message to everybody else, continue to send a message, I think that's only to our benefit to go out there and try to win this football game, get No. 11 and then carry that momentum into the playoffs. You want to get going into the playoffs with a good feeling. There'd be no better feeling than to have 11 wins under your belt and have that momentum going into the playoffs.”
How much better is this team than when you had to walk away?
“They've grown leaps and bounds. When I watch, especially these young guys, again going back to the veteran leadership and what they've given to these young guys and carried them through, the times they thought they were about out of gas and got them through that rookie wall, so to speak, I just see them gaining. They just got better each and every week. …
We wanted to play our best football not early in the season but at the end of the year and I think that's what they're doing.”
Do you think this team could be where it is if Reggie Wayne didn't come back?
“I really don't believe without his leadership, and Robert (Mathis), I'll throw into that mix, Dwight (Freeney), (Antoine) Bethea, Pat (Angerer), I know he's been injured but absolutely not. Those guys have been tremendous leaders both on the field and off the field.
“What (Wayne) has done for a young receiving core, you guys can see the progress that every one of those guys has made and that's because he's sitting in that room and what he's done for us as a team, at practice, in the locker room and then what he's done on the field week in and week out is just tremendous. Twelve years in and he's a great pro. He's a great person. He's a great teammate. To say we'd be sitting here at 10-5 and an opportunity to win 11 football games if he's not here or if Robert's not back and Dwight's not out there, I'd be hard pressed to sit here and tell you yeah.”
He said his first indication that the Colts wanted him back was a conversation he had with you on the phone. Do you recall any of that?
“Absolutely. He's a pillar guy. He's done so much for this organization. Basically I told him, I said I don't want to do this without you. I said, if we're going to get this thing done and move forward and get back to the winning ways that this organization and certainly our fans in the community are used to, we need you back. I want to do this with you. We all want you back.”
Do you see Andrew Luck wearing down?
“You know, no different than anybody else that I've watched in my absence and then coming back and seeing it live for the first time, for three days. I'm sure he'd be the first one to tell you he's okay but like all of them, like all the coaches this time of year and all those players, everyone is a little bit tired, everyone is a little bit nicked up. I'm sure his arm, he's thrown a lot of passes, it's probably a little bit tired. But he's a tough guy, he's strong both mentally and physically and he's been able to push through and do a great job.”
I guess, as a quarterback, he's really not allowed to be tired?
“No, you're exactly right. Like I say, get in here early and if you've got to go straight coffee grinds, go straight coffee grinds to get yourself going, that's what I do. Nobody has a choice at this point.”
Is there a scenario where Andrew Luck doesn't play Sunday?