The first time I met Chuck Pagano was at training camp at Anderson University.
I had recently started blogging for the Colts and the PR staff introduced me to him at the end of his media session.
“Nice to meet you, Heather,” he said. “Anything we can do for you?”
I was kind of taken aback.
“Well, I’ve spent the last few years writing for myself. Now, I’m writing for the Colts. I think I’m good,” I laughed.
The next morning, I was walking along the chainlink fence from the parking lot to the media trailer while the players and coaches were finishing their morning practice.
“Good morning, Heather,” I heard Coach Pagano yell from the field.
Surely, he wasn’t talking to me.
I turned my head around to see if there was someone walking behind me.
“Morning, Coach,” I yelled back.
After practice one day, he pulled up alongside me in his golf cart and asked me if I wanted a ride.
I hopped in next to him and as we made our way back to the media tent, he asked me a question.
“So, how are the guys treating you?”
“They’re great,” I responded, honestly. “They’re polite, respectful, and a joy to be around.”
“That’s great to hear,” he said. “Let me know if anyone ever gives you trouble.”
I was confident I wouldn’t have to – and I didn’t. But I knew why he was asking. As a father of three daughters, he actually cared.
After that first training camp, I knew everything I needed to know about Chuck Pagano. He was kind. He was caring. He was sincere. And he had my back.
That never changed.
Chuck always took time to stop and say hi. When he asked you how you were doing, he actually wanted to know.
When he cracked a joke during his press conference, he’d look my way because he knew I’d laugh. And I did – because I had his back too.
Before games, he always had special guests on the field and he always took time to greet them and share some words of encouragement.
Whether he was fighting cancer or battling an opponent on the field, Chuck Pagano was always the same guy. Led by unwavering faith, boundless optimism, and steadfast determination, he inspired everyone around him to be better.
Over the years, I got to know some of his family members – his wife, Tina and his dad, Sam. They’re just as warm, friendly, and personable.
When Sam showed up at training camp, it was like visiting with one of your own relatives. He had stories about everyone and everything. He’d sit around, chew on his cigar, and tell them to anyone who would listen.
Tina is a coach’s wife who reads too much, listens too much, and worries too much – all because she cares too much. Just like her husband, she has a way of making everyone around her feel special and appreciated. Even during the most stressful times, Tina always greeted me with a smile and a hug.
I remember watching her in the tunnel after Chuck’s last game coaching the Colts. It wasn’t official, but we all knew it was coming. The picture of grace, she stood in the hallway smiling and talking to everyone while I knew it was tearing her up. The ultimate coach’s wife, she was by his side – win or lose – until the end.
Earlier this week, Chuck announced he was retiring. As happy as I am for him, I’m equally happy for Tina. A pillar of strength and support, I’m glad she gets to enjoy life with her husband without worrying about wins and losses.
There are many fine men in the National Football League, but you’d be hard pressed to find one better than Chuck Pagano. Nothing reinforces that like the messages from the players he coached over the years.
A leader of men.
A lover of life.
A legacy of giving back to the game he loves.
Chuck Pagano is walking away from coaching.
But the seeds he planted in others will continue to grow for years to come.