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Mike Cianciolo Mike Cianciolo Director of BVM Sports
Former NFL coach Chuck Pagano leaving legacy by philanthropy

Former NFL coach Chuck Pagano leaving legacy by philanthropy

(BVM) – Like his Italian heritage, coaching football has always flowed through Chuck Pagano’s veins. It rubbed off from his father, Sam, who was his coach at Fairview High School in Boulder, Colorado and has since been enshrined by the CHSAA Hall of Fame (Class of 2013) and the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame (Class of 2018). His younger brother, John, was first to coach in the NFL as a defensive assistant for the New Orleans Saints in 1996. But Chuck is still the only member of his family to be an NFL head coach.

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Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano (right) embraces his brother and San Diego Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano after a 2013 game at Qualcomm Stadium. (Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

It was in 2012 when Chuck Pagano would fulfill a near 30-year dream of his coaching career, not long after becoming the leader of the Indianapolis Colts, that his life would change off the field as well. Following a 1-2 start to his rookie season as head coach, Pagano was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia. His remarkable ability to return to the team in time for their regular-season finale, after missing 12 games, is credited to the Colts’ Week 4 bye.

“Kind of a blessing in disguise having that fourth week,” Pagano said. “Otherwise, I don’t think I would’ve ever gone in and got checked out. But, right place, right time. Got the blood work back and it’s one of those things, you know, cancer doesn’t discriminate, right? It touches all of us in some way shape or form.”

Indianapolis Colts fans Chuckstrong sign
Colts fans show their support with a Chuckstrong sign. (Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)

A franchise that was seemingly in rebuild mode after going 2-14 in 2011 with a new coach, new general manager and rookie starting quarterback would battle through that 2012 season “Chuckstrong” to finish 11-5 with a playoff berth against Pagano’s previous team, where he served as defensive coordinator, the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. But that same year, the Colts would help launch the Chuckstrong initiative through the Indiana University (IU) Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center where Pagano was able to reach remission.

Since its inception, the Chuckstrong initiative has raised over $15 million for IU cancer research. In 2018, the Chuck and Tina Pagano Cancer Research Fund was created at IU’s School of Medicine. And even though he was fired from his post after six seasons with a combined winning record of 53-43 and three playoff appearances, including a trip to the AFC championship game in 2014, Pagano still makes time to return to Indianapolis to host the annual Chuckstrong Tailgate Gala and pay it forward.

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Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano (left) greets quarterback Andrew Luck (12) after a touchdown against the New England Patriots in the second quarter in the 2014 AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium. (Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports)

“To be able to continue this relationship that I have with the IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center there in Indy, the great folks and people at the Colts, and everybody in that community is just an absolute honor,” Pagano said. “If my legacy has nothing to do with wins and losses or anything I did on a football field and it was all about the impact that people had on me and then that we were able to have on others that are battling, then I’m good with that.”

It is that selfless attitude and his philanthropy that have led Pagano to being named this year’s honoree of the National Italian Invitational (NII) Golf Tournament for Charities, August 2-4, at the Grand Geneva Resort and Spa in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Past NII honorees that gained fame on the gridiron include 1954 Heisman Trophy winner and Baltimore Colts great Alan Ameche and “Mr. Patriot” Gino Cappelletti among others. 

“I’m looking at all the names on this list and my wife’s even messing with me like, ‘You don’t belong on that list with those guys,’” Pagano joked when he found out he was going to be the 2024 NII honoree. “… I can’t believe I even have an opportunity to be on this list. But it’s very humbling, heck of an honor to say the least.”

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Chuck Pagano looks forward to competing in the National Italian Invitational Golf Tournament in August. “Hopefully I can represent and post a decent score,” Pagano said. (Credit: Zachary Allen/The Pueblo Chieftain-USA TODAY NETWORK)

The Pagano family came to the United States from Lucca Sicula, Italy, a western part of the region of Sicily. Even though Chuck’s father, Sam, is from Pueblo, Colorado and spent the majority of his career in the state, he actually coached football in Bergamo, Italy (just northeast of Milan and Monza) in the mid-1990s and early 2000s earning the Eurobowl title in 2002. Being Italian has always been a point of pride for Chuck who enjoyed growing up having family around for Sunday pasta and learning about his ancestors.

“It was always faith, family and football for me and to be able to grow up like that, it was incredible. It was always about the name on your back and taking pride in that, our work ethic, the way we took care of one another,” Pagano said of being Italian-American. “Community, family, that whole deal.”

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Chuck Pagano on a bike trip in the Tuscany region of Italy. (Courtesy: Chuck Pagano)

While his coaching days ended following the 2020 season after a two-year stint as the defensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears, Pagano hasn’t completely stayed away from football. He’s no longer in an NFL locker room, but you’ll find him on “The Pat McAfee Show” throughout the season as a weekly guest for his former Pro Bowl punter in what has become arguably the most popular sports talk show available.

“We’ve had some great moments on there together and just feel very blessed and grateful to have a small role,” Pagano said. “It’s incredible what he’s done, right? I mean the guy is just, he’s absolutely brilliant, he’s a great human being, he’s got a huge heart.”

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Chuck Pagano’s coaching career spanned nearly four decades concluding with the 2020 NFL season as defensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears. (Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports)

Retirement has fit Chuck Pagano well, whether through charity or media. And if there’s anything you can count on from the 63-year-old, it’s that he has the grit needed to continue positively impacting lives.

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