The Indianapolis Colts’ season came to abrupt end last week with a tough playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens, who look like they have all the makings for a championship run after beating the Denver Broncos on Saturday.

The Colts, who went 2-14 in 2011, had a new Coach in Chuck Pagano, a rookie quarterback in Andrew Luck, and said goodbye to their long-time hero, Peyton Manning.  New coach, new quarterback, saying goodbye to the face of your franchise – these would be tough challenges for any NFL team to manage.  But the real leadership challenges the Colts faced in 2012 went way beyond football.

 1.  Coach Pagano Perseveres.  In October, just one month after the 2012 season began, Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia.  He would have to leave his team, undergo chemotherapy, and fight for his life.  The entire city of Indianaplis came to his side, supported him and the team, and even the Colts Cheerleaders shaved their heads in tribute.  Filled with raw emotion and a renewed purpose, the Colts would play on without their leader.

2.  Bruce Arians Steps Up to Lead.  With Coach Pagano unable to be with his team, the Colts turned to Assistant Coach Bruce Arians to lead them.  Going 9-3 under Arians’ leadership, the assistant had to come to terms with his friend and mentor’s life and death battle, as well as trying to keep the team together and moving toward their goal of reaching the Superbowl until Coach Pagano returned.

3.  Team Leadership Prevails.  Beyond comprehension, Coach Pagano not only beat the dreaded disease, but fought his way back to return to the Colts’ sideline for their last regular-season game of the season.  Many wondered how the team would respond and perform, and how the leadership transition between Arians and Pagano would work.  It was smooth and seemless, as the Colts, with really nothing to play for but their own standards and emotions for the return of their leader, won the game in impressive fashion.

Coach Pagano’s story is one of courage, perseverance, and leadership.  In an inspirational letter he wrote to express his gratitude, he said:

To the people of Indiana:

When I accepted the job as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts last January, it was a dream come true for me and my family. I knew I was coming to an organization with a great owner and a great winning tradition. I knew Indy had great fans, but I might have underestimated just how great. Being new to the community I never expected the outpouring of support I received from Colts fans throughout the state and country. The love and support you showed my family and me gave me a tremendous amount of comfort and peace. Every letter, success story, prayer and act of kindness made this process a whole lot easier. I am also fortunate to have had some of the best doctors and nurses in the country right here in Indiana to care for me.

I am proud to serve as the head coach of your Colts. I take great pride in knowing that the team has persevered this season because you have shown them the same support you have shown my family and me. You have had a huge impact on my recovery and our season and I look forward to accomplishing great things here for a long, long time.

On behalf of the Pagano family, thank you for helping me heal and for showing our country that we do have the best fans in the entire world; fans whose love for their coaches and players extends way beyond the football field.


Chuck Pagano

What an inspiration.  What a season.  What an example.  And what a wonderful and genuine study of the leadership dynamics between two great men and the team they lead – together.