OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Returning to their Owings Mills facility on Monday morning after a three-day respite, the Ravens were greeted with the solemn news of former defensive coordinator and current Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano being diagnosed with leukemia.
The 51-year-old will be hospitalized for the next six to eight weeks as he undergoes treatment
Spending last season as the Ravens defensive coordinator and the previous three seasons as the secondary coach, Pagano was popular in Baltimore and often described as a “players’ coach” similar to former defensive coordinator and current New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan. His energetic personality and work guiding the league’s third-ranked defense enticed the Colts to hire Pagano as their head coach just days after the Ravens’ loss in the AFC Championship game late January.
“He’s just one of the guys,” cornerback Lardarius Webb said. “He interacts with us just like he’s one of us, like he’s one of the teammates — not our coach. He’s just a likeable guy, always has a smile on his face. He’s always joking around, having a good time, enjoying work. While he always was serious about his job, but he was having fun with it. We love that.”
Coach John Harbaugh said he exchanged text messages with Pagano earlier in the day, sharing that the former Ravens assistant seemed upbeat about fighting the disease. Pagano also relayed a message to his defensive players about how he expects them to play, though Harbaugh would not disclose what the “forthright” comments were in reference to Baltimore’s defense that’s currently ranked 23rd in the league.
Former Ravens defensive players Tom Zbikowski, Cory Redding, and Brandon McKinney left via free agency this past off-season to join Pagano in Indianapolis.
“Chuck’s a fighter in every respect,” coach John Harbaugh said. “Chuck’s got that swagger. I’m completely confident that Chuck will go to work on this with the same enthusiasm he does [with] everything else in his life, and he’ll be victorious. We’ll be pulling for him and praying for him on that.”
Players have expressed immense respect for new defensive coordinator Dean Pees and his football intellect, but listening to members of the defense such as Ray Lewis and Suggs gush about their relationship with Pagano last season made it easy to understand how hard players would take the news about his illness.
Doctors are optimistic that Pagano will recover from acute myeloid leukemia, a disease in which the bone marrow produces abnormal white blood cells that interfere with healthy blood cells. Symptoms include weakness or fatigue, weight loss, and bleeding or easy bruising.
“A lot of guys, it hit our hearts this morning when we heard the news,” Webb said. “We just can’t believe it’s Chuck, one of ours. We know he’s a Colt, but he’s still one of us. We sent all of our heart and condolences to him. It hit us hard this morning.”