INDIANAPOLIS -- It took Chuck Pagano less than nine months to instill his fighter's mentality and hopeful spirit in the Indianapolis Colts.
He will need both to survive the biggest battle of his life -- leukemia.
In a somber news conference Monday, the Colts announced that their new coach had been hospitalized for cancer treatment and probably would not return to full coaching duties this season. He will be replaced on an interim basis by offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who played football for York Catholic and graduated from York High.
"He will do fine," Arians said, his voice cracking as he recalled his own successful fight with prostate cancer in 2007. "I know him. He's a fighter. He's survived tough times already in his life. As a cancer survivor myself, I know that these first few days are really hard on you but as he and I talked yesterday, it's just a matter of time."
It didn't take long for the Colts to figure out how to pay tribute to the first-time head coach who rekindled excitement in the locker room and around town after the Colts' awful 2-14 season a year ago.
"I asked Mr. (Jimmy) Irsay (the Colts owner) if we would leave the light on in his office permanently till he comes back and we are going to do that," Arians said.
Arians, who turns 60 on Wednesday, has never been a head coach before in the NFL, although he did serve as Temple University's head coach from 1983-1988, compiling a 22-44 record. Before joining the Colts this season, Arians had served as the Pittsburgh Steelers' offensive coordinator from 2007 until 2011. He helped the Steelers win two Super Bowl titles during his stay in Pittsburgh -- one as the wide receivers coach and one as the offensive coordinator.
Arians began his coaching career in 1976, making multiple stops along the way on both the collegiate and NFL level.
"We're fortunate to have a veteran coach like Bruce to lead the team," Irsay said. "Everyone is up to the task of doing that extra bit of work that everyone needs to do for us to maintain and play at a high level."
That sentiment was shared by Colts' general manager Ryan Grigson.
"(Arians) has a great synergy with the staff and with Chuck," Grigson said. "He's going to be able to bridge that gap between Chuck and himself and this team because they have a brotherhood on that staff like I've never seen. Chuck's our brother, and we are all here for him. Bruce is the man to lead us forward while our leader is down. Until (Pagano) comes back, Bruce Arians will carry that torch and lead that charge."
The shocking news trickled out as players and assistant coaches were returning to the team complex after the Colts' bye week and one day before Pagano's 52nd birthday.
Pagano was admitted to an Indianapolis hospital last Wednesday to begin treatments for acute promyelocytic leukemia, an illness in which the bone marrow produces abnormal white blood cells that interfere with healthy blood cells. Symptoms can include weakness, weight loss and easy bruising or bleeding.
Pagano will be treated with chemotherapy and drugs, said Dr. Larry Cripe, Pagano's physician. The process usually requires patients to spend four to five weeks in the hospital, but Irsay said he expected Pagano to stay a bit longer, six to eight weeks. Indy (1-2) hosts the Packers (2-2) on Sunday.
Arians made it clear to the players that if Pagano can't make it back before the Dec. 30 regular-season finale, there is another option they can control.
"Why can't we extend the season so he can come back?" Arians said.
Indy officials asked fans to send cards through the team headquarters, but said Pagano could not receive flowers. He is being kept in a "protective" environment where the air is filtered and hand-washing is essential.
"The goal of the treatment is to cure the disease," Cripe said, declining to discuss the survival rates for patients with this form of leukemia. "That means that he's returned to a fully functional life, the life that he worked so hard to earn and he's looking forward to leading the Colts to some Super Bowls."
Cripe said Pagano's wife, Tina, had been at his bedside each night. Irsay said she was the one who pushed him to see the doctor after noticing unusual bruising on his body.
With most players and coaches out of town over the weekend, Pagano, a father of three girls, notified Arians in a heart-breaking call Sunday.
"When Chuck called me yesterday, I was floored. I was down south at my home in Georgia and he was chatting like he always chats, and then he drops the news on me," Arians said, remembering how he struggled to drive home after the doctor told him he had cancer five years ago. "My first reaction was how is everything, how's Tina, how's the girls, is everything going to be all right?"
The rest of the team learned about the situation on Monday.
"This is not an easy day for all of us," Arians said. "Not the way that I had ever dreamed about addressing a group like this. But I know we are going to get through it."