LAKE FOREST – It was fitting that he would see the first coach he played under in the National Football League just before his time in it came to an end.
That was Chuck Pagano, who is the defensive coordinator for the Bears, who was the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts from 2012-2017. Andrew Luck was his quarterback for all but the last season, and that was because of an injury, so the bond between the two is quite close.
So it’s fitting that the coach was on the sidelines at Lucas Oil Stadium when the news broke on Saturday during the Bears-Colts preseason game that the signal-caller would retire immediately. The end for Luck’s career came in close proximity to the coach who oversaw some of his best and worst days in the NFL.
Naturally, Pagano had his feelings on the announcement, which he expressed in a statement on Sunday evening.
— Larry Hawley (@HawleySports) August 25, 2019
“Andrew Luck is one of the best individuals, teammates and competitors I have ever been around in my lifetime, forget an outstanding football player and leader of men,” said Pagano in a statement released by the Bears. “He is selfless, brilliant and always prepared like no other for the team and carried the Colts organization on his back, including seven 4th quarter comebacks in his rookie season, two AFC South Division titles, three-consecutive playoff berths to start his career and the 2014 AFC Championship game. When he could not go in 2015 and again in 2017 it absolutely crushed him because he could not be there for his team and their passionate fans.
“It took great courage to make his decision to walk away from the game but no matter how difficult he did what his heart told him and I am proud of him for being honest with himself and the team.
“With Andrew it was always about more than football and I will be forever grateful to him for his support during my personal battle with leukemia. Our friendship extends well beyond player-coach and I wish him, his beautiful wife Nicole and their growing family nothing but the best. I will forever be a huge Andrew Luck fan.”
A four-time Pro Bowl selection and 2018 NFL Comeback Player of the Year, Luck made the playoffs in his first three seasons with the Colts, reaching in the AFC Championship in January 2015. Injuries plagued him over the next three seasons as he missed 26 games, including the entire 2017 season, before returning in 2018 to help lead the Colts to the playoffs.
A lower-leg injury kept him out of this entire preseason and eventually prompted his decision to retire. At least Luck was fortunate to have had his former coach close by when his decision finally went public.
“I think it’s maybe very fitting that Chuck was the opposing coordinator tonight, so many positive points and moments and such an impact on my life, and B.A. (Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians, an assistant and interim head coach for the Colts in 2012) as well, not here tonight but is in Tampa, all my former coaches,” said Luck. “But it did feel a little bit full circle walking out there tonight being able to give Chuck Pagano a hug.”
As two men who had a major impact on each other’s careers shared one last NFL moment together.