INDIANAPOLIS – Chuck Pagano and Andrew Luck are getting all the national attention.
Talk to anyone in the Colts locker room, and they'll tell you interim coach Bruce Arians is a major part in Indianapolis' stunning turnaround, too. Maybe the biggest contributor of all.
"I call him the MVP of our team because he came in and kept things churning along," outside linebacker Robert Mathis said Monday. "He's making sure we take care of Chuck's legacy."
Arians is doing things the way he always has — with a passionate, down-to-earth, fun-loving personality and a relentless desire to get things right.
So while the rest of the football world looks at Luck's progression and Pagano's personal battle, Arians has been doing the dirty work to keep this rebuilding project on task.
Nobody can quibble with the results.
In the six weeks since replacing his close friend, who was diagnosed with a form of leukemia Sept. 26, Arians has led the Colts to a 6-3 record and surprisingly into the playoff hunt. He's managed to keep the lines of communication open with Luck, found the right balance between being the head coach and offensive coordinator and even shocked the defensive players by cheering at practice when they come up with turnovers.
He talks and texts regularly with his close friend, serving as both a messenger between the ailing coach and his players and a confidant to Pagano about what is coming next on and off the field.
"The chemo is hitting him pretty good right now, it's been pretty rough," said Arians, a 60-year-old prostate cancer survivor. "He's experiencing that downhill slide now, but he's tough, he'll get through it."
Few have seen what Arians has done behind the walls, though.
He's been working overtime to meet with Luck. He's carved out extra time to deal with the media requirements. He's worked hard to keep Pagano and his battle front and center, attending three fundraisers in the past six weeks and urging others to make time as well. On Friday, Arians, Luck and Reggie Wayne will host another fundraiser at a sold-out restaurant in downtown Indy.
And yet, he never lost sight of his job.
Arians has helped the Colts make a seamless transition from Peyton Manning to Luck, the new face of this franchise, and one of the league's youngest offenses is now ranked fifth overall and eighth in yards passing.
"He's done a good job keeping us focused on what our mission is, what our objective is," outside linebacker Dwight Freeney said. "He doesn't stray far from what Chuck wants. It's kind of a two-sided monster — it's Chuck being there and him (Arians) keeping that ship well-oiled and maintained."
The success shouldn't come as a surprise, given Arians' resume.
He spent 20 years as an NFL assistant, mentoring two of the league's best quarterbacks — Manning and Ben Roethlisberger — and seems to have Luck following the same script. Arians also won two Super Bowl rings in Pittsburgh and coached with Paul "Bear" Bryant during his final season at Alabama before taking the only head coaching job he ever had, at Temple from 1983-88.
But he never got a chance to coach his own NFL team, and it sure didn't seem like it would happen when he was forced out as Pittsburgh's offensive coordinator after last season.
That's when Pagano brought him to Indy, and now as the fill-in for Pagano, Arians is doing things nobody thought possible.
In the midst of monumental rebuilding season, Arians has gone 5-1 with a rookie quarterback, the ninth-youngest team in the league and has helped the Colts surge, not sink, after losing their head coach less than a month into the season. He's even set a franchise record for wins by an interim coach.
How good has he been?
Only eight coaches in league history have won more games after a midseason change than Arians (five).
If the Colts win four of their last seven games, Arians would tie the league record with Hamp Pool, who won nine games with the Los Angeles Rams in 1952, and Wally Lemm, who won nine with the Houston Oilers in 1961.
The only other coach to win more than seven was San Diego's Don Coryell, who won eight in 1978.
It might even be good enough to put Arians in the conversation for NFL coach of the year.
"I think that will be determined by how you finish, not how you started," Freeney said. "It's really too early, but I think you could mention him in that conversation right now because he's had a team that's undergone major change and been part of the advancement of that."
Even if Arians doesn't have time to ponder that possibility now.
"It's really gotten easier and easier each week for me, balancing the TV and radio and press conferences," he said. "You take an hour or two and early in the week and try to find a message you want to deliver each week. The rest of the time, I try to be the offensive coordinator."
NOTE: The Colts placed starting cornerback Jerraud Powers (toe) and backup defensive tackle Drake Nevis (hand) on season-ending injured reserve Monday. That gave Indy room to activate fifth-round draft pick Josh Chapman from the reserve-non-injury list. Chapman has been on the list since training camp opened because he played most of last season with a torn ACL in his left knee.
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