He's a former player, a former head coach and the new defensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears. Chuck Pagano lives and breathes football. But the greatest challenge of his life almost took the game - and so much more - away from him.
Before coming to Chicago, Pagano had been out of a job for a year after being fired as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. But Pagano said he will always be indebted to his former team.
"I think back to all the people that supported me and my family again, through my journey - people I didn't know. They didn’t know me, I didn’t know them," Pagano said. "You figure out there is a lot of good out there, more good than bad."
All of that support wasn't for football - it was for his journey through cancer. In September 2012, just months into his role as head coach, Pagano was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia.
"Fortunately for me, it has a high cure rate. Caught it at the right time. And so, you know, go through chemo 26 days in the hospital, then two months at home and a couple more rounds of chemo," he recalled.
It was bruises on his body that ultimately made him see the team doctor. But he ignored his initial symptoms.
"You’re tired, but I’ve been on the job five or six months and you just thought it was football fatigue," Pagano said. "We're in the middle of training camp and I had these bruises start showing up, mostly on my torso."
"I'd show my wife every night when I got home, there'd be one here and one here, new ones popping up," he continued. "She’s like, 'You’re not like demonstrating tackling, guys aren’t hitting you at practice, things like that?' and I said no."
The treatments took a toll on Pagano's body but not on his spirit. He said he's always been a man of faith, family and football. But this experience added one more thing.
"Perspective," Pagano said, adding that he had learned "just how fragile life is."
"We think we have time - you don’t," he continued. "Really what you got is, we got today. So you wake up, you’re grateful, you know, you’ve got a heart filled with gratitude and you kick today's ass and then if you get tomorrow, you do the same thing."
Pagano said he's enjoying his new journey in Chicago which includes both cancer remission and what he called the "very best job."
"Of all the jobs that are available, I got the very best job," Pagano said. "And I count the seven or eight head coaching jobs out there along with this coordinator gig, and so I just felt like I got the very best job."