George Karl worries Chuck Pagano’s pushing too hard


Colts coach Chuck Pagano is making an inspirational comeback from his battle with cancer.

But a man who was in a similar situation worries that Pagano’s pushing himself a little fast.

Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz caught up with Denver Nuggets coach George Karl, who doesn’t know Pagano and hasn’t talked to him about his own two battles with cancer. But Karl wondered if the fact this was Pagano’s first head coaching job was causing him to come back from three rounds of chemotherapy before he was truly ready. Pagano’s plan is to come back Monday to prepare for the Colts’ regular season finale against the Texans.

“I don’t know, I understand the value of him coming back, but my advice would be to go slowly,” Karl said. “Don’t jump back into the fire full speed. Pick and choose your opportunities to jump in and let the people who supported you, and have done a pretty damned good job from what I can tell, let them do their jobs and then you be their support system. . . .

“All I know is, one month after my last radiation treatment, I wasn’t really healthy. There’s no way I could have coached. My instincts, my reactions and my mind was cloudy. Having to make quick decisions, figure out things before they happen — things coaches have to do — I think that would have been very difficult.”

It was four months after his final round of radiation before he returned to the Nuggets bench. During that time, his team lost in the Western Conference Finals to the Lakers, something they might have done with or without him. As Pagano has, Karl tried staying in touch with his assistants, doing what he could. But he eventually decided he had to be a little selfish, to take care of himself before he worried about how to game-plan against Kobe Bryant.

So as much as he respects Pagano’s desire to make things normal again, he fears that might be an unattainable goal.

“Sometimes with younger people, their passion sometimes blinds them,” Karl said. “But if he’s got clearance from his doctors, sometimes getting back to work makes you healthier. I know getting back was a good thing for me. I needed to be committed and clear up the what-ifs I had in my own mind.

“But sometimes it comes down to looking selfishly at your own health. He’s got to be worried totally and completely about his health. Because getting distracted and coming back too early and putting undue stress on your immune system before it’s ready, that would be a silly mistake.”

The Colts are in the middle of an incredible run. And football coaches are conditioned to know how precious such a run can be.

But the hope is that Pagano stays mindful of how precious a gift he’s truly been given, and does the most to extend that one.