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Bears D-coordinator Chuck Pagano will return to Indy after ‘six great years’ and ‘a lot of fond memories’

Chuck Pagano was the Colts’ head coach from 2012-17, and he was diagnosed with leukemia in his first season there. He has been cancer-free for more than six years.

Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano talks during training camp in Bourbonnais earlier this month.
Brian O’Mahoney/For the Sun-Times

With a smile on his face, Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano talks through a walking tour of Indianapolis steak houses — St. Elmo, with its famously spicy shrimp cocktail, then one block up Illinois Street to Ruth’s Chris and then, making a right on Washington Street, the Capital Grille.

“If you want to just go burgers and fries, Steak ’n Shake is right across the street there,” he said, touting the 24-hour diner chain that’s based in Indianapolis. “I highly recommend that, you know.”

Pagano will see plenty of familiar sites — and people — when his new team travels to the Circle City for a preseason game Saturday. He was the Colts’ coach from 2012 to 2017 and was diagnosed with leukemia in his first season there. He has been cancer-free for more than six years.

He doesn’t think he has ever been in the visiting locker room at Lucas Oil Stadium. The trip will be strange — and probably full of emotion.

“Yeah, I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t going to be any,” he said. “I’m sure once we get down there, step out on the field and go through all the pregame stuff, I’ll see a lot of old faces, shake a lot of hands, high-fives and all that stuff.

“But, no, it’s a business trip. We got a game to play and all that stuff, and there’s a lot on the line for a lot of these players. So our focus and our energy and everything has been in our preparation for the game.

“I had six great years there and have a lot of fond memories. So it’ll be pretty cool.”

The reunion might be more interesting than the game. Both teams said Wednesday they won’t play their starters in a game that has, traditionally, been a dress rehearsal for the season. Pagano has given scouting reports to the backups who figure to play.

“There are still some guys on that football team that I spent a lot of time with, so [I’ve] been able to help some guys out as far as from a talent standpoint,” he said. “You know, you can watch the tape and see what they can do on tape, but [it’s good to know] from a physical standpoint and how fast and what techniques they use — what routes, what tendencies they have, this that and the other.”

One player he won’t see play: quarterback Andrew Luck, who will sit out all week because of an ankle/calf injury that has bothered him for months.

“It’s tough because he’s missed a bunch of time,” Pagano said. “Obviously, he missed the entire ’17 season [with a shoulder injury], came roaring back last year. He’s dealing with something. But Andrew’s a tough kid. Going through what he went through before has only hardened him and strengthened him for this one.”

Pagano said he checked in with a few former players via text last year — when he served as consultant to NFL referees — but otherwise didn’t pay specific attention to the Colts.

Bears coach Matt Nagy said he hasn’t discussed the Indianapolis trip in detail with Pagano.

But he doesn’t have to.

“We all understand the significance for him, and he’s a guy that just has so much appreciation for that organization, for that fan base and for the city,” Nagy said. “They’ve done so much for him. He’s done so much for them.

“And anytime that happens, in the preseason like this, I have no issue at all with having him be recognized. That’s what it’s all about.”