It doesn’t matter how long you’ve known him. When you sit down with Sam Pagano, it feels like family.
For the patriarch of the Pagano family, life is about relationships. And for him, football has played a role in almost all of them.
With a Hall of Fame high school coaching career in Colorado and two sons coaching in the NFL – faith, family and football are what the Pagano family is built on.
“I fell in love with football when I was a little boy growing up in Pueblo, Colorado. It’s a couple hours from Boulder,” says Sam. “Pueblo is like a Pittsburgh town, we had a steel mill. I had a great high school and I couldn’t wait to grow up and play. And when I did, it was good.”
Just as important as the game itself was the relationships he made along the way – some of which lasted a lifetime.
“I had great high school coaches. One just passed away, he was 93 years old and I spoke at his funeral last month,” he says. “What a great man.”
Sam Pagano went on to play football at the University of Denver and afterwards, he got his first job at Boulder High School. He married Diana, they started a family, and football became a central theme.
“I had no idea that football was going to be the main focus of the family. It was a job providing for my family, which was a great environment to bring the kids up,” he says. “We all gathered around the dad’s job, which was very important, the whole family.”
Football is family. And that was especially true of the Pagano family.
“With a big family, with six kids, they came to practice. When Chuck and John were little, they sat on the dummies, and as they got older, they helped with drills. Chuck would help the secondary coach, John helped the linebacker coach or he spotted the ball. They were both ball boys, water boys, and then they grew into it.”
Sam eventually became the head coach at Fairview High School in Boulder, where he coached for 25 seasons, won three state championships, played in one more, and ran a successful football camp for 36 years. That too was a family affair.
“My wife was in charge of registration, room assignments, there were no computers in those days. Chuck and John attended the camp, my daughters worked the sports store and helped with registration. And then as they graduated, they became coaches at the camp and then they were partners in the camp, same as the daughters.”
“The upbringing that I had, getting to grow up on the sidelines and start as a ball boy and hanging out with the guys and picking up jocks and socks and towels in the locker room, being in the coach’s office and watching film with him as a child, growing up and then playing for him, I’m just grateful,” says Chuck. “I thank him for being the father, the coach, the mentor not only to me, but to every life that he’s touched. And he continues to do that.”
Chuck and John went on to play in college, then started their own coaching careers. Chuck is in his fifth season as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts and John is starting his fifth season as defensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers, a team he’s been with for 15 years. Though they have different coaching styles, Sam laid the foundation years ago.
“There was a lot of love there and there was a lot of tough love, which we all know you’ve got to have. But everybody knew that the guy loved you and he had your back. But he was going to demand your very best,” says Chuck.
And that’s exactly what his Colts players say about him.
Both Chuck and John communicate weekly with Sam during the season, not so much for advice, but more to talk.
“They know I suffered through it,” says Sam. “I give them my opinion. But it’s mostly just, ‘How you doing? How you feeling? Have you had a good week?’”
Chuck says Sam is now a part of the Colts family. He had him up at training camp in Anderson for a week and considers it a blessing to be able to spend that time with him.
“It’s kind of cool,” he says. “He just kind of fits in here and you really don’t know that he hasn’t been here for two or three years and been part of the staff.”
Life has come full circle for Sam Pagano.
Once the coach who raised his family in the game, he’s now the parent and grandparent whose family keeps him in the game.
From the same school halls where their legacy began, along the same walls where photos of Chuck and John hang, comes the next generation of the Pagano football family.
“We’re reliving the high school days,” says Sam.
Chuck and John’s youngest sister, Jennifer, has two boys. Carlo Kemp was an All-State linebacker at Fairview. Highly recruited, he also spent time with Chuck and Sam in Anderson before starting his freshman year at Michigan, where he’s a member of the Wolverines football team. Mariano Kemp is a junior at Fairview where he’s the starting tailback this season. And John’s son, Jagger is starting his football story in San Diego.
Another branch in the Pagano family tree. Another chapter in football history.
Football is family.
It’s been that way in the Pagano family for years…
And it looks to continue for generations to come.