Pagano has not been on the sideline since being diagnosed with leukemia Sept. 26, something Indianapolis believes will change before the season ends.
"If he comes back, he'll be the head coach," Arians said when asked if Pagano would be making all of the game day decisions.
It's the most definitive answer the Colts (7-4) have given since Pagano took an indefinite leave from the team to undergo chemotherapy treatments for cancer.
Initially, team owner Jim Irsay said Indy hoped Pagano could coach from the press box later this season. But with Pagano's prognosis steadily improving, the hopes inside Indy's team complex have grown, too. The goal, Arians has said over the past month, is to get Pagano back on the sideline for the regular season finale Dec. 30 against Houston, and if not then, to keep playing until Pagano does return.
It looks more possible with each new report.
Pagano's physician, Dr. Larry Cripe, said earlier this month that the illness was in "complete remission" just before Pagano embarked on a second round of treatment. Pagano has made a few trips to the team complex recently and has attended each of Indy's last two home games, though he watched from the coaches' and owners' boxes. He's been studying game tape, practice tape and has even advised players individually.
Only six coaches in NFL history have taken over a team at midseason and won more games than Arians, who is 6-2. If the Colts win Sunday at Detroit, Arians would join the Raiders' Art Shell (1989), Cincinnati's Bruce Coslet (1996) and Mike Holovak of the Boston Patriots (1961) as the only members of the seven-win club. San Diego's Don Coryell won eight games in 1978, while Wally Lemm won nine games with the Houston Oilers in 1961. Hamp Pool set the NFL record with a nine-win season with the 1952 Los Angeles Rams.
Arians, himself a cancer survivor, is eager to get Pagano back on the field soon, too. The two talk and share text messages nearly every day and whenever Pagano is healthy enough to take control, Arians will gladly slide back into his role as offensive coordinator.
"It's his team," Arians said.
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press