By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
Vic Fangio has spent the last 40 years of his life living up to the moment that was afforded to him today.
As defensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears for the past four years he peaked in a way that makes his leaving the franchise to coach the Denver Broncos a hard pill to swallow in many ways, but anyone who’s devoted to the Bears who can’t accept and understand why Fangio is making the move is delusional at best and straight hating at worst.
As first reported Wednesday morning by ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Broncos are bringing in the NFL lifer to become their newest head coach, replacing Vance Joseph. Fangio has never been a head coach at any level but leading a complete turnaround of the Bears defense over the past four years he made himself a standout professional coordinator and standout professional coordinators eventually get their shots at running whole franchises.
Even in a hiring environment where offensive minds are valued to the point where complete unknowns third and fourth in the pecking order on staffs are getting gigs along with sub-par college coaches with tenuous connections to talented quarterbacks.
Fangio, on the other hand, has made his reputation in terrorizing QBs and putting up walls on running backs’ progress that make Donald Trump slowly shift in his seat.
As he was fed better talent each season from general manager Ryan Pace, Fangio provided masterstrokes of preparedness and execution that saw, especially over the past two seasons, more and more dominant showings from the Bears defense.
Even before the seismic acquisition of Khalil Mack to jump-start the 2018 season, the Bears had a defense ranked ninth in points allowed and 10th in yards in 2017, the last season prior to Fangio’s hire the Bears ranked 31st and 30th in those respective categories.
With a woeful offense that scored 264 points in 2017 the Bears stayed competitive enough to lose several games in single digits; with a much improved offense in 2018 (421 points scored) the Bears defenders feasted, allowing only 283 points over 16 games for a league-best 17.6 average.
That’s the type of results the Broncos are looking for from a defense anchored by a player just a shade or two below Mack in Von Miller and with previously failed head coach, but accomplished offensive coordinator, Gary Kubiak running the offense (though there could be something said about Fangio not being able to pick his own staff fully).
Now, as for the Bears…the creeping sense of a window randomly closing may accompany many fans’ reaction to Fangio’s leaving. It can’t be argued that Fangio leading the defense through the transition out of the John Fox era and into Matt Nagy’s first season (an instance where providing a rookie head coach with a holdover coordinator worked beautifully) meant the difference between the Bears being simply improved in 2018 and them being a division winner.
With what was the most stable phase of the roster now without a head, what is there to do? How about Todd Bowles, who has a personal connection to Nagy, runs a 3-4 defense and managed top-5 defenses in DVOA in both Arizona and New York with the Jets?
Nope, it turns out his connection to the newly hired Tampa coach Bruce Arians, who hired him in the desert, was stronger.
Tampa did the right thing for them and jumped on Bowles within the same day of the most comfortable defensive job in the NFL becoming free, it doesn’t leave Chicago without viable options, among them being Joseph and recently deposed Arizona coach Steve Wilks, a former Bears defensive backs coach who should be motivated to knock out his next job after being canned after only one year leading the Cardinals.
Also, there should be a temptation to hire from within, which should encourage transitive stability for the defense. NBC Sports Chicago provides some good details here on two of Fangio’s position coaches, at least one of whom you’d think may follow their boss to the Mile High City.
But we should prepare for some sort of difference in the defense in 2019, hopefully it won’t be enough to derail the next Super Bowl train headed for Chicago, but it certainly may take a while to truly replace the best Bears defensive coach since Buddy Ryan.
“Defensive coach” and not “coach who specializes in defense” is an important disclaimer, because Lovie Smith is in that conversation too, but he had the benefit of having last say with his roster, that’s something that we’ll maybe see Fangio have the benefit of now if John Elway is so kind.
Regardless of what he does in Denver and its relation to his time to Chicago — if what he did here remains the most successful stop in his decades-long career or not — we should be appreciative of the work of Vic Fangio, devotee of defending and resurrector and motivator of Monsters.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR