By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
The Chicago Bears acted swiftly in replacing much heralded defensive coordinator Vic Fangio after he was hired away to lead the Denver Broncos.
The decision to hire from within or to bring in another grizzled vet or even an up and coming position coach ended with former Colts coach Chuck Pagano being hired late Friday night. A grizzled vet, Pagano is a very logical hire by Bears head coach Matt Nagy, who should see a lot of himself in Pagano — both are considered great teachers, aggressive play callers and even better people.
When the Bears defensive coordinator position came open, the brain trust moved to replace Fangio immediately. They started the process by interviewing secondary coach Ed Donatell followed by an interview with Pagano and thats all it took. Pagano’s name had been an active one this offseason, he interviewed for some of the head coaching vacancies like the Packers vacancy.
Then he was rumored for some of the defensive coordinator positions available and even wrapped up a interview with the Panthers, but the Bears position was too good to pass up. Pagano gets a defense that was arguably the best in the league, a position he has familiarity with in a past stop.
The next questions about the hiring will be how much of the current staff will stay and how different will his scheme be compared to Fangio’s. Lets take a deeper dive into the hire of Pagano as the new defensive guru.
Pagano started his NFL coaching career as a defensive backs/secondary coach, in the Browns organization frpm 2001-2004, followed by the Raiders in ’05-’06 as defensive backs coach, one year in college as a defensive coordinator before settling in with the Ravens from ’08-’10 once again as the secondary coach under John Harbaugh.
In 2008 and 2009 Fangio was also on that Ravens staff as a defensive assistant and linebackers coach. For the start of the 2011 season Pagano was elevated to defensive coordinator on the Ravens. He inherited a good defense and many wondered if the defense could be as good. Look at some of these stats about the job Pagano did.
Pagano did an excellent job as the Ravens defensive coordinator that lead to the Ravens getting all the way to the AFC championship. It also lead to his hiring as a head coach of the Colts. The Colts had success early on in his tenure with three straight playoff appearances in three seasons and going as far as the AFC championship.
In Indy, Pagano even became the inspiration of the league in beating leukemia during in his first season after taking time to beat the disease before returning for the playoffs. The last three years of his tenure there wasn’t good, which led to Pagano’s dismissal — overall he went 56-46 as the head man and to be fair to him, he was without quarterback Andrew Luck his final season and the quarterback was going through multiple injuries before that.
Some may criticize Pagano for not making things happen without Luck but the Colts drafted one defensive player in the first round in the entire time he was in Indy.
Perhaps the best trait about Pagano is the type of person he is. Former players rave about him as a man and as a football coach, he is the type of guy that commands respect in the locker room. Fangio was a beloved figure on the defensive side of the ball, it was important for the Bears to get a defensive guy that could gain the love and respect that the players had for Fangio. Pagano is said to be a great teacher and thats one of the key qualities Nagy was looking for.
A lot of players developed this past season under Fangio, guys like safety Eddie Jackson, cornerback Kyle Fuller, safety Adrian Amos, slot corner Bryce Callahan, linebacker Leonard Floyd and a host of defensive lineman like defensive tackle Eddie Goldman. These players are important complimentary pieces to stars Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks.
Pagano has to continue the growth of these players to continue the type of success the Bears found this past season. And part of the key to Fangio getting these players to play well was using their strengths and not making players do things they weren’t good at. The scheme Fangio used worked so well for this group, it will be interesting to see what scheme changes Pagano will make.
Scheme is obviously very important to the success of any team because scheme means how a team uses their players. Schemes can be rigid or fluid and in today’s NFL, its the fluid schemes that have the most success. One thing Fangio used heavily was zone coverages usually rushing just four. The four rushers would be disguised well with the occasional extra blitzer. Pagano tends to use more pressure with his schemes using extra blitzers to bring pressure on quarterbacks.
That being said, Pagano is a secondary coach and any secondary coach does not want to leave his guys on an island. The scheme itself should be similar to Fangio’s with a lot of zone coverage but expect extra blitzing next season as long as the secondary can hold up in coverage.
In general, Fangio isn’t an aggressive play caller, he usually opted for coverage, but Pagano is an aggressive play-caller and he should express that with more blitzing of the quarterback. Surely, Nagy can appreciate the aggressive qualities in Pagano’s play calling. The Bears want to be the team throwing the punches rather than taking them, adding Pagano will continue this mentality.
The last dominoes to fall in this hire involve the rest of the defensive staff as it is likely that some coaches will leave to go to join Fangio in Denver.
The Bears defensive backs coach is Donatell and he is likely to leave to be defensive coordinator of the Broncos. Ideally for the Bears, they would keep as much of the staff together. Its likely that Pagano will want to bring in some guys of his own and these moves should be addressed in short time. Regardless, it appears like the Bears accomplished the mission of replacing Fangio.
Nagy is a self described aggressive coach and Pagano would say the same thing. Also like with Fangio, Nagy will not have to worry about the defense and can focus nearly all his time on the offense. The Bears will meet with the media on Monday to explain the end of the season and this hire.
Expect a lot of excitement and enthusiasm from Bears management about this hire — they got their guy.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR