It seemed pretty inevitable defensive mastermind and defensive coordinator of the Bears Vic Fangio would eventually warrant a head coaching gig sooner rather than later. A marvel he didn’t get his chance after his defenses in San Francisco fueled deep playoff runs and even a Super Bowl appearance, the Bears slammed a home run in landing him as defensive coordinator in 2015. So when the Bears defense took the expected step forward and transformed the team into a Super Bowl contender, the Denver Broncos deservingly gave him the chance that had been mounting since 2011.
Only days later, the speedy turnaround resulted in former Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano. Coaching the Colts to three straight postseason berths and a 53-43 record, including an AFC Championship appearance, he has a decent wealth of playoff experience to draw from and could help bolster the youthful Matt Nagy’s playoff game planning. Though the Colts’ defensive performances may not have impressed that deeply under Pagano’s lead (though that could be blamed on the front offices’ refusal to draft a steady flow of defensive talent), his previous work indicates what he can do when given elite talent.
As the defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens during their spectacular defensive year in 2011, he coached a star-studded crew highlighted by Hall of Fame locks Ed Reed, Ray Lewis (who is already in), and Terell Suggs. Now entering an ideal situation with All-Pro talent at every level of the defense, the Bears shouldn’t miss a beat. Getting the opportunity to toy around with one of the most versatile middle linebacker corps and, namely, the playmaking Eddie Jackson (who shares many similarities to Reed) would be one any defensive coordinator would dream of.
But obviously, considering the wealth of talent at Pagano’s disposal, most any capable defensive coordinator who runs a 3-4 could come in and keep the Bears in the Super Bowl conversation. So what makes Pagano a more attractive choice than most and how he could genuinely rival Fangio lies in his aggressiveness in the pass rush.
Characteristically a far more comfortable blitzer than Fangio, Pagano will be able to take full advantage of the megastar pass rusher Khalil Mack and maybe even allow for the slightly disappointing Leonard Floyd to flourish a little bit. Since Pagano intends to throw more and more rushers at the quarterback than Fangio, hopefully, that will open up more and more opportunities for Floyd to have an impact. After picking up his fifth-year option, faith runs high for the Georgia product and now under Pagano, could have a breakout year.
And don’t forget about last season’s sixth-round pickup Kylie Fitts. The former Utah linebacker specializes in pass rushing and with Aaron Lynch more than likely walking in free agency, Fitts will receive a sizable chunk of the pass rushing responsibility.
The Bears already ranked second in the entire league in sacks without recklessly blitzing so Pagano’s prized aggressiveness should push the fifty sacks from this squad even further. This also means Mack dropping back into coverage rather than attacking the quarterback, one of Fangio’s most glaring complaints, will be a thing of the past.
Culturally, former players repeatedly praise Pagano’s degree of care of his players. As the swagger builds underneath Soldier Field, keeping the culture and ambiance enjoyable for players will be essential for a coordinator with such presence on the team and Pagano’s general good-heartedness and love of his players will sustain that perfectly.
“What makes him good? He relates to the players a whole lot,” former Ravens defensive end and Pagano product Cory Redding explained. “He’s almost like a player in a D-coordinator’s position. The guy has so much fun with us. He treats you like more than a player. It’s like we’re his sons. He wants us to do well. He keeps it fresh. He knows everybody’s strengths and puts them in position to make plays.”
Since Fangio similarly has a unique closeness with his players on a personal level, the ever-so-essential connection between coach and player won’t be broken under Pagano.
And even though he hasn’t been around for long, Pagano has already purged multiple position coaches on the Bears, from the outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley to the safeties coach Roy Anderson. Aiming to revamp his staff, Pagano has a clean and fascinating slate to bring in potentially impactful assistants. With names like Ed Reed and Rob Ryan floating around in the rumor mill, Pagano could assemble an absolute all-star ensemble of assistants in his first offseason with the Bears.
Even better, after his relatively fruitless and still too recent tenure in Indianapolis, won’t be signed off anytime soon.
Often times, losing such a critical piece of the coaching staff at the start of an opening championship window would nearly derail a team, the Bears landed the perfect candidate to keep the ship perfectly steady. Checking both boxes from a football mind standpoint and a personality one, Pagano will allow the Bears defense to continue its dominance and position themselves for the deep playoff mounting. Fangio may be near impossible to replicate, but Pagano may just be able to take the Bears further than he ever could.