One year after hiring Matt Nagy to be the Chicago Bears head coach responsible for bringing the offense into the modern era, the team has entrusted Chuck Pagano the task of making sure the defensive excellence we have grown to know and love stays the same.
When the Bears brought in Nagy as their head coach in January 2018, the direction of the franchise was clear. Hire a young, offensive-minded head coach for a developing quarterback and team them with a veteran defensive presence who can maintain greatness on the other side of the ball. Based on the team’s rumored interest in Todd Bowles, as well as their reported interview with Ed Donatell, and their eventual hiring of Pagano, it was clear the powers that be didn’t want to deviate from a successful formula of experience at the DC position.
If Nagy is the CEO, he needed a President of Defensive Operations who could carry out his message to that side of the ball. That’s where Pagano comes into play.
Pagano inherits a much better situation than his predecessor, Vic Fangio. Lucky guy. The 2018 Bears defense finished first in points, yards, and turnovers was head and shoulders above the unit Fangio was handed in 2015 when the team was coming off back-to-back historically awful seasons. The talent and skill sets of the players on the 2018 Bears are vastly superior to what the team had going on in 2015. This leaves Pagano with big shoes to fill, but at least he’ll have what amounts to a sizable head start compared to what Fangio was working with four years ago at this time.
As we would come to learn, retaining Fangio was crucial last winter and we saw his return pay dividends in both phases of the game. Fangio’s return allowed the Bears defense to maintain the continuity it wanted after cooking up a top-10 scoring and yardage defense. With Fangio having full autonomy on defense and stability locked in, Nagy was allowed to go to work on fixing one of the NFL’s worst offenses. The Bears didn’t turn into the Greatest Show on Turf overnight, but the offensive production ticked up, the defense remained solid, and the team – as a whole – thrived en route to a 12-win season, an NFC North title, and a home playoff game.
Moving forward, it is of the utmost importance that Pagano builds on what Fangio left behind. Pagano will need to channel what made him a quality position coach, a successful defensive coordinator, and whatever worked when his Colts teams were winning in Indianapolis and apply them to his new job in Chicago. After all, Pagano is the de facto head coach of the defense and expectations will be higher for him entering 2019 than they were for Fangio back in 2015.
Good organizations flow from the top down and pull from the same side of the rope. So while Pace talked about being on the same page as John Fox, he hasn’t had to say the same thing with regards to his current head coach because actions speak louder than words. So while it will be a few months until we start to see Pagano’s vision for the defense take place, it’s evident whatever it looks like won’t stray too far from what worked last year.