Vic Fangio isn’t an impulsive guy, at least based on what we can tell from our limited access to him over the last three years, anyway. So it is no surprise that Fangio is taking his time to decide if he wants to return to the Bears as the defensive coordinator.
When Matt Nagy was hired as the coach Monday, retaining Fangio was considered the biggest key to a head start for a 39-year-old, first-time head coach.
The continuity of the renowned Fangio working for the fourth consecutive year with a defense that ranked 10th in the NFL in yards allowed and ninth in points allowed would immediately give Nagy legitimacy that might attract other established coaches.
No doubt the Bears still need Fangio. The way the 49ers’ defense fell apart after he left can’t be ignored — from four consecutive years in the top five in yards to 29th, 32nd and 24th the past three seasons.
The Bears’ defense seems a little more on the upswing. It is nowhere near as established as Fangio’s 49ers teams, but it has plenty of room to grow under any qualified coordinator.
But with or without Fangio, Nagy’s early work in building a coaching staff has been impressive, on paper. Nagy’s 10 seasons working under Andy Reid, and the connections that come with that experience, already seem to be paying off.
There’s no doubt that Nagy’s experience with Chiefs’ special-teams coordinator Dave Toub played a role in hiring Chris Tabor from the Browns for the same position here.
Tabor was highly regarded in his three seasons as an assistant to the esteemed Toub with the Bears (2008-10) and has built an impressive resume in seven seasons with the Browns. That he was retained by three different coaches — Rob Chudzinski, Mike Pettine and Hue Jackson — says plenty.
As big as it was to get a coordinator in Tabor, the hiring of Harry Hiestand as offensive-line coach came with even more universal acclaim.
Hiestand is acknowledged by many as the best in the business, a compliment that is thrown around way too casually, but Hiestand has a resume that backs it up. Not only at Notre Dame but in five seasons with the Bears.
In fact, Hiestand was the offensive-line coach for Illinois’ 2001 Sugar Bowl team (10-2), the best Illinois team since 1989. He was also a part of the Bears’ 2006 Super Bowl team and Notre Dame’s 2012 team that reached the national championship game. It’s unlikely that’s coincidence.
New offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich doesn’t quite have those credentials and will be in the NFL for the first time. But he is not without acclaim.
He was the offensive coordinator for Chip Kelly’s powerhouse Oregon teams, and in his second year as the Oregon head coach, he took the Ducks to the national championship game with Marcus Mariota. Only after Mariota left did Helfrich struggle to maintain Kelly’s success, yet another “it’s all about the quarterback” lesson that should be included in every story about the coaching staff.
Helfrich’s most important qualification is that he is a good fit for Nagy’s offense and quarterback Mitch Trubisky. And it is a position he has been in before, working under a coach who calls the plays.
There are several positions left to fill, but Fangio’s decision is the big one. A first-time NFL head coach arguably needs experience and expertise most with the two coordinators opposite his side of the ball and the offensive line coach. There’s a long way to go, but early indications are that Nagy knows what he is doing.
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