Out of the tumult of a 5-11 season that ended with the firing of coach John Fox, a best-case scenario existed for the woebegone Bears — hiring an up-and-coming, quarterback-centric head coach to develop Mitch Trubisky while still retaining Vic Fangio to take his top-10 defense to the next level.
While it’s way too early for a victory lap, the Bears can at least -revel in a plan that on paper couldn’t be working out much better. Four days after 39-year-old Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy was hired to replace Fox, Fangio re-signed with the Bears as defensive coordinator.
Fangio, 59, will sign a three-year contract, according to ESPN. He interviewed for the Bears’ head-coaching job in the wake of Fox’s firing, but the Bears clearly were intent on hiring an offensive-minded coach. The Bears also announced the signing of former Rams and -Lions wide receiver Mike Furrey as wide receivers coach.
Fangio became a free agent Tuesday — the day Nagy was introduced — after completing his previous three-year deal with the Bears and had interest from other teams. Indications were that the Bears stepped up to make Fangio one of the highest-paid coordinators in the NFL. He is the first defensive coordinator to be retained by a new Bears coach since Buddy Ryan was inherited by Mike Ditka — at George Halas’ behest — in 1982.
Fangio’s return is the key component to Nagy’s first coaching staff, a move that likely will open some eyes around the NFL and identify the Bears as a team to watch in the offseason.
With Nagy in charge of coordinating the offense, his three most important hires arguably were his defensive coordinator, special-teams coordinator and offensive line coach. Only if he had somehow stolen special-teams guru Dave Toub from the Chiefs could Nagy have done much better. Besides convincing Fangio to return, Nagy hired Chris Tabor from the Browns as special-teams coordinator and lured Harry Hiestand from Notre Dame as offensive line coach.
Nagy still has several coaching positions to fill, but Fangio’s return is somewhat of a clincher. It provides continuity for a defense that has improved from 30th in yards allowed the year before Fangio arrived to 10th last year; from 17th to 11th in rushing; 30th to seventh in passing; 17th to sixth in sacks; and 31st to ninth in points allowed. And it also is likely to convince position coaches to return, including defensive line coach Jay Rodgers, secondary coach Ed Donatell and inside linebackers coach Glenn Pires.
Fangio’s return figures to enhance the development of players who developed under his tutelage — defensive end Akiem Hicks, nose tackle Eddie Goldman, outside linebacker Leonard Floyd and safeties Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos among them. Cornerback Kyle Fuller, who had his best NFL season in 2017, is a free agent the Bears likely will try to re-sign.
Fuller and Hicks are typical of players who have prospered in Fangio’s system and likely would benefit from the continuity. When Fangio was with the 49ers, he had 10 players combine for 19 Pro Bowl berths in his four seasons. Those same 10 players have exactly one Pro Bowl berth since he left. Six of those players never made the Pro Bowl before they played for Fangio and haven’t made it since he left.
Whether or not that’s a coincidence, the “Vic Fangio Effect” is something the Bears valued, and retaining him is considered a big step in the right direction.
Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash.