Having listened to his new boss heap praise on him, Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio walked to a podium Thursday with a wry smile.
“All right,” he said, “let’s continue this love-fest.”
And so capped a 2½-week period that might have proved better for Fangio’s Q-Score than for anyone else’s inside Halas Hall.
He interviewed for the Bears’ head-coaching job Jan. 3 — only after, he said, receiving assurances from general manager Ryan Pace that the meeting wouldn’t make life awkward for whomever the Bears eventually chose — and became a free agent the next week.
Fangio admitted that he weighed a return against other NFL coordinator vacancies in terms of team, scheme and quality of life. He never moved his things out of his Halas Hall office, but joked that he had been “doing that slowly.”
After five days of wooing from new coach Matt Nagy and hand-wringing from Bears fans who’d watched him build the defense up from a sieve to a top-10 unit, Fangio agreed to return last Friday on a deal that, salary-wise, puts him in the upper echelon of NFL coordinators.
While the Bears have been careful to paint Nagy as the coach of all 53 players, not just the offense, it’s clear Fangio will carry considerable weight. The Bears are expected to keep his defensive coaching staff intact, at his insistence.
Asked if he would have any increased authority, Fangio, who at times clashed with defensive-minded former coach John Fox, threw a subtle jab.
“Not really,” he said. “John really let me do everything anyway, so I don’t see much difference there.”
Fangio cracked that he had two demands during contract negotiations: a membership to Conway Farms Golf Club — and to shorten Chicago’s winters. The Bears, he joked, refused both requests.
“It’s never black and white,” he said. “It’s not a mathematical equation where you come up with the right answer. A lot of it turns out to be your gut feel, where you think the best place is, and not necessarily for the next 12 months, but for the next five, six, seven, eight years. So it was appealing to me in that way.”
Fangio, though, wasn’t up for a victory lap. He asserted that “if we were a great defense, we’d have more than five wins,” then challenged his returning players by name: defensive end Akiem Hicks, nose tackle Eddie Goldman, outside linebacker Leonard Floyd and safety Eddie Jackson.
“I know it’s always sexy to talk between now and the first game, you know, who are you going to draft, who’s in free agency?” he said. “But we’ve got to get our so-called ‘good players’ playing even better.”
Fangio’s positive relationship with Pace and his belief the Bears can win with quarterback Mitch Trubisky contributed to his desire to return, too. Nagy said he respected Fangio’s body of work but wanted to get to know him before cutting a deal.
“The second Vic and I sat down and started talking, it was easy for me to tell that this thing could work,” he said. “I wanted him to feel comfortable with me, as well, and that this isn’t a one-way street. . . . We talked through our different philosophies, and I love what he’s all about.”
Asked about his own defensive philosophy, the former Chiefs offensive coordinator half-jokingly boiled it down to five words.
“Don’t let teams score points,” he said.
Fangio will try to oblige. He’d rather be the head coach, of course, but his new arrangement might be the next-best thing.
“People have a picture in their mind of what they want [in a head coach], what they’re looking for, and, you know, obviously I haven’t met that criteria to those people who are looking,” Fangio said. “And I don’t take it personal. I don’t think I’m any less deserving or less qualified.
“I know I do a hell of a job, but I don’t take it personal.”
Follow me on Twitter @patrickfinley.