When Bears general manager Ryan Pace said Chuck Pagano “checks all the boxes” for what the Bears were looking for in a replacement for defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, he immediately was asked, “Like what?” And Pace hardly broke stride.
“The aggressive personality. He’s a great person. He’s a great evaluator. He’s had success in the past,” Pace said. “He’s great dealing with people. He’s very collaborative. Those are all things that kept coming up the more we met with him or talked about him. That’s exciting. I think it’ll be good for our defense.”
That’s all good, but one Pagano trait could loom particularly important as the inheritor of a defense that ranked No. 1 in several key categories — including points allowed, yards allowed per play, rushing yards and interceptions — has a game-wrecker in Khalil Mack and an average age of 25.7 years: He’s smart enough to not mess too much with a good thing.
“Chuck, he understands what he’s getting into here player-wise,” Nagy said. “That when you’re surrounded by good players, a lot of times it’s the players and not the plays. Chuck has a lot of experience. He gets that, and he’ll do everything he can to keep this thing rolling.”
Continuity is everything as the Bears try to build on the momentum of Fangio’s lordship that took the Bears’ defense from 31st in points allowed the season before he arrived in 2015 to first in 2018. Nagy could have promoted secondary coach Ed Donatell — a long-time Fangio assistant — and almost ensured a smooth transition. Instead, he took a shot at taking the Bears’ defense a step further by hiring Pagano from the outside.
“Ed’s a guy that has done a lot of good things for us, and we have a lot of respect for him,” said Nagy, who still hopes to re-sign Donatell. “But we need to do whatever’s best for this organization, the players, the coaches and wait it out and you see how it fits.”
The 58-year-old Pagano’s NFL résumé isn’t nearly as extensive as Fangio’s — nine years as a secondary coach with the Browns, Raiders and Ravens; one year as a defensive coordinator with the Ravens in 2011; and six years as head coach of the Colts from 2012 to ’17. But it’s enough that Nagy feels comfortable giving Pagano the virtual free reign he gave Fangio, which allowed Nagy to concentrate on the offense.
“We’re going to start building our relationship day-by-day just like Vic and I did,” Nagy said. “He’ll have to gain trust, and I’ll have to gain trust back and forth with each other. I feel like it’ll be a pretty seamless transition.”
Still, as with any change, there will be an adjustment phase. And Nagy didn’t discount the possibility of a step back initially before hopefully regaining their stride.
“We’ll have to monitor that over OTAs and into training camp,” Nagy said. “But any time you have a change like this, it’s not like going into Year 5 with the same defense. That’s expected. It’s about how fast you can get it back up [to speed].”
But the Pagano hire is all about enhancing what Fangio built. Under Fangio, the Bears were disciplined, balanced, steady and didn’t take too many chances. But there always seemed to be room for a little more aggressiveness without losing that discipline. Pagano likely will try to find that sweet spot.
“He has an attacking mentality,” Nagy said. “He is aggressive, but as we talk about all the time, be calculated, too. You’ve got to be smart with it. But he’s been in this league for a while. He’s had a lot of success. The more we talked, the more I felt that this is a really good, perfect fit for us. Just really looking forward to it and excited for it.”