A fiery halftime speech full of curse words was coordinator Mel Tucker’s crowning achievement during a dreadful two years running the Bears’ defense.
Tucker’s tirade happened in Week 12 of last season, and several defensive players said it served as inspiration in a victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Lovie Smith, the beloved former Bears coach whose legacy cast a shadow over every step of Tucker’s brief stay in Chicago.
Replacing Smith, and to a lesser extent previous defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, was an impossible feat for Tucker, regardless of how much he kept the defense same, improved his defensive staff in 2014 or was commended by Marc Trestman. Doubts about the players’ buy-in and Tucker’s know-how lingered from his hiring.
Fast-forward to today — and past all the mind-numbing failure of the two worst defensive seasons in team history — and it’s obvious that new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is having a different beginning.
There are no “Lovie leaders” to win over, no scheme to keep the same. Fangio and coach John Fox have buy-in from the get-go.
“Everything is different,” end-turned-outside-linebacker Jared Allen said. “It’s kind of a fresh start. In defenses I’ve been in over the years overall, and being in this scheme, this is a fun defense to play in.
“There’s a high-level of accountability for everybody, and I’ve always felt that breeds greatness. There are no excuses. Either you are right or you are wrong, and you have the freedom to make plays. The sky is the limit for us.”
To rise to such levels, Fangio would seem to need better talent than what Tucker had. But there’s also the belief that Fangio’s expertise will make a difference. His players — who know all about Fangio’s four consecutive top-five defenses with the San Francisco 49ers — seem to think so as he installs his version of the 3-4.
“Vic is the ultimate defensive coach,” outside linebacker Sam Acho said. “He loves defense. He loves schemes, and he’s a great teacher. That’s what I love about him. He understands the game. He understands how to teach it to us as players on a very basic level where we can play on a high level.”
That’s high praise from a player who was part of Arizona Cardinals defenses that ranked seventh and fifth in scoring the last two years.
Outside linebacker Pernell McPhee feels the same. He joins the Bears after four seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, who have a long history of strong defenses. Fangio’s ingenuity stands out for him.
“He is very creative,” McPhee said. “It might not look like it sometimes because of the schemes, but [it’s] really aggressive. So every time, when I think about it, even when I watch the practice film, I’ll be like, ‘Damn, This guy is really creative.’ ”
The Bears are learning there’s brilliance in the instruction. With Fangio, there isn’t much huffing and puffing or bemoaning of missed assignments — but there are thorough explanations. Acho, Allen, McPhee and inside linebackers Shea McClellin and Christian Jones have all said it.
Fangio’s installation of his 3-4 defense has been meticulous and patient — as it has to be with several players learning new positions. Under Tucker, there were veteran players correcting assistants.
“It’s just a different approach with different coaches,” said Allen, who specifically mentioning position coach Clint Hurtt. “They’re going to teach you where, what, why and how you’re supposed to be there.
“For me, that makes it easy. … It’s almost methodical. But at the same time, they’re going to test you. They’re going to put you in some situations that are going to be a little stressful, and they want to see how you react as a football player.”
A sense of belief comes with it.
“It’s real exciting,” Jones said. “Everybody knows about the success that Coach Fox and Coach Vic have had with their other teams.”