Ted Monachino was immersed in recruiting as the new defensive coordinator at Kansas State in January when fate intervened.
“I had spent seven hours watching a high school wrestling tournament and I told another linebacker that we weren’t going to recruit him and I was driving back to Manhattan [Kansas] in a snowstorm, and coach [Chuck Pagano] called,” Monachino said. “I said, ‘Coach, I’m absolutely interested and I’d love to talk to you more when I get off the road.’ ”
Monachino, the former Ravens linebackers coach and Colts defensive coordinator, had taken the Kansas State job just three weeks earlier. But the opportunity with the Bears was one he couldn’t pass up.
“Kansas State was an opportunity to stay in a leadership position with a man that I have a ton of respect for in Chris Klieman,” Monachino said, referring to the first-year
K-State head coach who had won four national championships at North Dakota State. “I told Chris Klieman I would not leave K-State for a regular position job. And this obviously is not a regular position job.”
The Bears job as Pagano’s outside linebackers coach not only returned Monachino to the NFL, where he coached for 12 seasons and won a Super Bowl with the Ravens in 2012, but with a golden opportunity. Monachino inherits All-Pro linebacker Khalil Mack in his prime and a potential difference-maker in Leonard Floyd.
“It’s a big deal. It’s a very big deal,” Monachino said. “It’s a huge responsibility for me.”
Monachino’s responsibility with Mack is to take the former defensive player of the year to another level. When Monachino got the job, he met with Mack and “I made him tell me exactly how good he wanted to be,” Monachino said. Mack told him his goal was “being the best that ever played the position.”
Monachino noticed Mack’s resolute drive and focus right away. “He’s preparing every minute he’s in the building,” he said. “And as I’m getting to know Khalil better and better each day, the things that jump out at me are the football IQ things, things that make great sense to him that don’t make sense to a lot of people yet, but they will in time. He just has a really good feel for it.”
Monachino saw that when he watched Mack — a noted pass rusher — play in coverage in OTAs.
“This is a guy that doesn’t have a ton of coverage experience, but when he gets those reps in coverage, he yawns through them,” Monachino said.
“He doesn’t have a problem seeing things. He knows that if he starts in the right leverage and ends up with his eyes in the right place he’s going to have a chance in the down. So we’re not going to be afraid to use Khalil in that way. We would rather have him going forward, wrecking the game. But we’re not afraid to use him that way.”
As for Floyd, Monachino sees the obvious.
“This is a rare athlete playing the position,” he said. “I’ve coached big ones . . . smart ones . . . fast ones. I’ve never coached an athlete like this.”
But the Bears’ plan under Pagano is to enhance Floyd’s gifted physical skills by focusing on fundamentals.
“From a technique standpoint, I think that Vic [Fangio] and his staff gave Leonard a few tools in his toolbox that would help him play better,” Monachino said. “We’re going to allow him to use those tools, but we’re also going to make him do the tough stuff. We asked him to do the difficult things.’’
So far, so good.
“I’ve already seen a quantum leap from Day 1 to Day 2 [in OTAs],” Monachino said. “And I think because he wants to be really good, he’s got really wide ears and bright eyes, and he’s listening and watching everything that we’re doing.”