Bears turned to Vic Fangio coaching tree when hiring Sean Desai
The Bears, though, might have plucked a coordinator off the Fangio coaching tree two years late. Since the Bears hired Chuck Pagano for an underwhelming two-year stint, the NFL has embraced Fangio’s defense as a potential solution to the next wave of eye-popping quarterbacks.
As the Bears’ defensive quality-control assistant, Sean Desai had an up-close view of coordinator Vic Fangio in the press box in 2015-18.
‘‘He sat next to me,’’ Desai said Monday. ‘‘Well, I sat next to him, I should say. He got to choose where he wanted to sit. I was just put next to him.’’
This season, he’ll be in Fangio’s seat.
When the Bears promoted Desai from safeties coach to be their defensive coordinator last month, they bet on him using all he learned from their former star coordinator. Desai is a quick study, too. Nicknamed ‘‘Doc,’’ he has a doctorate in educational administration and has taught at Lake Forest Graduate School of Management since 2016.
The Bears, though, might have plucked a coordinator off the Fangio coaching tree two years late. Since they hired Chuck Pagano for an underwhelming two-year stint, the NFL has embraced Fangio’s defense as a potential solution to the next wave of eye-popping quarterbacks.
Desai, 37, learned about relationships from Pagano and planning from then-Bears coordinator Mel Tucker in 2013-14, but it was Fangio who stuck with him the most. Desai called Fangio ‘‘my biggest mentor in the NFL’’ and ‘‘one of the smartest football minds I’ve been around.’’
Fangio’s 3-4 scheme, which successfully masks zone coverages before the snap and relies on four pass rushers to get to the quarterback, sparked the Bears to the NFL’s best defense in 2018.
‘‘I sat next to him, so I was able to reflect on every game, within the game and after the game of why certain things happened, certain situations, why he called that,’’ Desai said. ‘‘Now, does that mean I’m going to do it the same way? No. Would he want me to do it the same way? No. This is going to be Sean Desai’s defense.’’
When Fangio took the Broncos’ coaching job in January 2019, the Bears chose not to promote defensive backs coach Ed Donatell to coordinator. Donatell became Fangio’s coordinator instead. Brandon Staley, the Bears’ outside linebackers coach, followed them to Denver. Last year, the Rams hired Staley to be their defensive coordinator. Last month, the Chargers named him their coach.
Fangio’s coaching tree hasn’t reached Sean McVay levels yet — for years, it felt as though anyone who had lunch with the Rams’ coach was stamped a future offensive star — but it’s the most popular of any defensive guru.
The Packers went to the Fangio/Staley coaching tree this month when they hired former Rams assistant Joe Barry as defensive coordinator. He replaced Mike Pettine, whom the Bears named a senior defensive assistant last week. The former Browns coach and a coordinator for three teams, Pettine will help the Bears ‘‘from a big-picture perspective,’’ Desai said.
Pettine, however, will have to learn Fangio’s scheme. Desai was quick to say that scheme isn’t a fad — Fangio’s first NFL coordinator job was in 1995 — but adapts to trends.
‘‘I think we’ve got answers,’’ Desai said. ‘‘I think you’ve got tools that emphasize player productivity and really emphasize team defense. . . . We’re gonna have opportunities for a lot of guys to win in different situations, and I think that’s a valuable thing.
‘‘And I think we can put pressure on the quarterback and opposing offenses in different ways — and we’re gonna do that. And pressure doesn’t mean five-, six-, seven-man rushes. It means mental pressure. It means physical pressure.’’
With the Bears in a must-win season, Desai will face his own kind of pressure. If nothing else, the architect is only a phone call away.
‘‘The other benefit for me is I’ve got a direct line of communication to Vic to see what he’s calling on certain plays,’’ Desai said. ‘‘Not that he might give it to me, but at least I can ask.’’