A short two days after Vic Fangio announced he would be leaving the Chicago Bears organization to accept a job as the head coach for the Denver Broncos, the Bears gave an answer to their fanbase. Chuck Pagano will be the next defensive coordinator in Chicago. This is a fantastic hire for the Bears. Ryan Pace and the rest of the front office moved swiftly to ensure they would get their first-choice replacement, as there are numerous other teams in the league looking for a defensive coordinator. Chuck Pagano’s name had been in circulation and also linked to teams like the Cardinals and the Jets.
Pagano has been coaching at a high level for well over 30 years. Between 1984 and 2000 he held a number of roles in various high-profile programs. Most notably, Pagano was the defensive backs coach for the Miami Hurricanes between 1995 and 2000. In 2000 Pagano’s Miami team went 11-1 and won the Sugar Bowl. In 2001, he accepted his first role as an NFL coach when he was hired by the Cleveland Browns to be a secondary coach. Pagano coached in the NFL until 2007, when he accepted a job as the defensive coordinator at the University of North Carolina. His stint with the Tar Heels was short, as he returned the NFL after one season and became the secondary coach in Baltimore. In 2011 he was promoted by the Ravens to defensive coordinator. Again, his stint was short lived, because he accepted a head coaching job in Indianapolis for the Colts. After being fired following the 2017 season Pagano sat out a year from coaching and became a consultant for the NFL before finding his way back to the Midwest as the defensive coordinator for the Bears.
There are two stints in Pagano’s coaching career that are important to examine to determine how his skills will translate in Chicago, and they are his two most recent jobs.
In 2011, as the Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator, Pagano’s defense was one of the NFL’s best. The Ravens went 12-4 in the regular season before losing in the AFC championship game to the Patriots 23-20. The Ravens would of course go on to win the Super Bowl in 2012, while still running much of Pagano’s same defense. Dean Pees, who replaced Pagano as defensive coordinator after his departure, was a linebacker coach under Pagano in the previous season. In 2011, the Ravens defense under Pagano was third in the league in yards allowed, fourth in the league in yards allowed per game, fourth in the league in passing yards allowed, second in the league in rushing yards allowed, and third in sacks. Much like the 2018 Chicago Bears, the 2011 Ravens under Pagano were ballhawks. They led the NFL in forced fumbles and touchdowns from fumbles. Pagano’s emphasis on turnovers will translate well to the Bears defense, who led the league in turnovers this season. Another interesting detail to consider, in 2011 Pagano’s star players on defense were Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. Having coached Hall of Fame linebackers and Safeties in the past may be beneficial to Roquan Smith and Eddie Jackson. As Smith will look to build on his strong rookie season, it will be interesting to see how Pagano uses him having coached a strong defense with a star linebacker in the past. Pagano’s inside knowledge of Ed Reed will also help Eddie Jackson as the 26-year-old furthers his development into one of the NFL’s best secondary players.
In Indianapolis, Pagano led the Colts to three consecutive playoff appearances in six seasons. He won two AFC South Championships and posted an overall record of 53-43 during his tenure. In 2012 and 2015, the Colts were a top three defense in the league in forced fumbles under Pagano, adding to his track record of turnover oriented defenses. The 2016 Colts defense was third in the league in yards allowed.
Pagano’s most recent jobs have overall been quite successful. His firing in Indianapolis can arguably be blamed more so on Andrew Luck’s unfortunate injuries than it can Pagano. While Luck was the Quarterback in Indianapolis, the Colts finished with at least 10 wins in every season that Luck completed. In 2015 after Luck went down with an injury after seven games, the Colts finished the seasons 8-8 and missed the playoffs. In 2016 Luck returned and played in 15 games, however he was still recovering from his earlier injury, and was sacked 41 times (more than double the 18 times he was sacked this season).The Colts again finished the season 8-8. Luck did not play at all in 2017, and the Colts went 4-12. 2017 was the first season the Colts finished with a sub .500 record under Pagano, and it was clearly because he did not have his star quarterback on an otherwise under-talented team. If Pagano would have been kept coaching the Colts again this year, it is likely they would have performed very similarly to how they actually are performing now with Luck at the helm. The firing of Pagano in Indianapolis seemed like a quick trigger but is one the Bears will certainly benefit from.
Off the field, Pagano is an even better person than he is a coach. In September 2012, not long after accepting the head coaching job in Indianapolis, Pagano was diagnosed with Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia. After months of grueling treatment, it was announced that Pagano’s cancer was in remission later that year and Pagano resumed coaching duties. His battle with cancer led Pagano to create the ChuckStrong Foundation, which has raised upwards of $4 million in funding for cancer research. Pagano will certainly represent the Bears in a top-class manner both on and off the field.
Chuck Pagano is one of the better defensive minds available to hire this offseason. He will inherit the leagues’ strongest defense and will likely help them continue that trend. While he is no Vic Fangio, he is a strong replacement. This is an exciting hire for a Bears team that will be thrilling to watch in seasons to come.