John Pagano

John Pagano forges unique path while staying in the family business

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USATI

John Pagano forges unique path while staying in the family business

ALAMEDA – John Pagano was born into the coaching profession. His father Sam was a legendary high school coach in Boulder, Colorado. His older brother Chuck rapidly rose through the NFL ranks and has been Indianapolis Colts head coach since 2012.

John idolized them both, and was determined to follow in their footsteps without riding coattails. He didn’t want favoritism from his family, nor did he get it. John Pagano has forged his own path to this current post as a Raiders assistant head coach and the Silver and Black’s defensive play caller. It’s a long one. John Pagano has been an NFL assistant coach since 1996, though most of those 22 years were spent in one spot.

He coached 15 seasons for the then San Diego Chargers, the tenure’s last third as defensive coordinator. He was let go last offseason after Anthony Lynn was hired, and Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio snatched him up quickly as an assistant head coach on defense.

He absorbed play-calling duties when Ken Norton Jr. got fired. It isn’t expected to be a temporary post. Del Rio said he could envision Pagano sticking around, which will allow him to really make a mark on this defense.

Pagano comes from his family’s coaching tree, but considers Wade Phillips key in shaping his defensive philosophy. Pagano worked under Phillips from 2004-06 in San Diego, and considers that an important time in his growth as a coach.

“I learned a lot from my father and my brother, but the biggest influence is probably Wade Phillips,” Pagano said on this week’s episode of the Raiders Insider Podcast, which focused on Pagano’s coaching influences and philosophy. “Understanding how he talked to the players, the philosophy of how he wanted to teach things and the opportunity he gave me (in San Diego) to grow in the National Football League. I’ve taken a lot from Wade, and what I’ve learned from him is to focus on putting guys in position to make plays. That’s our job. …Ultimately it’s about the players, and 11 guys hunting with unbelievable effort.”

John Pagano wants Raiders defenders playing fast, loose and aggressive. His message: Do simple things right. Don’t overthink. Read and react instead. See ball, get ball.

Leave the complexity to him. Pagano’s defenses should be masters of disguise, giving simple instructions complex looks. Or, in other cases, doing different things from the same look.

The immediate goal, especially since taking over as Raiders defensive play caller last week, is to unburden his guys. He simplified things heading into a victory over Denver to help the Raiders defense play faster.

“I thought they played fast,” Pagano said. “That’s what you’re looking for effort-wise. Doing simple better is a simple process. It’s doing the things back when we were kids, tackling, covering and communicating. We have to keep doing simple better. That’s our motto here these next couple weeks.”

Pagano made some defensive tweaks after taking control following Ken Norton Jr.’s firing. Cornerbacks shadowed preferred matchups. He moved Khalil Mack around the defensive front. He also made it less certain uncertain where the pass rush was coming from.

“You have to be able to disguise, to make things look very similar, whether it’s a coverage or a pressure,” Pagano said. “Our guys are starting to understand it’s about being in certain positions. It’s more than just the ball being snapped. It’s about understanding pre-snap rules and pre-snap alignments. It’s an opportunity for our guys to excel at a higher level.”

How John Pagano plans to impact Raiders defense: ‘There is always room for change’

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How John Pagano plans to impact Raiders defense: ‘There is always room for change’

ALAMEDA – John Pagano can’t implement his scheme in a week. He can’t import his plays and preferences cultivated during five seasons as Chargers defensive coordinator. Full offseason programs and training camps are required for that.

Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. was fired on Tuesday. Pagano will call his first Raiders game five days later against Denver at Oakland Coliseum. The Raiders’ assistant head coach – defense believes he can impact how the Silver and Black does business.

“There’s always room for change and there’s always room for doing things better,” Pagano said Thursday. “Without telling you our game plan, it’s about how we go out and execute the call, bottom line.”

Head coach Jack Del Rio said the Raiders weren’t playing fast enough. They weren’t creating enough turnovers, weren’t doing well enough on third down and weren’t regularly affecting the quarterback due to a lack of both rush and coverage.

That’s why Norton had to go.

Pagano’s first objective, which must get accomplished in a few days, is getting the Raiders to play with confidence. Then he can add some design wrinkles with some of his personality.

“You have to have that ability of going out there, knowing your assignment and playing faster,” Pagano said. “It’s not to say that there have been times where we’ve simplified things, but taking the thinking out of the game and making them react is, I think, most important. Going out there and playing fast and that’s doing the little extra things, the attention to details of studying and getting those things processed. See ball, go get ball.”

That last sentence sums up how Pagano wants his guys to play. He’s a quality play caller and creative blitzer with a knack making simple plays look complex. He can find and exploit opposing weak links. His defenses have always been good creating pressure and turnovers alike. The Raiders need more of both.

To do that Pagano wants to relieve a player’s mental burden and keep them focused on using talent well.

“The one thing I’ve always stressed and always been about is technique, fundamentals and unbelievable effort,” Pagano said. “I think those three things can get you home.”

The Raiders haven’t been home much as a defense. They’re tied for last with 14 sacks. They’re dead last with six turnovers. They’ve gone 10 games without an interception, the longest single-season drought in NFL history.

A lack of big defensive plays has killed the Raiders this season. It obviously increases points allowed. Good field position has been hard to come by. The offense has to earn everything the hard way. That’s a recipe for losing football, a maddening turn after the Raiders finished second with 30 takeaways last year.

Pagano has a chart listing “MOPs,” short for missed opportunities. There have been many, especially in a secondary he oversaw before this week.

“I talked to these guys this week about we need to do simple better,” Pagano said. “What is simple? It’s fundamentals of covering. It’s tackling. It’s communicating. It’s catching the ball when it comes. We’ve had opportunities. It’s not like we’re out there struggling and straining to dive and layout for the thing. It’s hit us in the hands where we’ve had many, many opportunities.”

Missed opportunities have also plagued a pass rush featuring reigning defensive player of the year Khalil Mack. Pagano brought up a moment early in Sunday’s lost to New England, when Treyvon Hester forced a fumble near three teammates that the Patriots somehow recovered.

Pagano’s goal is to improve performance. Players must buy in to do that. Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin headline a large group close to Norton, one with enough pride and professionalism to get behind a new playcaller in Pagano, who could be here long term.

“There is a human element to this,” Pagano said. “We are family. It’s sad any time a member of your family gets dismissed or something. At the end of the day, we have the Broncos coming in here on Sunday and we have to get our minds right to go play this game. That’s something that they’ve done a great job with this week, truly focusing in on what we need to do.”

How Raiders can turn to John Pagano as he faces Chargers for first time

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How Raiders can turn to John Pagano as he faces Chargers for first time

ALAMEDA – The Los Angeles Chargers have a new defensive scheme. Gus Bradley runs it and oversaw the conversion from a 3-4 to a 4-3 base front. They do different things. They obviously run different plays from different concepts.

There’s plenty of carryover in personnel. Few people know Chargers defensive personnel like John Pagano. That should be the case. Pagano was the Chargers defensive coordinator from 2012-16, and was with the Bolts in various coaching positions from 2002 until he was let go this winter.

The Raiders scooped him right up, adding a bright defensive mind to the coaching staff. Officially titled assistant head coach – defense, Pagano has worked with defensive backs in practice and has been tasked with improving defensive communication. He’s also involved in the game plan, and finding efficient ways to beat opponents.

This is the first time, however, Pagano can share inside information. Coaches always downplay such advantages, but intimate knowledge of an opponent can certainly be an asset.

“He’s a heck of a coach and a heck of a football mind; certainly knows those guys,” Raiders offensive coordinator Todd Downing said. “He was in San Diego a long, long time. He’s a point of reference, but right now the offense is focus on doing our job well and executing our assignments. Not really spending a ton of time trying to uncover little gems. We’re focused on doing our job.”

While Pagano knows the Chargers defense well, he also practiced each day against the Bolts’ offensive weapons. Pagano might have some insight on those guys, too.

“He has a little more insight to what they think or what they might see when they see us play,” defensive coordinator Ken Norton said. “Different ways they might want to attack us and things like that. So that certainly helps us out in a lot of ways to see how we want to go forward.”

Quarterback Derek Carr has a notebook filled with tendencies of every defensive coordinator he has faced. There’s a page or two on Pagano, which has prompted quarterback and coach to compare notes.

Every Wednesday, in fact. The conversations won’t change too much, even with a familiar opponent.

“It’s nothing different,” Carr said, via ESPN. “I’m not going to make the conversations any different. He and I have a great relationship, and we love talking to each other about football and things like that.”