From a talent perspective, Chuck Pagano is walking into an ideal situation for his first gig as a defensive coordinator in eight years.
The Bears have only three members of their best-in-the-league 2018 unit hitting free agency: Slot corner Bryce Callahan, safety Adrian Amos and outside linebacker Aaron Lynch. Callahan and Amos are both starters, but focusing on them too much may miss the point.
Returning to the Bears in 2019: Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Khalil Mack, Leonard Floyd, Danny Trevathan, Roquan Smith, Kyle Fuller, Eddie Jackson and Prince Amukamara. Depth pieces like Roy Robertson-Harris and Sherrick McManis played well, too, when they were on the field in 2018.
So the most important thing to note with the hiring of Pagano, which the Bears announced Friday night, is the wealth of talent with which he’ll have to work. He’s coached talent before — like when he was the Baltimore Ravens’ defensive coordinator in 2011, a team that featured future Hall of Famers in Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs, as well as an All-Pro in Haloti Ngata.
And here’s what Pagano said prior to that 2011 season, when he was promoted from being the Ravens’ defensive backs coach to defensive coordinator:
"They’ve been playing great defense here long before any of us got here, and they’ll be playing great defense long after I’m gone," Pagano said. "They’ve always been an attacking, swarming, tough, physical, hard-nosed group of men that has great passion. And so my philosophy is their philosophy. Let’s go out and wreak havoc and play Ravens defense, just the way they’ve played for many, many years around here."
One would imagine Pagano will take a similar approach to replacing Vic Fangio as the coordinator of this Bears’ defense, even if he’s an external hire.
While Pagano’s defenses in Indianapolis never finished higher than 13th in DVOA during his six-year stint with the Colts, he engendered plenty of respect from players during his time there. Linebacker Jerrell Freeman — who played for Pagano in Indianapolis and Fangio in Chicago — tweeted on Friday:
Great pick up...I love me some Chuck! https://t.co/xbojzV73nF— Jerrell Freeman (@JerrellFreeman) January 12, 2019
Were those Colts defenses the product of years of mismanagement by general manager Ryan Grigson, who took only one defensive player with a first-round pick during Pagano’s tenure (and it was defensive end Bjoern Werner, who lasted only three years in the league)? Or was Pagano culpable as the head coach? Or was it somewhere in between? What lessons did he learn from his time as a head coach that he can apply to his second stint as a defensive coordinator?
We’ll start to know the answers to those questions in the coming weeks, months and years. But for now, Pagano also seems to fit the sort of culture Matt Nagy has worked to established over the last year, something the coach pointed to in a statement released in announcing the hire.
“We are excited to add Chuck to our staff as defensive coordinator,” Nagy said. “He has successful experience at many different levels in this league and he is a great teacher with an aggressive mentality that fits our style of football. He is a man of high character and has a passion for the game that will no doubt add to the culture we have already started building at Halas Hall.”
Back when Pagano was hired by the Colts in 2012, one of his former players with the Ravens vouched for how much he cares about the guys he coaches. For someone replacing Fangio, who was wildly popular inside Halas Hall, that counts for something.
"What makes him good? He relates to the players a whole lot," defensive end Cory Redding said "He's almost like a player in a D-coordinator's position. The guy has so much fun with us. He treats you like more than a player. It's like we're his sons. He wants us to do well. He keeps it fresh. He knows everybody's strengths and puts them in position to make plays."