BOURBONNAIS – “It’s what I do. It’s what I love to do.”Thirty-three straight years, man, and you don’t have it, you don’t have a team? My family, my wife, my kids don’t have anybody to root for. Now we’ve got a team again.
“So I’m back coaching. You’re at the grass roots level again. And again, it’s as good a situation as I could have ever came into.
“I’m truly blessed to be here.”
So says Chuck Pagano.
When it was first announced that Vic Fangio would be leaving Chicago to take the Denver Broncos head coaching job, Bears fans seemed sure the sky was falling.
But Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace never blinked. As disappointed as they may have been to lose one of the game’s best defensive minds, they also knew Pagano was the perfect choice to fill Fangio’s shoes.
After telling us how he feels about being here, Pagano also talked about just how good this Bears defense is regardless of who’s running it.
“The football IQ is off the charts in the room. Obviously coach Fangio did a great job of building that,” Pagano said. “They built one heck of a roster, and again, they put together a group of men and we’ve got depth at all three positions, all three levels.
“They love ball but they’re smart. And so it’s been easy to implement and put the scheme together and we’ve thrown a lot at them and a lot’s stuck, so that’s a good thing.”
You’ve probably heard by now how after waiting 27 years through 11 different coaching stops in college and the NFL, Pagano finally got his first head job with the Indianapolis Colts in 2012 only to be diagnosed with Leukemia four weeks into the season.
After 12 weeks of treatments he returned with his cancer in remission to lead his team in a wild-card loss to the Ravens.
Pagano’s Colts then claimed back-to-back AFC South titles in 2013 and 2014, but after his 33-15 regular-season start and a 3-3 record in the playoffs, they struggled over the next three seasons with back-to-back 8-8 seasons and then fell to 4-12 in 2017 with Andrew Luck out for the season.
Pagano was fired.
It was being away from the game in 2018 that clearly tortured Pagano and led to his emotional statement Thursday about how important it is to him to be back.
Obviously one week into training camp it’s far too early to know if Pagano will get as much out of this Bears defense as Fangio did, but they are dominating so far and Nagy admits they’re so good it’s making it hard on his offense.
“Yeah, Ryan [Pace] and I were just talking about that,” Nagy said. “I don’t think there is any other defense in the NFL that I’d rather go against in practice every day.
“These guys fly around, they do different things and it makes us better.
“But see the balance now is making sure that me, as a head coach, that if there is any frustration with the offense because it’s different things that we are seeing, that we don’t get frustrated, you know, and make that affect the next play.”
Nagy also added, “I will say this: Coming into this training camp, they’re way past where I thought they were going to be.”
Pagano and Fangio were together on the Baltimore Ravens staff as position coaches in 2008 and 2009 and they have a lot in common.
The one notable difference may be that Pagano likes to blitz and play man-to-man coverage a little more, but he’s not planning any significant changes for the Bears defense this season.
“Yeah, it’s you know, it’s our job to put them in the best position to be successful,” Pagano said. “If we slow them down, and they’re out there thinking and they can’t play fast, then that’s on me.
“We can’t do that, we’ve got too good of players to do that, so it’s a fine line there.”
As early as it is, it appears Pagano is in fact the perfect guy to pick up right where Fangio left off.