Vic Fangio has been one of the best defensive minds in the game for a very long time. He orchestrated a defense that made a Super Bowl in San Francisco as well as one that led the league in almost every statistical category this past year with the Chicago Bears. Khalil Mack referred to him as their “evil genius” after shutting down the Los Angeles Rams’ high powered offense earlier this season.
Well, the evil genius is packing his bags and heading to Denver to the loud groans of Bears fans. John Elway and the Denver Broncos have announced that they will name Vic Fangio their new head coach.
This is not the end of the world, however. The Bears are still stacked on defense talent-wise and should be returning most of, if not all, of their starters. A coach makes a huge difference, no doubt about that, but this defense is full of so many young playmakers that it would be hard to argue that they will regress all that much.
Will they lead the league in interceptions, turnovers, rushing yards allowed, rushing touchdowns given up, and passer rating allowed? That would be hard to repeat if Fangio were to return, let alone with anyone else. Nonetheless, this is still a very young, dominant defense so it should not be difficult to attract the top names available for the opening. While the chances of hiring a coordinator from within are high, let’s take a look at four possible outside names that can end up coaching this defense after the departure of Vic Fangio.
Relationships and history matter when deciding on hiring coaches in the NFL. If the Bears want a familiar face to join the coaching staff then they can potentially look at Steve Wilks, the man who was just fired as the Head Coach of the Arizona Cardinals. Wilks was the Bears’ defensive backs from 2006-2008, before heading to the San Diego Chargers under the same title from 2009-2011. He went to the Carolina Panthers and Ron Rivera in 2012 as the defensive backs coach again before being promoted to assistant head coach in 2015, and eventually defensive coordinator in 2017.
From a scheme standpoint, Wilks has run primarily 4-3 defenses, but he does have some experience in 3-4 sets from his days with the Chargers. After success in Carolina, he became the head coach of the Cardinals last year. Unfortunately for him, the Cardinals and rookie quarterback Josh Rosen went a dreadful 3-13 this season and Wilks was fired.
Wilks perhaps is one of those guys who is better suited as a coordinator rather than as a head coach and he can find himself back in Chicago for that very reason.
Similarly to Wilks, Pagano has head coaching experience, but may be better off as a coordinator. He coached the Indianapolis Colts from 2012-2017 where he was 53-43 and 3-3 in the playoffs.
What got him into that position with the Colts was his defensive history. He served as a defensive assistant on the Baltimore Ravens from 2008-2011. He was initially the defensive backs coach for the first two years before taking over the defense completely in 2011. That 2011 Ravens defense ranked third in points per game, giving up only 16.6. They reached the AFC Championship, but ultimately came up short against the Denver Broncos.
Pagano can possibly find himself another head coaching gig, but if he is unable to do so, finding a team in need of defensive coordinator may be the move.
Hurtt is a name that is being thrown around lately in talks with potential candidates for this Bears defensive coordinator position. I mean, the guy’s name is Hurtt, he was born to coach an NFL defense. His name should also ring a bell, pun intended, for Bears fans as he was the Bears’ assistant defensive line coach in 2014 and outside linebackers coach in 2015-16.
He was in place when the Bears were first converting to a 3-4 after Mel Tucker, and is now the assistant head coach on the Seattle Seahawks. He should still be familiar with most of the defensive coaches on the team so it would not be surprising to see him back.
Joseph is another former head coach on this list and was recently fired by the Denver Broncos after posting a record of 11-21 in two seasons. In his defense, trying to win football games with the likes of Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, Case Keenum, and Brock Osweiler is not exactly a walk in the park.
Joseph’s defensive background goes back to 2005, when he got his start as an assistant defensive backs coach on the San Francisco 49ers. He quickly took over that role as he was the defensive backs coach from 2006-10. He then would take on the same role with the Houston Texans from 2011-13. The Cincinnati Bengals were his next stop as he was their defensive backs coach between 2014-15.
He was named defensive coordinator of the Miami Dolphins in 2016, but would only hold that for one year as he landed the head coaching position of the Broncos in 2017. It would be ironic to see Vic Fangio and Joseph essentially swap positions, but it is something that can happen.
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Photo credit: Darron Cummings, AP