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Chicago Bears new DC Pagano knows he’s got a winner

January 25, 2019

Make no mistake, Bears new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano knows he’s been dealt a winning hand.

“It’s an opportunity of a lifetime,” said Pagano, who was the Colts’ head coach for six years (2012-17) before he was fired and took a year off in 2018. “(After) 33 years in coaching and then sitting out last year, I can’t tell you how excited I am to be back on the grass, and at such a special, special place. I’m very, very grateful, and I’m thankful and very excited obviously to be a Bear.”

Pagano takes over a Bears defense that led the NFL in takeaways, interceptions, fewest points and rushing yards allowed, three-and-out percentage and lowest passer rating allowed. It is a unit that’s been four years in the making, with Vic Fangio coordinating and G.M. Ryan Pace procuring the personnel. Fangio parlayed his success into the Broncos’ head-coaching position, leaving Pagano to play a pat hand.

“There’s a ton of talent here,” the 58-year-old Pagano said. “They’ve built one heckuva roster on defense. There are impact players at all three levels. So we’ll always do the best that we can to put them in the best possible position to be successful and play to their strengths.”

But Pagano didn’t take the job to maintain the status quo. And, while face-to-face meetings between coaches and players are prohibited at this time of year, he has reached out to defensive players and gotten from them a strong sense that they want more.

“All of them (were) saying, ‘We can be better; I can get better,’ ” Pagano said. “We will continue to have those conversations. Our goal and our mindset will be to come in here and get better every single day at something. We will be intentional, and we will be deliberate with everything that we do.”

How much better can they be? Pagano isn’t putting any limits on what the Bears’ defense can accomplish.

“Our vision for this defense is to be the best,” he said. “Can we be the best in the history of the game? The pieces are there, and they will continue to add pieces. Can we continue to be better than we were last year? Absolutely. It’s going to be very, very difficult and a huge challenge, but one we will be up for.”

While Pagano has only just begun studying cut-ups of individual players and film of last season’s games, he’s got a general idea of how to go about improving an already-exceptional product.

His basic philosophy?

“Wreak havoc,” Pagano said. “And be calculated about it. (We) want to be aggressive; want to dictate the tempo, but (we put) a premium on fundamentals and technique. Put a premium on (taking away) the ball. Nobody did it better than the Bears last year, with 36 takeaways and 27 interceptions.

″(It’s also about) affecting the quarterback, stopping the run, (and) getting them in third-and-long, so we can be creative, so we can be aggressive. And at the end of the day, the bottom line is having fun. Guys want to do that. The philosophy is: KILL. Keep It Likable (and) Learnable.’ That’s an acronym.”

Pagano’s philosophy doesn’t sound much different than Fangio’s or most other defensive coordinators, at least those partial to the 3-4 base scheme that both defensive coaches have always preferred.

“There’s a lot of carryover,” Pagano said. “I come from a 3-4 background and system. So we’re not gonna try to jam square pegs into round holes. There’ll be some things from a terminology standpoint that I’ll have to learn and I’ll put the onus on myself and the new coaches to try to make it as seamless of a transition as possible for the players.”

Pagano said he prefers in many cases that he learn terminology familiar to the players he’s inherited, rather than forcing an entire roster to learn a new language. That’s in line with his desire to let players play, especially those who have already proven their ability when allowed to do what they do best.

“It will give these guys a chance to play fast,” Pagano said. “We don’t want to ankle weight them, and we don’t want to bog them down, and we don’t want them out there thinking.

“That’s another way that we will be better and we will grow as we eliminate all of the gray (areas), have great communication from front to back, (and have) everybody on the same page. We’ve got a bunch of swagger in that room, and I believe in swag, and I believe in confidence, and I believe in letting guys play and not making them robots.”

Spoken like a man who knows he’s sitting on pocket aces.

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