ORLANDO – New Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano is eager to meet and begin working with his new players, and the feeling is mutual.
"I'm excited about him," defensive tackle Akiem Hicks said during Pro Bowl festivities in Orlando. "He sent out a message early and told us that he's excited to build with us and be part of this franchise. I know that he has a great coaching history and I look forward to being coached by him."
Pagano, 58, was hired by coach Matt Nagy to replace Vic Fangio, who left the Bears after four seasons as defensive coordinator to become head coach of the Broncos.
Pagano has 16 years of NFL coaching experience. He most recently spent six seasons as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts from 2012-17, compiling a record of 53-43 in the regular season and 3-3 in the playoffs. He led the Colts to three straight playoff appearances from 2012-14, including AFC South Division titles in 2013 and 2014, and an appearance in the 2014 AFC Championship Game.
Prior to joining the Colts, Pagano spent four seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, serving as defensive backs coach from 2008-10 and defensive coordinator in 2011.
"I'm excited to see what coach brings to the table," said safety Eddie Jackson, who is also in Orlando this week for the Pro Bowl. "He has a great background. He's coached great players, so we're very excited to work with him."
One of the great players Pagano has coached is safety Ed Reed, a nine-time Pro Bowler and five-time first-team All-Pro selection during 11 seasons with the Ravens from 2002-12.
"Ed Reed is my favorite safety, one of my favorite defensive players that I looked up to when I was young," Jackson said. "To see a guy who coached him come in and coach me, it's like a blessing. It's a dream come true."
Pagano takes over a defense that helped the Bears win the NFC North title with a 12-4 record in 2018. The unit led the NFL in fewest points per game (17.7), most takeaways (36), most interceptions (27), most interception return touchdowns (5), lowest opponent passer rating (72.9) and fewest rushing yards per game (80.0).
Hicks, Jackson, outside linebacker Khalil Mack and cornerback Kyle Fuller all were voted to the Pro Bowl, while outside linebacker Leonard Floyd and inside linebackers Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith were chosen as alternates. Safety Adrian Amos is the only defensive starter who is slated to become a free agent in March.
"We're a young team, but the young guys that we have are so mature that when you watch us on the field or in practice you don't see immaturity, you don't see guys who don't know how to handle being under stress," Hicks said. "We have a great thing built and started in Chicago and I look forward to seeing how it grows under Chuck Pagano."
Shortly after he was hired, Pagano sent text messages to several players.
"I reached out to a lot of the guys," Pagano said. "This is a great group of guys. They put together one heck of a roster. We know the talent level of this roster. But really you're looking for what makes a man tick inside, and they've done a phenomenal job of finding guys that love football and have high football character.
"We talk about like and love. The guys that like it don't last long. But it appears to me, based on the texts that I received back, that we've got a bunch of guys that love football and are committed. And that's why they're so successful.
"The culture, it all starts at the top. The culture that coach Nagy's created is phenomenal. Those guys are eager. They're excited to get back. I just told them what a privilege and honor it is to be a part of this organization and be a part of what they're trying to do."
The seven Bears players participating in this weekend's Pro Bowl return to the practice field in Orlando.