Sean Desai was named Bears defensive coordinator less than a month ago. But he already knows exactly what type of identity he wants the defense to establish in 2021.
"It's going to be something that's palpable," Desai said Monday during a video call with reporters, "whether you're watching the tape, whether you're watching at home or whether you're in the stadium, and a thing that you can feel: our physicalness. You can feel toughness, you can feel discipline, you can feel a sense of swarming to the ball and finishing. Those are the things that we're going to be able to hang our hats on."
Desai, 37, has worn many hats since joining the Bears in 2013. The only holdover from Marc Trestman's coaching staff, he has served as a defensive quality control assistant (2013-18) and safeties coach (2019-20) under a trio of coordinators in Mel Tucker, Vic Fangio and Chuck Pagano.
As a quality control coach, Desai worked with linebackers and defensive backs while also assisting on special teams. The knowledge he gained by interacting with so many different players and coaches enhanced his candidacy to replace the retiring Pagano.
"Part of that growth process is really just learning in every role that I've been assigned to," Desai said. "And the good thing about the roles I've been assigned to is all those coaches and coordinators have given me different spots and different areas of responsibility, so I was able to really get a good picture of the defense and how to build a defense.
"To be a quality control [coach] in the NFL was a great opportunity. To learn the whole defense from the guy who's installing it and responsible for it—whether it was Mel, Vic or Chuck—you have a different view on the hows and whys of things, and I really tried to take advantage of that in those roles."
“My career has been defined by learning from a lot of different people and then applying it to my own philosophies and beliefs. I think that’s one of the reasons why coach [Matt Nagy] promoted me.” New Bears DC Sean Desai
Fangio has had the most significant impact on Desai, but the new Bears defensive coordinator will mesh what he's learned from other coaches as well.
"Vic has been my biggest mentor in the NFL," Desai said. "But that doesn't mean there haven't been other mentors in the NFL as well, from the Mels and the Chucks as coordinators and then even position coaches. I think the biggest thing I'll take from Vic is going to be my preparation and my approach to the game, the buy-in I'm going to get from the players and how to do that, teaching people the whys. But there's going to be things I'm going to take from Mel in terms of the organization and the detail and planning and Chuck in terms of the relationships and his ability to communicate. So all those things.
"My career has been defined by learning from a lot of different people and then applying it to my own philosophies and beliefs. I think that's one of the reasons why coach [Matt Nagy] promoted me. I think he saw that. And we're going to have a clear and distinct vision and we're going to have an identity that our players are going to know and embrace, and I hope everybody in Chicago is able to identify and embrace it without it being told. I think they're going to be able to relate to that identity."
Desai feels especially fortunate to have absorbed so much from Fangio.
"He's one of the smartest football minds I've been around," Desai said. "For me to be in a role where I could assist him and really learn from him directly was really fortunate ... He was great to serve as a mentor and he was very patient with my questions and taught me a lot about how and why the things he was wanting to do would happen and take place. I was really lucky to have that."
Desai was also lucky to sit next to Fangio in the press box throughout the 2018 season, watching him coordinate a defense that led the NFL in points per game (17.7) and takeaways (36) and ranked third in total yards per contest (299.7).
"I had a front row seat of him calling the game," Desai said. "I sat next to him, so I was able to reflect on every game, within the game and after the game of why certain things happened, certain situations, why he called that.
"Now, does that mean I'm going to do it the same way? No. Would he want me to do it the same way? No. This is going to be Sean Desai's defense.
"The 2018 defense was the best defense in 2018, and our goal is to be the best defense in 2021. I think that's what our players are going to embrace and understand. And that's what we want to do. We don't want to look in the rear-view mirror in terms of what could've and should've been. We want to look forward and really embrace that as a challenge to be the best defense in the league next year. And I think we're going to have the tools and the players and the teaching and the coaching to do that."
The coaching staff for next season is set. Take a look at the Bears' new and returning coaches heading into 2021.