Earlier this week, Bears coach Matt Nagy regaled reporters with a few stories about Broncos coach Vic Fangio, his defensive coordinator last season.
Nagy partially acted out the stoic Fangio jumping in the air and spiking the ball when the defense made a play in practice. On Wednesday, Fangio had the opportunity to tell his side of the story.
"I don't remember," said Fangio during a conference call with the Chicago media. "I don't know what he's talking about."
While they may disagree on that story, the two coaches have generously praised each other in the week leading up to their first faceoff as head coaches. Nagy called Fangio a stabilizing force in his first season as a head coach. Fangio credited Nagy's mind for play-calling and strategy.
"I think he's very versatile," said Fangio, "in that he can be committed to throwing it a lot or running it a lot or mixing it up. I think he's a guy who will do whatever it takes. I don't think he does one way of doing things. He's going to do whatever is best for the team to move the ball. He has a good imagination with how he goes about it. Each and every week, they put together a different game plan from week-to-week, use their versatile players, and run their offense. They've got a lot of nice players there that can be moved around and be versatile and play in different spots, and he's a good guy to have that on his plate because he knows how to use it."
It's no secret that many of the players on the Bears have a more extensive history with Fangio than they do with Nagy. Fangio arrived in 2015, with John Fox. Fangio transformed the defense to the point that when Fox was let go, Fangio stayed. He has left his stamp on the team, but as the Broncos head coach, he won't claim it.
"It's the Bears' defense," said Fangio, "not mine. It was the Bears' defense when I was there. But I have a lot of fondness and good memories of being with those players. I really liked being around them on a daily basis. And that's something that I'll never forget, and I appreciate that situation was there for me."
Fangio spoke glowingly of the discovery that Eddie Jackson, who missed much of the draft process and rookie camp recovering from a broken leg, was going to be far better than a typical fourth-round pick.
"Definitely within the first week, maybe three days or so that I said to (then Bears defensive backs coach) Ed Donatell, ‘This guy's really going to be good,’" said Fangio. "And Ed kind of got a little taken back. 'Well, how can you tell already? Ya know? Jeez, you want to crown him or something.' I said, 'I can just tell. This guy's got it.'"
Fangio's instinct proved correct, as Jackson established himself as an All-Pro safety during his second season in the league.
After linebacker Leonard Floyd's two-sack game against the Packers, he took the opportunity to remind reporters of his support for the former first-round pick.
"I told you guys time-and-time again that he's a really good player," said Fangio. "He's had some injuries that slowed him down early in his career, but they knew what they were doing when they gave him that fifth-year option. He's a hell of a football player, and he's going to continue to have a hell of a career, and he'll just keep getting better and better."
Fangio worked with 10 of the 11 defensive starters that the Bears will take to Denver. He accepted the Broncos job before the arrival of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Notable for this week, one of the first arrivals in Fangio's tenure was linebacker Danny Trevathan, fresh off winning a Super Bowl--for the Broncos.
"Danny's a very positively emotional guy," said Fangio. "He's totally into the team. He wants the team to do well. He wants to be a leader, and he is just because of the way he plays and his emotional fire and the intensity with which he plays. He's a contagious guy in that regard besides being a hell of a football player."
Fangio even discussed his connection to the man who replaced him, Chuck Pagano. The two coaches spent two seasons together on the Baltimore Ravens' staff, and Fangio is a fan of his erstwhile colleague.
"Chuck's a good man, and he'll do a great job with those guys," said Fangio. "I'm sure he'll put his spin on it. With the players he has, they're capable of operating in his defense."