After spending 33 years as a football coach at the collegiate and pro levels, Chuck Pagano took a one-year hiatus in 2018, working as a consultant for the NFL.
Introduced Thursday at Halas Hall as the Bears’ new defensive coordinator, Pagano revealed that he’s thrilled to return to the profession he loves.
“It’s an opportunity of a lifetime,” Pagano said. “Thirty-three 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 to be a Bear.”
Pagano most recently served as Colts head coach from 2012-17, compiling a record of 53-43 in the regular season and 3-3 in the playoffs. Prior to that, he worked with the Ravens as defensive backs coach from 2008-10 and defensive coordinator in 2011.
With the Bears, Pagano replaces Vic Fangio, who left the team after four seasons as defensive coordinator to become head coach of the 49ers. Inheriting a defense that led the NFL in 2018 in several key categories, Pagano plans to mesh some of his philosophies with what the unit did under Fangio.
“There’s a lot of carry-over,” Pagano said. “I come from a 3-4 background and system, so we’re not going to try to jam square pegs into round holes. There is a ton of talent here. They’ve built one heck of a roster. They’ve built one heck of a roster on defense. There’s impact players on all three levels. We’ll do the best that we can to put them in the best possible position to be successful and play to their strengths.
“There will 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.”
In 2018, the Bears topped 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).
Four players from the Bears defense were voted to the Pro Bowl in outside linebacker Khalil Mack, tackle Akiem Hicks, cornerback Kyle Fuller and safety Eddie Jackson. Of the unit’s 11 starters, only safety Adrian Amos is slated to become a free agent in March.
Because he’s taking over such a well-established unit, Pagano isn’t planning any drastic changes, something that should help the defense pick up in 2019 where it left off in 2018.
“They did a lot of good things here,” Pagano said. “When you look at the rankings, there’s a lot of 1’s, there’s a couple 2’s, a couple 3’s. The standard is the standard. For us to just throw everything out and start anew, that would not be very smart on my part.”
In addition to coordinating one of the NFL’s top defenses, the chance to work with coach Matt Nagy was also appealing to Pagano. As soon as the two began meeting together, Pagano discovered that the great things he had heard about Nagy were true.
“The culture that he’s built and the man that he is and the person that he is, the father, all those things, it was so authentic and so genuine,” Pagano said. “It’s a people business, and coach is all about people, and he’s all about relationships. Xs and Os aside, he’s just a phenomenal person.
“It was the family, the history, this organization, the fan base—all that stuff—makes this such an attractive job. I feel like the luckiest man in the world right now.”
Pagano revealed Thursday that during his year away from coaching he spent time with his family, did some traveling and took time to “reset, recharge and reflect.” He also acknowledged that he was so bored at times that he took brand-new shirts that still had tags on them to be dry-cleaned.
“I’m a coach at heart,” Pagano said. “I’m very fortunate to have this opportunity and to get this job. When you don’t have it, it’s like players who, for whatever reason, get put on the sideline or get removed from football for a little bit and then they have another opportunity.
“They’ve got different perspective on things, and I always talk about what a privilege it is to play and coach in the National Football League and what a privilege it is to coach here and play here for the McCaskey family and for the Chicago Bears. A lot of people don’t understand. They come in and think it’s a right, you're entitled to something. That’s not it, so being away I’ve always had great perspective on things, great perspective on life, but just how fortunate we are and what a privilege this is.”