In their end-of-season press conference Monday, Bears general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy both described Chuck Pagano as an ideal replacement for Vic Fangio.
Pagano was hired as defensive coordinator last Friday, one day after Fangio left the Bears following four seasons to become head coach of the Denver Broncos.
"It's an old cliché, but you're never staying the same; you're getting better or getting worse," Pace said. "We need to make sure we're getting better. So a guy like Chuck, the more research we did, it was almost like with Matt, everybody you talk to, it just starts bringing you in to this person. Chuck checks a lot of boxes that are exciting to be a part of."
Those boxes include Pagano as both a person and coach.
"It starts off with good people and good high character, so that's No. 1," Nagy said. "Then you get to the second part, the Xs and Os part, and everything that we talked about in the interview is really what I enjoy and what I think can be really good with this defense.
"He has an attacking style, mentality. But yet as we try to talk about all the time, be calculated too. You've got to be smart with it. He's been doing it for a long time. He's been in this league for a while. He's had a lot of success. He's been around some really, really good defenses; some really, really good players on defense. The more we talked, the more I felt that this is a really good, perfect fit for us."
Pagano, 58, boasts 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.
"Matt talked about the aggressive mentality," Pace said. "He's a great person. He's a great evaluator. He's had success where he's been in the past. He's great dealing with people. He's very collaborative. Those are all things that kept coming up the more we met with him or talked about him. That's exciting. I think it'll be good for our defense. We've got a lot of good players on that side of the ball and we're just looking forward to continuing to improve."
With Fangio coordinating the defense in 2018, the Bears 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).
Four players from the unit were voted to the Pro Bowl in outside linebacker Khalil Mack, tackle Akiem Hicks, cornerback Kyle Fuller and safety Eddie Jackson. In addition, Mack, Fuller and Jackson were all named first-team All-Pro.
Asked about Pagano installing a new defense or implementing what the Bears did best in 2018, Pace said: "There's going to be some kind of blend. We've done a lot of good things, but I'm sure Chuck is going to bring a lot of good things to add to the table as well."
"Our defense is comfortable with what they've done, but they know change is coming," Nagy said. "Chuck is going to have to come in and see, 'OK, schematically this is what we called it last year. This is what I do. I do the same play. This is what I call.' And then what you've got to do is figure out how that's going to go.
"There's going to be some evaluation that has to go on from Chuck. But in the end, I feel comfortable knowing that Chuck, by no means, is a guy that says, 'Hey, we're coming in, we're doing it this way.' None of that. That's not who he is and I don't think that's what's going to happen."
The Bears don't expect to take a step back on defense, but they understand that some initial adjustments will be required.
"That will be really neat to see how that goes," Nagy said. "We'll have to monitor that throughout the OTAs and getting into training camp. But any time you have a change like this, it's not like going into Year 5 with the same defense. That's expected. But it's about, 'How fast can you get it back up?'
"It's also, Chuck understands what he's coming into here player-wise, and we all as coaches understand too that when you're surrounded by good players, a lot of times it's the players and not the plays. Chuck has tons of experience. He gets that and he'll do everything he can to keep this thing rolling."
Pagano is expected to have the same type of autonomy with the defense that Fangio enjoyed.
"We're going to start building our relationship day-by-day just like Vic and I did," Nagy said. "From the professional side of it, he'll have to gain trust and I'll have to gain trust back and forth with each other. But that's the beauty of it. And then you do that and you start giving ideas and you start feeling more comfortable in the environment together. It'll be nice and I feel like it'll be a pretty seamless transition."