New Bears head coach Matt Nagy has yet to coach a game, but he already notched a big victory.
The Bears re-signed defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, the team announced Friday. The Bears and Fangio had kept the lines of communication open over the past several days, even though his contract had expired, with the hopes that he might return.
Fangio was granted a head coaching interview with the Bears before the team picked Nagy. There was some concern about Fangio’s reaction to being passed over for that role, and he reportedly wondered whether it merely was a token interview. The Bears convinced him it was not, and Nagy apparently was able to convince the veteran defensive coordinator to stay with the team.
Fangio has developed this Bears defense over the past three seasons while serving under John Fox. The defense ranked in the top 10 in the NFL against the pass (seventh), points allowed (ninth) and total defense (10th). It also made improvements against the run (ranked 11th) and in terms of creating turnovers (22), an area in which the Bears struggled in 2016.
That Fangio oversaw a strong improvement on defense despite the team placing six regulars on injured reserve was a testament to his work. Many players campaigned for his return, and the Bears made it a priority.
Fangio had been sought as a defensive coordinator elsewhere, including by the Green Bay Packers and Baltimore Ravens, but both teams chose other people for those roles. There also had been reports that Fangio could follow Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, should he get a head coaching role elsewhere, but Shurmur remains off limits until the Vikings are out of the postseason.
Nagy now has assembled part of what looks like a fascinating staff, including offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich and special-teams coordinator Chris Tabor, who previously worked with the Bears in that role on Lovie Smith’s former staff. Landing a former college head coach (Helfrich) and two longtime assistants with Chicago connections (Tabor and Fangio) appear to be terrific first steps for Nagy, a first-time head coach, as he finishes his staff hires.
In some ways, this feels like the fortuitous path the Los Angeles Rams took last offseason, when they hired Sean McVay, a 31-year-old first-time head coach, who managed to lure veteran defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to join him. It was a coup, as the Rams won the NFC West with an 11-5 record and McVay was named Pro Football Weekly’s 2017 Coach of the Year.
McVay was hired in Los Angeles to get the best out of former No. 1 pick Jared Goff, just as Nagy was brought in to tap into the vast potential of Mitch Trubisky, the No. 2 overall pick in 2017. But the Rams’ improvement on defense also was a big part of their success, just as the Bears should feel great about the shape of their unit as it continues to be overseen by Fangio.
It appears more likely now that Fangio is back that some of the position coaches on defense who worked with him under Fox the past few seasons could return to serve under Nagy. The Bears also brought back running backs coach Charles London, who coached on Smith’s staff from 2007 to 2009.