The resignation of Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano brought along plenty of unanswered questions from the team’s final press conference.
It seemed rather sudden, and there has been no word of Pagano being forced out or refusing to make a particular move with his assistants.
It could be what the Bears simply said it was. Pagano wanted to spend more time with his family after a difficult season, one which he risked much as a recovered cancer patient trying to get by during the pandemic.
“So I really want to start off by just saying, No. 1, thank you to coach Pagano,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said Wednesday. “When you sit back and you realize what this man has been through and what he’s done for this league, and what he’s done for so many coaches in this league, including myself and what we’ve learned from him not just as a coach but as a person, this guy’s been through it all.
“I’d be remiss if I didn’t just thank him from all of us, what he’s given to us the past two years. I did not know Chuck, at all, from the past two years, prior to these past two years. What he’s brought to us, and what he’s taught everybody in our family here is second to none.”
Nagy did describe how he found out about the decision.
“So for him to come to me yesterday morning (Tuesday) and break the news to me and just say it’s time to call it a career and he’s going to walk away, and he’s sacrificed — his family’s sacrificed so much for him and now it’s time for him to sacrifice for them; he’s at total peace with it,” Nagy said.
Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia in September, 2012 during his first season as the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. He took leave during the season, underwent treatments and returned in December. He’s been healthy since then.
“I personally just learn so much from him, and that’s past football,” Bears general manager Ryan Pace said. “That’s just the human being that he is, and the things that he’s been through and the experiences that he’s had; I think we are all better from being around Chuck Pagano the past two years and just appreciate him immensely.”
The defense did tail off this year from previous seasons. Both seasons Pagano was in Chicago failed to match Vic Fangio’s last year with the defense, but they were comparable to or better than the years Fangio had the previous two seasons, 2016 and 2017.
“You look at the defense, and we have so much pride in our defense,” Pace said. “We’ve invested a lot in our defense, as you know and we started off strong in so many areas defensively and then there was some regression the second half of the season. Those are just the facts. I think there’s a combination of factors why, and that’s what we’re looking into.
“I think when we talk about taking a deep breath, and then analyzing our team, that’s one of the things we’ve really got to look at. We had expectations on that side of the ball in the second half of the season. It was surprising, and in some ways it was disappointing, and that’s something we’re definitely going to look at. And we all need to be better. That includes me adding more talent to that side of the ball.”
Pace said he thought injuries had a real impact on the defense.
“It started with Eddie Goldman and Roy Robertson-Harris, Skrine, Jaylon Johnson, not having Roquan at the end—as good as he was playing and just the leader he is, the captain he is on the field that was significant,” Pace said. “And then we had Khalil (Mack) playing through an injury. Those are all factors with the defense, and that’s going be to an important off-season discussion.”
Mack had a shoulder injury which landed him on the injury report over the course of a month and he never sat out. Pace said he doubts Mack’s injury will require surgery and he had no news of any further surgery for any Bears player other than to say running back Tarik Cohen is expected to be available by training camp after his torn ACL suffered at the end of September.
The replacement for Pagano will be among the first orders of business.
“So right now, in this time with Chuck leaving and retiring, this is going to be a very important hire,” Nagy said. “We have a lot of great guys internally on staff and obviously there will be people outside, as well.
“So that’s a big process. I look forward to it. I think that we’ll get on that here ASAP.”
Coaches on staff who will be part of the speculation about promotion are defensive line coach Jay Rodgers and outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino.
Rodgers has been in Chicago since 2015. Monachino is the only staff member with defensive coordinator experience in the NFL. He was Pagano’s defensive coordinator in 2016 and 2017 with the Indianapolis Colts, and also was hired as defensive coordinator for Kansas State just before taking the job as Bears outside linebackers coach in early 2018.
Pagano left the Bears with a thanks to the organization and fans.
“As much as I love coaching, it takes a lot of time away from your family and loved ones,” Pagano said. “I’m excited to start this new chapter of my life and can’t wait to be able to spend more time with my family.
“This has been an amazing ride and I have made countless relationships that I will cherish forever.”
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