Just one day after introducing their new head coach, the Chicago Bears have a new defensive coordinator in the building, hiring former San Francisco 49’ers DC Vic Fangio to the same position.
Fangio, who spent four years in San Francisco working with head coach Jim Harbaugh, is widely regarded as one of the absolute best coordinators in the NFL. His calm, straight-forward demeanor has been praised by coaches and players alike, and even when the world was falling around his team during the 2014 season, he still was able to keep the ship afloat on that side of the ball.
That’s perhaps the biggest reason that the Bears are bringing Fangio into the fold. Even when Aldon Smith and Navarro Bowman were out, and even when the team lost Patrick Willis, the 49’ers’ defense was still one of the best in the league, and it was the only thing that kept the team even remotely close to a playoff berth in the super-tough NFC West.
That kind of toughness and ability to respond to adversity was not one that the Bears had this season. With injuries to Lamarr Houston, Charles Tillman, and Lance Briggs, the Bears’ defense struggled in a big way, and they repeatedly were blown out by teams like the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots. Not only could the Bears not stop teams from scoring, but little things like stopping the run and getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks fell by the wayside as Mel Tucker’s scheme fell apart as the season wore on.
Under Fangio’s direction, a repeat of that performance is highly unlikely. All coaches talk about how they’re sticklers for accountability, but Fangio clearly walks the walk. His players know exactly where they stand with him at all times, and even though he isn’t a yeller, he has been a player favorite throughout his time in San Francisco.
In addition to that respect he commands from players and the ability to respond to adversity effectively, Fangio could also mean a big shake-up in the Bears’ defensive scheme. In San Francisco, Fangio ran a 3-4 defense, but don’t expect him to run strictly that package in Chicago. The Bears simply don’t have the personnel for it, as they lack both the speedy pass rushers on the edge (Willie Young could feasibly play the scheme, but he may be less effective in it), and they don’t have the beefy nose tackle required for the role. They don’t even really have the linebackers for it, but Shea McClellin did play in a 3-4 system at Boise State and Jon Bostic could potentially have the speed to do it as well.
Instead, look for Fangio to mix up 4-3 and 3-4 looks, and also look for the Bears to bring in some new personnel to help in that regard. There are only a few players who would seem to be guaranteed starters next season, and that’s going to give Fangio a lot of leeway when he’s discussing personnel decisions with John Fox and Ryan Pace.
All of these factors play into Fangio’s hire by the Bears, and it truly does signal a new direction for the team. Tucker and Marc Trestman talked a good game about changing things up on the defensive side of the ball, but Fangio can actually back that talk up. He’s going to be bringing in a whole new approach to things, and with his candor and talent both in his arsenal, players are going to be forced to accept it or be forced to the sideline.