Chuck Pagano believes Bears have pieces to be historic defense

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- New Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano issued a challenge to the team at his introductory news conference Thursday not only to sustain last season's defensive success but to reach even greater heights.

In 2018 under Vic Fangio, whom the Denver Broncos hired away to be their head coach, the Bears' defense ranked No. 1 in the NFL in in yards per play (4.78), points per game (17.7), takeaways (36) and interceptions (27).

Chicago rode the momentum created by that defense to a 12-4 record and its first NFC North title and playoff appearance since 2010.

“Our vision for this defense is to be the best,” Pagano said. “Can we be the best in the history of the game? The pieces are there and they will continue to add pieces. Can we continue to be better than we were last year? Absolutely. It's going to be very, very difficult and a huge challenge, but one we will be up for.”

Pagano, who in the past coached alongside Fangio in Baltimore, described his defensive philosophy as “wreak havoc and be calculated about it.”

“The philosophy is a ‘KILL’ philosophy: Keep it likable [and] learnable,” Pagano added. “That's an acronym. You know what I'm talking about. Keep it likable and learnable. So, it will be complex for you, simple for us. We can do just enough where if we just move a couple of jersey numbers around, it will be the same pressure, the same coverage, the same front for us, but it will look totally different to our opponent.

“And that will be the beauty of it. It will give these guys the chance to play fast. We don't want to ankle-weight them. We don't want to bog them down. We don't want them out there thinking. That's another way that we'll be better and we'll grow. Is we can eliminate all the gray, have great communication from front to back, everybody on the same page. We always said if we're all wrong, we're all right. And let those guys play. Let their lights shine. Have fun. We have a bunch of swagger in that room and I believe in swag. I believe in confidence. I believe in letting guys play and not making them robots.”

Fired as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts following the 2017 season, Pagano, who served as an NFL consultant last year, said his season away from coaching allowed him to "reset, recharge and reflect" and to spend necessary time around his family.

“First month and a half was pretty dicey for my wife and me,” Pagano joked. “You know, it reminded me of the first month that we were married. ... I lost full control after two weeks of my marriage. She had her hands around my throat.”

Pagano’s job with the league required him to travel to NFL headquarters in New York each week to consult with officials, but he also found time to attend the Masters, tailgate at his nephews’ college football games -- Pagano has nephews playing at Michigan and Boise State -- and celebrate his daughter’s wedding.

But the 58-year-old was eager to rejoin the coaching ranks.

Following Fangio’s departure to Denver, Bears head coach Matt Nagy spoke with Todd Bowles and Ed Donatell about the vacant defensive-coordinator job before officially hiring Pagano on Jan. 11.

Healthy and cancer-free for six-plus years, Pagano expressed optimism that the transition on defense will be seamless. Pagano said he expects the entire defensive coaching staff to be complete in about three or four days.

“I go back to the text messages that I received, the messages I received back from the guys,” Pagano said. “About how eager they are to be back and how excited they are to come back here and get to work. And all of them saying, 'We can be better, I can get better.'”