Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio will be named the new head coach of the Denver Broncos, according to multiple reports. Fangio interviewed with the Broncos Monday, and the opening was reportedly down to him and Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak.
After finishing in the top 10 statistically in 2017, the Bears’ defense vaulted into one of the best in 2018. The unit finished the regular season first in points allowed and takeaways and tied for third in sacks. Part of the boost came from the additions of All-Pro pass rusher Khalil Mack and rookie linebacker Roquan Smith, but Fangio certainly played a significant role in the defense’s success.
He not only was able to maximize top-tier talent on the defensive side of the ball, but he also was critical in developing the likes of Kyle Fuller, Eddie Jackson, Leonard Floyd and Bilal Nichols. Neither role can be understated.
Now that he’s in Denver, where does that leave the Bears going forward? Here are four names they could consider for their next defensive coordinator.
[UPDATED: Original draft included Todd Bowles and Mike Caldwell, who both joined Bruce Arians’ staff after post was published.]
Chicago Bears Defensive Backs Coach
Promoting Donatell would arguably be the best possible move. He and Fangio joined John Fox’s staff in 2015 and were retained by Matt Nagy last offseason. With Fangio gone, bumping up Donatell would allow the Bears to maintain consistency with the current roster. Donatell also has experience as a coordinator, serving in that role for the Green Bay Packers, Atlanta Falcons and Washington Redskins.
However, there are two possible roadblocks from making this a sure bet. First, he’s not under contract for the 2019 season. While leading a top defensive unit would be enticing, he still has the option to seek other opportunities that might appeal more to him and his family.
Second, he and Fangio have been joined at the hip dating back to their days with the San Francisco 49ers. It’s possible that Donatell joins Fangio’s staff as a defensive coordinator instead of taking the role with the Bears.
Cleveland Browns Interim Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator
Williams has been regarded as one of the league’s top defensive coordinators for nearly 20 years, and there is a connection with GM Ryan Pace dating back to their time with the New Orleans Saints. Williams not only gets the most out of talented players, but he also is a master at scheming ways to pressure the quarterback. With players like Mack, Floyd, Smith and Akiem Hicks, he can get very creative with this defense.
He led the Browns to a 5-3 record as an interim head coach this year. According to reports, the team is set to name offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens to take the job, making Williams a free agent. Given the Bears long-term outlook, taking over Fangio’s defense could be very intriguing if head coaching opportunities aren’t available.
The Browns’ defense finished toward the bottom half of the league in points and yards allowed, but the unit was made up mostly of subpar talent. However, young players like Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward and Jabrill Peppers grew under Williams’ leadership and could be cornerstone pieces once more talented players are added to the roster.
The biggest red flag is the drama that surrounds Williams. He can be a bit surly, and his role in Saints’ bountygate scandal kept him off an NFL sideline for two seasons. Williams has bounced back since his 2012 suspension, serving as a coordinator with the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams and the Browns. But will the Bears want to deal with any questions or drama that follow him?
Former Denver Broncos Head Coach
Despite his 11-21 record at the helm in Denver, Joseph is still a well-regarded defensive coach. Prior to his tenure with the Broncos, he was the defensive coordinator with the Miami Dolphins in 2016 and spent the five previous seasons coaching defensive backs with the Houston Texans and Cincinnati Bengals.
Joseph was a hot coaching name following his two-year stint as the Bengals defensive backs coach. The Bengals’ secondary intercepted 41 passes combined during the 2014 and 2015 seasons, which was the most in the NFL. That aggressive style would bode well with the Bears’ opportunistic secondary.
While there aren’t clear connections to Nagy or Pace like the previous two candidates, Joseph does coach 3-4 defenses. That would let the Bears to maintain some level of consistency but allow Joseph to add his twist to an already stacked defensive unit.
Former Indianapolis Colts Head Coach
Despite a shaky ending, Pagano was a solid head coach with the Colts. He finished his six-year tenure with a 56-46 record, which includes the postseason. Many will point to his less-than-stellar defenses as a reason not to bring him aboard, but the Colts’ defensive struggles can be tied to lackluster drafts and free agent acquisitions under former GM Ryan Grigson
Based on his resume, there is no doubt that Pagano is a decorated defensive coach. Prior to stints with the Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders in the early 2000s, he coached defensive backs at the University of Miami from 1995-2000. After a season as the defensive coordinator at the University of North Carolina in 2007, he spent four seasons as a defensive assistant with the Baltimore Ravens. Pagano coached the secondary from 2008-2010 and coordinated the defense in 2011.
When promoted to defensive coordinator, the Ravens’ pass defense vaulted from 21st to fourth in the league. The unit also finished in the top quarter of most statistical categories, including takeaways and sacks. Pagano’s familiarity with a similar 3-4 scheme not only makes him attractive, but his success coaching top-tier players also makes him an intriguing option given the pieces on the Bears’ roster.