BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Veteran coach Chuck Pagano understands the expectations associated with taking over an elite defense.
The Chicago Bears were so dominant on that side last year that it will be difficult for them to produce at the same level, likely through no fault of Pagano. Under Vic Fangio, who was named head coach of the Denver Broncos, the Bears led the league in takeaways (36), interceptions (27), interception returns for touchdowns (five), lowest passer rating (72.9), fewest rushing touchdowns (five), fewest first downs allowed (278), fewest total plays allowed of 20-plus yards (46), fewest rushing plays allowed of 10-plus yards (28), fewest points per game (17.7), fewest red zone drives allowed (40) and red zone takeaways (six).
No pressure, right?
“We all know what we signed up for,” Pagano said on Thursday. “Players and coaches, we understand what the expectations are. It's really change the changeable, except the unchangeable, right? And remove whatever's not good. So we're going to work our tails off and do the best we can day in and day out. Exhaust all resources to make sure we don't do 'this' and we keep doing 'this' and make sure that this team is successful and we do our job.”
Not that Pagano is complaining. The ex-Colts head coach inherits a defense that returns four Pro Bowlers, including Khalil Mack -- one of the game’s best players on either side of the ball.
“I walked into the very best situation -- I said it once, I’ll say it a thousand times -- that anybody could walk into,” Pagano said. “Now it’s just my job, our job, the staff’s job, we always talk about us. It’s unity over self. It’s all of us. Team first. It’s Coach Nagy’s vision. It’s just our job to make sure that we do the right thing and put these guys in the right spots so that they can play fast and continue to build on the foundation that’s already been laid.”
But Pagano doesn’t view himself as strictly a caretaker. There will be plenty of new wrinkles in Chicago’s defense. Pagano is known to blitz more than Fangio, who did an incredible job muddying the waters whenever the Bears lined up against a high-powered offense. There will be other twists and turns that have yet to be revealed in the preseason, where the goal is to show as little as possible.
One constant between the new coordinator and his predecessor is the way each relates to players.
Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks remarked last week that Pagano was the only coach capable of filling Fangio’s shoes, partly because of the way he communicates with players, something Hicks and the rest of the defense witnessed firsthand in the offseason program.
“I credit those players because we've got nine weeks in the offseason and they were all here,” Pagano said. “So we had a chance to start to get to know each other. Not only me and Akiem, but the whole defense. And spend that time and build that relationship and lay a foundation.
"I've got to earn their trust. They've got to earn mine. We all understand that. So that's just over time, where if you're willing to invest and put that time in, player, coach to coach, coach to player, then the sky is the limit. Because then you break down all that other stuff and there's only one goal. It's the only reason we do this -- it's to win. Nothing else matters. We have a bunch of selfless guys and I have great respect and appreciation for all of them for the way they work every single day."