Debating defensive coordinators: Whom should Bears hire? Rex Ryan? Ed Donatell?

The Chicago Sun-Times’ Adam L. Jahns and Patrick Finley debate what the Bears should do at defensive coordinator.

Jahns: Well, Pat, the Vic Fangio era is over for the Bears’ defense. We know players will miss him. So will coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace, who was very close with Fangio. But what about you? Do you remember when he made fun of your flannel shirt? He’s straight-shooting son of a gun with a dry sense of humor. I think Chicago will miss him on and off the field.

Finley: Fangio must not have been a fan of buffalo plaid; he asked me whether it was hunting season. What Fangio lacks in fashion knowledge — he wears gray sweatsuits to work — he more than makes up for in defensive expertise. He inherited probably the worst defense in football and, in four years’ time, made it into the best. Adding talented players had a lot to do with that — the Bears turned over every defensive player but cornerback Kyle Fuller during that span — but Fangio’s system can’t be overstated. To me, that’s the most intriguing question about the Bears’ search for his replacement. How much value does Matt Nagy put on continuity, and in the system?

Jahns: Secondary coach Ed Donatell is the continuity candidate. But will he follow Fangio to Denver? Or here’s a better question: is he even the right replacement for Fangio? At this point, it’s apparent that the Bears are considering outsiders — and I have two for you to consider: Rex Ryan and Chuck Pagano. In an ideal world, Nagy doesn’t want to worry about his defense. While Donatell makes sense, what if Ryan or Pagano can make the defense even better? I, for one, find myself very intrigued by the idea of hiring Ryan. He obviously has Bears ties because of his father, Buddy Ryan, the architect of the best defense of all time. But Rex Ryan’s aggressiveness, passion and bravado also seem in line with Nagy’s coaching style.

Finley: You’re right: if Nagy wants to allow his defensive coordinator to run his own fiefdom, hiring someone with executive experience — be it Pagano, Jack Del Rio, Gregg Williams, or, yes, even Ryan — makes sense. Donatell, though, just turned Fuller and safety Eddie Jackson into All-Pro players, and has served as coordinator for both the Packers and Falcons. Going outside the building has its rewards, sure, but also risks. Do you think the Bears are beholden to a 3-4 scheme? We all know the proliferation of nickel and dime defense makes a base set less important than ever before, but the Bears drafted Leonard Floyd, Eddie Goldman and others with the scheme in mind. Their assistants were brought in to coach a 3-4. Would you be open to a change?

Jahns: That’s a good point about sub packages. It’s why nickel back Bryce Callahan was missed when he was injured. It’s important that defenses are multiple, especially in today’s quarterback-driven NFL. That’s why Ryan stands out to me. He would get a lot of out Floyd, Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks up front and Jackson, Fuller and Prince Amukamara on the back end. The Bears’ combination of rush and coverage would allow Ryan to unleash madness. Linebacker Roquan Smith excels at blitzing, too. We saw that with Fangio. Let’s not forget that Fangio’s time with the Ravens also overlapped with Ryan’s and Pagano’s. When Ryan coordinated the Ravens’ defense, it ranked fifth, first, sixth and second in total yards.

Finley: Whomever Nagy hires will tell us a lot about his comfort as a head coach. He’s never, in his career, had to hire a defensive coach off the street before. Nagy’s not afraid to have big personalities in his locker room — “Be you” is one of his favorite phrases — but does that apply to assistants? Fangio, for one, never sought out attention. With 10 of 11 starters under contract for next season, the Bears job is no doubt the most attractive defensive job in the NFL. But there’s this, too: does he risk screwing up a good thing?

Jahns: But Nagy shouldn’t be afraid of trying to make a good thing even better, either. The Bears boldly acquired Mack from the Raiders with that mindset. Even if Nagy sticks with Donatell, the defense will change. Not two coaches are exactly alike. Fangio had a dictatorial approach — and that worked. Donatell might be more democratic.

Finley: That’s the debate here, isn’t it? Not only about scheme, but how a new coach’s personality fits into a staff that just turned a moribund franchise into one so full of promise. There’s a reason the Bears’ defenders dreaded Fangio leaving, though — he was a no-nonsense coach who set up his schemes to play to his player’s strengths. He didn’t give pep talks, but he broke down the best ways to beat each opponent every week. He was part-spy, part car-mechanic — and maybe part “Evil Genius.” The Bears can find a great coordinator, still. But, personality-wise, there’s no one like Fangio.


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