Bears DC Chuck Pagano Retires

Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano has decided to retire. 

Pagano is best known for his stint as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts went 11-5 in his first season there, though Pagano missed 12 games due to cancer treatments, inspiring the #CHUCKSTRONG cancer awareness movement. They matched that 11-5 recrod in 2013 and 2014, but then went 8-8 in back-to-back years before a 4-12 campaign in 2017 cost him his job. 

He had been with the Bears for two seasons. Under his watch, Chicago finished 10th and eighth in defensive DVOA. 

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32 comments, Last at 15 Jan 2021, 9:27am

1 I think Chuck, Wade Philips,…

I think Chuck, Wade Philips, and Rod Marinelli are coaches that can improve a defense while they are coordinators but struggle to do the same while being the head coach. 

Chuck wasn't the worst head coach in the world, but he wasn't good either. I hope he enjoys retirement. 

3 Defense can be so volatile…

Defense can be so volatile from year-to-year, and Hicks - arguably their most important defensive player - missed 11 games in 2019. They faded in the second half this season, but I think Pagano did a pretty nice job taking over for Fangio and keeping them top-10 two years in a row after 2018.

That '18 defense is like top-10 in the DVOA era, right? Or maybe it was until you start getting back to like the '85-'86 Bears.

I'm way out of my depth attempting to evaluate safety play, but I've seen some suggestions that Eddie Jackson's decline could be because he wasn't being put in his best position to succeed, and he was huge in '18. On the other hand, other guys like Roquan Smith seemed to come into their own under Pagano. Defense really is volatile.

6 Callahan was really, really…

Callahan was really, really good in 2018, but, interestingly, after he got hurt around week 10, there was little discernible drop-off in the unit as a whole. My hunch is that 2018 was a perfect storm: Fangio's system had reached peak continuity and the right players were installed for his scheme across the board, so that the loss of one player wouldn't have been felt as much. I know very little about the intricacies of defensive scheming, but it's at the very least telling that Eddie Jackson has seen an extraordinary decline since being named first-team All Pro, to the extent that it wouldn't be at all controversial to aver that FA addition Tashaun Gipson soundly outplayed him this year. Seeing that type of atrophy from a former standout player is concerning. Of course, had two starting DBs (Johnson & Skrine) not gotten hurt this year, we might be discussing things a bit differently. (And, implicitly, contrast the drop-off this year from the lack of same in Fangio's tenure for a possible clue as to coaching quality.)

Football units are complex and hard to disentangle.     

8 I've heard it posited that…

I've heard it posited that Adrian Amos's departure is what tanked Jackson's play and that the two had complementary skillsets. Without Amos around, his play dropped off with inferior players next to him (his running mate last year was HaHa Clinton-Dix, who is currently out of football) and being asked to do more stuff that he wasn't all that good at.

Safety is a position where the scope of duties might include literally every task on the defensive side of the ball outside of, like, two-gapping. A safety's success is dependent on what he's good at and what the coaches ask him to do at a level that doesn't seem present at any other position on defense. Amos is another fine example of this - his role shifted to a more linebacker-ish, close-to-the-line one in the latter half of the season and his production went way up. It seems like the way that most people talk about safeties doesn't really reflect this.

11 Let's look at their PFF grades

Eddie Jackson 

2017: 68.3

2018: 93.2

2019: 67

2020: 59.8

Amos is good in either safety role which helps wherever he goes. HHCD isn't as bad as people love to think but with the loss of Fangio and Callahans experience, it cumulated. 

17 2018

2018 was also just a year where they were very lucky, on top of playing well. They got better than average turnovers, IIRC. So even if nothing had changed, they likely would have taken a dip.

It's hard to say what's up with Jackson. Certainly the suggestion after 2019 was that he wasn't being used correctly, and that pairing him with Clinton-Dix was forcing him to do things he wasn't good at. But they tried to fix that this year, and he was still pretty bad by the numbers, as I recall. I don't watch All-22 tape so I don't have a good idea from watching games what was happening. I know he did have a few near-interceptions that he just missed/dropped so his year could have easily looked a lot better.

7 Apparently Pace and Nagy are…

Apparently Pace and Nagy are staying. Not terribly surprising given the team has "made the playoffs" twice in four years. That's more than most franchises can say.


And yet, I am stunned the owner saw the results play out in New Orleans and said "YES, this is the crew that will get this franchise to the SB". Its one thing to get blown out by a superior opponent, but its another to get rolled in such a dispirited fashion. As if everyone was happy to make it and was ready to hit the showers. 

10 I think you're right that…

I think you're right that they won't win a ring with this crew, but maybe ownership values a high floor more than the commentariat does. Most analysis, by both professional and amateur commentators, is centered around winning championships and how teams should go about doing that. Championships are sort of accepted as the only thing worth pursuing. But maybe Bears ownership thinks differently. Perhaps they think the downside risk of blowing it up is too high and that, on balance, they'd rather have what they have now (a competitive team, but not a contender).

Personally, I think that's reasonable. Competitive teams are still fun to watch from a fan's perspective. Fandom isn't some binary proposition where it is only fun or worth it when the team wins hardware. Watching a team be mediocre for several years is a huge improvement over watching them be incompetent bozos - just ask Lions fans.

The analogy I've got in my head is working a stable job with a good salary. Are you going to become a billionaire by doing that? No. Could you become a billionaire by quitting and starting your own company? Yes. Is it worth risking your financial stability to pursue that high upside? Reasonable people can disagree on that prospect. I'm glad that some people do take on the risk, but I wouldn't criticize anyone who didn't.

Your agreement with this post may vary with your belief that Nagy/Pace are bad enough that "cellar-dweller" is a non-zero probability outcome for the Bears right now.

12 No they don't.  Even though…

No they don't.  Even though Lovie took them to a SB and 2 NFC championship games and always had the team in the mix to make a playoff run, they fired him after a playoff less 10-6 season to bring in Marc Trestman of all people.  My guess is that ownership looked at the roster makeup, cap situation, draft situation, and the relatively poor financial situation due to the pandemic and concluded that they'll probably top out at 10-11 wins in the next 1-2 years even if they attracted the best coach/GM alive.  If that's the case, then no need to take the financial hit by firing the incumbents and hiring a new regime.  These are businesses after all.  

19 This is sort of the most defensible answer to me

The notion that ownership not only sees next year as a lost year anyway, but also that any candidates would feel the same way, and that you wouldn't get the guy you need to lead the team out of the darkness until the books are a bit clearer.

The problem with that is that you're letting Ryan Pace mortgage more of the future while you wait, but at least it's an ethos.

23 Yeah...give me a…

Yeah...give me a hypothetical situation where Ryan Pace has been told "do not draft a QB in the first round and do not trade up significantly," and I still feel like they're postponing the rebuild by a year but at least it's not the worst situation. The problem is, Pace has every incentive to do the exact opposite and reach for a rookie QB to provide some excitement, and as long as the guy isn't a total disaster there's a plausible reason to stick with Pace beyond 2021. I don't know what an owner's options are to restrict a guy you still employ, and I don't think good owners generally meddle like that.

Really, since they've committed to keeping Pace and Nagy, now I think they should do whatever it takes to trade for Deshaun Watson. If it takes their entire 2021 draft and 4 more 1st round picks after that, they should do it. At least then, they'll have the best QB in franchise history immediately and when they finally decide to part with Pace after 2021, or 2022, or 2023, the job will be that much more attractive.

14 Watching a team be mediocre…

Watching a team be mediocre for several years is a huge improvement over watching them be incompetent bozos - just ask Lions fans.

There is a certain visceral joy in watching a team just suck out loud and jeering the ownership for putting them in that position.

Those jeers are usually what forces owners to actually change something; empty seats don't pay the bills.

15 Where is the evidence that…

Where is the evidence that the Bears have a high floor, relative to other NFL teams in the last decade? I would argue that in the Lovie Smith era they had a high floor. Since firing Smith, they've gone 8 years without a playoff win, with only 1 of those 8 years producing a winning record. If the NFL is going to insist on expanded playoffs, then it's more likely than ever that 8-8 mediocrity will lead to playoff appearances and quick, one-sided first round losses, so I guess eventually the McCaskeys will be able to say that they made the playoffs more than 25% of the time. It doesn't make them an actual good team.

Let's not lose sight of the fact that the only reason the Bears have had non-losing seasons the past 3 years is spending an insane amount of money on the defense. Most of those contracts have not been objectively bad (Robert Quinn being the clear exception), but now they've got a bunch of expensive guys getting older on the side of the ball that it's harder to maintain continuity on year-to-year. Imagine what their record will look like if their defense is, say, 18th in DVOA next season?

But you are right, though, that it all comes down to money. It's the only language owners like the McCaskeys understand. 2020 more than any other year revealed just how little professional sports owners give a shit about winning. It's not merely secondary to making money; it's completely irrelevant to them.

18 Ownership

From what I've read from beat reporters, apparently what matters a lot to Bears ownership is division play, ESPECIALLY against Green Bay. Meaning, they really hate it when they get embarrassed by the Packers.

Of course, if that were true you would have expected big firings this offseason, so maybe those reports are bunk.

13 The Moneyball answer is that…

The Moneyball answer is that owners aren't in the business of winning titles.

The Lions, Cardinals, Bengals, Jags, and Jets are evidence that owners don't really care until either

1) the futility is so pronounced it is affecting the bottom line
2) the futility is so pronounced it is personally embarrassing to the ego of the owner

Even #2 affects the Fords from time to time. Only Houston really seems immune to this.

26 I'm not *quite* sure I agree…

I'm not *quite* sure I agree with this.

Winning's expensive. I mean, it's easy to point to the salary cap/floor and say "no way, everyone's paying the same!" but for a really successful team, I'd guess player expenses are typically only around half (or less) of the cost (based on the Packers budgets). You've got a bunch of costs which aren't capped: coaching salaries, staff salaries, facilities costs, transportation, etc. There are far more employees of a team than their are players.

Some of that stuff has little/no bearing on winning, obviously, but plenty of it does. Cleveland, famously, had lawsuits filed against it for the poor quality of its medical facilities, for instance.

I mean, Cincinnati's the poster child for this - their owner just doesn't want to spend the money needed to turn the team into a solid franchise. It's not that it wouldn't be *valuable*. It definitely would. It's just that I don't think he really has the capital or will to invest as much as would be needed to *get* there. I mean, the Cowboys can easily make a $500M investment into facilities. That's their freaking income in a year. It'd take the Bengals 10 years to pay off that.

So I guess the point I'm making is that I don't think *all* owners think this way. I don't think any of the top value franchises really think this way.

For reference, the franchises you listed (except the Jets) are ranked #30, #27, #32, #25. The Jets are different, in my mind: I think the owner *thinks* he's trying to win, he's just bad at it. Same issue with DAL/WFT. But the others are all *very* cash strapped franchises, and some of them (like CIN/JAX) are in extremely limited markets without a lot of growth potential.

30 The Lions are not cash…

The Lions are not cash-strapped.

They are just absentee landlords. They only make changes when the Lions are such an embarrassment it affects the perception and value of their auto company.

32 The Lions operating income's…

The Lions operating income's like 1/10th of the Cowboys. The *owners* may have ties to vast wealth, but the team doesn't.

Absentee owner might be a better term, but the idea's the same: becoming a perennial contender would require a huge cash injection to the team that ownership's unwilling/unable to give.

That's all I was saying before: it's a bit much to say they're not trying for titles, when that would cost a *ton* more for them than other teams.

In some cases it's just inexcusable, like Detroit, since you've got a fair amount of growth potential. In other cases, like CIN/JAX it's unlikely that they'd actually see a return on their investment. The market's just small.

16 I'm curious if this is a…

I'm curious if this is a true retirement, or if the Bears gave him a chance to retire rather than be fired. He seemed like the biggest candidate for a firing if they kept Pace and Nagy - someone has to go after a 2nd consecutive 8-8 season, and it wouldn't make sense to fire the OC when Nagy is really in charge of the offense (and the offense looked better when Nagy gave up playcalling).

I don't know how much Pagano was to blame for the extent to which the defense was disappointing (and I don't personally think 8th in DVOA is all that disappointing, but it's Chicago, so fans will blame the defense if they lose a game 10-7), but I do think they are absolutely screwed if they think they're going to find someone halfway decent to replace him. Why would that job be remotely attractive when you have to assume that barring some miracle, Pace/Nagy will be fired after next year?

I guess the 2021 season will mark my 6th year out of the last 9 rooting for losses rather than wins.

20 "fans will blame the defense if they lose a game 10-7"

That's ridiculous. Every Bears fan knows that if the game is lost 10-7, that means it's the KICKER who blew it.

  • Lose 10-7, kicker blew it/coach shoulda kicked FG instead of going for it on 4th
  • Lose 10-6, running game sucked/coach shoulda committed to the run instead of passing so much
  • Lose 16-13, defense blew it

28 Pagano is best known for his…

Pagano is best known for his stint as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts.

Well, yes. His swinging gate fake punt play is also the subject of the best Hitler-rant parody of all time.

Which is sad. He’s a fine coach. Wish him well.

31 Outside of quarterback, he…

Outside of quarterback, he had a pretty crappy roster outside of QB and WR1 in Indy, but managed 36 wins (including 3 playoff wins and and AFCCG appearance) in his first three seasons.  How much credit to give to him vs. Andrew Luck is up for debate, but most franchises would kill for that run.