Young Guns, Old Soldiers, Wise Elders

The man doesn’t lack for confidence, make no mistake.  New Bears coach Matt Nagy accepted the mantle of his new position with ease, assuaging the often-bristling Chicago press concerns over if the latest chapter in Bears leadership displayed traits they all crave:  Accessibility, transparency, confidence, and complex humanity.

Given that there’s only so much you can learn about a man and a coach from a single press conference and years worth of parables (first and second hand), the legend can only grow to a point before the rubber needs to hit the road.

Nagy had hurdles to clear before he ever put on a headset or blew a whistle at practice.  The coordinators, position coaches, and ‘brain trust’ of consultants he will surround himself with reveal that not only did Nagy deftly leap his barriers, Nagy did it so well that we may all need to collectively hit the brakes.

…to hell with that.  Gun it.  Get hyped.

Let’s meet the new staff, and I’ll tell you why these are exciting hires.


DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR:  VIC FANGIO

The romantic sweep of concern that dizzied Bears fans for nearly 4 days after Nagy’s hiring came to an end when Vic re-upped with Chicago for the next three years.  The only person seemingly uninterested in the hysterics was Fangio himself.  In his usual candor that makes him so popular with media and fans alike, the long-time coordinator described his first press conference under the Nagy regime as a “love fest.”

While his no-nonsense turns of phrase and self-deprecating plain speech win our hearts, it’s Fangio’s sculpting of a high-potential defense that made an otherwise meaningless Friday in mid-January something of a celebration.

Fangio’s defenses the last few years haven’t exactly been sparkling, but the promise of a young defense finally coming together under his watchful eye is what made Fangio returning such a triumph.  In his own words, Vic didn’t think twice to tell the assembled reporters that this group of talented athletes are still in need of polish.

“Well, I think the most important thing we have to do is improve the guys that we already have regardless of who we might get in the draft or free agency.  I think guys like Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Danny Trevathan, Leonard (Floyd), Eddie Jackson, I know I’m going to miss some, I think they all have a lot more to give to us than we’ve seen. And it’s our job to get them to improve and become even better players. That will be more important to us than anybody we can acquire between now and whenever our first game is.  I know it’s always sexy to talk between now and the first game, you know, who are you going to draft, who’s in free agency, etc., but we’ve got to get our so-called good players playing even better. And that will be critical.” – Vic Fangio

Here are the known new and returning hires for Bears defensive coaches and assistants:

  • Linebackers Coach:  Glenn Pires
  • Defensive Backs Assistant:  Roy Anderson
  • Defensive Assistant:  Bill Shuey

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR:  MARK HELFRICH

It’s no secret that Matt Nagy will himself be calling the plays, but curiosity rose over whom Nagy would bring in to forge his offensive roster and meld a playbook together from various cults of football philosophy.  Helfrich, who deserves credit for making Marcus Mariota into a number two overall draft pick, is no stranger to NFL-caliber coaching, working under both Chip Kelly and Dirk Koetter.

In the NCAA, Helfrich and Fangio knocked heads, with Fangio’s Stanford defenses often crushing Helfrich’s offense.  Now the two are under the same umbrella, and in the 8 years since their collegiate battles, both coaches have taken massive strides.

Helfrich is a student of the vertical passing game, himself a former college quarterback, and his football savvy is heralded among circles of those who have worked with him, but as with any new lump of raw talent, Helfrich must provide a nuanced, layered seasoning to Matt Nagy’s playbook, and has a delicate and vital responsibility to further Mitchell Trubisky’s game.

“I think Mitchell has a tight release, he’s an accurate passer.  (Trubisky and Mariota) also have a couple things that are similar in terms of what makes them inaccurate.  That’s usually their feet that take them out of position.  I sense from talking to a couple of the offensive linemen, and this was unsolicited, is that he works hard.  When your offensive linemen are talking about how hard your quarterback works, that’s a great sign. So he needs to do that and continue to challenge himself and improve.” – Mark Helfrich

Here are the known hires for the Bears offensive staff, including position coaches and advisors:

  • Wide Receivers coach:  Mike Furrey
  • Tight Ends coach:  Kevin Gilbride
  • Running Backs coach:  Charles London
  • Quarterbacks coach:  Dave Ragone
  • Offensive Line coach:  Harry Heistand
  • Offensive Line assistant:  Donovan Raiola
  • Offensive Assistant:  Brian Ginn
  • Offensive Quality Control:  Shane Toub
  • Offensive Consultant:  Brad Childress

SPECIAL TEAMS COORDINATOR:  CHRIS TABOR

Tabor is no stranger to Halas Hall, having worked under Dave Toub from 2008-2010, but like most special teams coordinators not named “Toub,” Tabor’s name doesn’t often make headlines.  If anything, Tabor’s long tenure running special teams for the Cleveland Browns slightly tarnished his name among Bears fans upon his hiring.

While Tabor was indeed one aspect of the crumbling Browns organization, he clearly had great favor – in his 7 years in Cleveland, Tabor was one of the only consistent faces in a turnstile era of a broken franchise.

Tabor’s guidance gave the Browns special teams units respectable improvements and reliability, shaping his talent toward several franchise and NFL records, including net punting average, consecutive field goals made, in addition to netting several Pro Bowlers.

During his introductory press conference in January, Tabor got off on the wrong foot, mistakenly calling the Bears the Browns.  The gathered media let out a few whistles and groans, but it was all good-natured and as Tabor reiterated in a hasty apology, it’s awfully hard to suddenly switch when you’ve worked for the Browns for nearly a decade.

We’re going to be an aggressive unit that uses good judgment…I don’t want the coordinator going home at five-o-clock at night thinking he doesn’t really have to worry about anything…there’s some weapons here that will make coordinators stay up at night. – Chris Tabor

Joining Tabor’s staff is Brock Olivo, named as Assistant Special Teams coach.  Olivo previously worked with Nagy and Dave Toub in Kansas City, and coordinated special teams for the Denver Broncos in 2017.


The Nagy coaching pyramid is nearly complete.  Bringing in a bevy of philosphies, schools of thought, and range of talents young and old, Nagy’s crew is a fine stew of football chaos, and for a young team armed with high skill and a fan base thirsting for relevance, ladling out bowl after bowl of the Nagy Gridiron concoction is a welcome proposition.

While some of the names don’t jump off the page, the return of Harry Heistand stands out as one of the league-wide best acquisitions for any staff.  Heistand, a former Bears o-line coach during the Smith era, has returned after several years of working his magic for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.  Veterans of the NFL including Olin Kreutz, Ruben Brown, David Diehl, and Tony Pashos all praise Heistand and credit their success to him – not small praise, considering they collectively account for 16 Pro Bowl nods and 45 years of NFL experience.

Brad Childress, former Minnesota Vikings head coach and bosom friend/mentor to Nagy, also joins the table, bringing a football acumen and breadth of knowledge for the game that will no doubt enhance Nagy’s vision for a playbook, but also make the transition from position coach to head coach a little less intimidating.

Fangio’s return maintains a level of consistency for that side of the ball, and players verbalized their satisfaction via social media.  Vic holds tremendous respect from his troops and the Bears organization.  Hell, the two days he wasn’t under contract the Bears didn’t clean out his office.

With this slurry of names surrounding him, Matt Nagy will hopefully charge into next and future seasons with tremendous, unbridled confidence.

“Being a young coach coming into it for the first time, (I hoped to) surround myself with people that have strong character and have been through those situations and know how to deal with it. Trust me, throughout this process, I’ll be going to these guys for advice, and that’s OK because it’s only going to make me better.” – Matt Nagy

… and I can’t wait to find out.

 

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