General manager Ryan Pace conducted his first official interview for the Bears’ vacant head-coaching position Wednesday and he didn’t have to leave Halas Hall to do so.
Pace met with veteran coach Vic Fangio, who served as Bears defensive coordinator under John Fox the past three seasons. Fangio helped transform a unit that had ranked 30th in the NFL in total yards allowed the year before he arrived into a defense that finished 10th in 2017 despite losing several key players throughout the season.
Among those who finished the year on injured reserve were safety Quintin Demps; outside linebackers Leonard Floyd, Pernell McPhee and Willie Young; inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman; and defensive end Mitch Unrein.
In Fangio’s first two seasons with the Bears, the defense ranked 14th in 2015 and 15th in 2016.
On Monday, Bears players praised Fangio for the work he’s done with their defense.
“He’s a great coach,” said outside linebacker Lamarr Houston. “He teaches you a lot about football. He’s very methodical in his teaching. He wants you to understand, and he holds you to a standard that you have to meet every Sunday. You can appreciate that as a player.”
“Vic is a huge part of why we were pretty good this year on defense,” added cornerback Prince Amukamara. “I feel like he’s a mastermind, one of the smartest DCs, most-detailed DCs I’ve been around. It’s hard to make him smile, but when he smiles you know it’s a good thing. Guys love him. We respect him.”
Fangio has spent 31 seasons as an NFL coach, including 18 as a defensive coordinator with the Panthers (1995-98), Colts (1999-2001), Texans (2002-05), 49ers (2011-14) and Bears.
In each of Fangio’s four seasons in San Francisco, the 49ers ranked in the top 10 in the league in points and yards. Under his tutelage, five players were named first-team All-Pro: Linebackers NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith, tackle Justin Smith and safety Dashon Goldson.
In 2014, the 49ers defense finished fifth in yards and 10th in points despite playing all or most of the year without several injured starters, including Bowman, Willis and lineman Glenn Dorsey.
In Fangio’s first three seasons with the 49ers, the defense ranked first in points allowed (16.1 per game), rushing yards (89.1 yards), rushing average (3.7 per carry) and first downs (835). The unit also finished second in opposing passer rating (76.0) and third in total yards (306.5 per game).
In 2013, San Francisco’s defense ranked third in points, fourth in opposing passer rating and rushing yards, and fifth in total yards.
In 2012, the defense helped the 49ers reach the Super Bowl, where they lost to the Baltimore Ravens 34-31. The unit ranked second in points and first downs, third in total yards, tied for third in third-down efficiency, and fourth in rushing yards and passing yards. The only other NFL team to finish in the top five in all six categories was the Denver Broncos, who were coached by Fox.
In 2011, the 49ers ranked first against the run, tied for first with 38 takeaways and were second in points. The defense set an NFL record by not allowing a rushing touchdown through the first 14 games and yielded three all season, the fewest since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978.
Fangio spent the 2010 season at Stanford, where he was selected as college football’s defensive coordinator of the year by three media outlets. In the Pac-10, the Cardinal improved from eighth to first in scoring defense and sacks and registered three shutouts for the first time in school history.
Prior to joining Stanford, Fangio worked for the Baltimore Ravens from 2006-09 as a special assistant to the head coach and linebackers coach. During his tenure, the Ravens led the NFL in total defense in 2006, ranked second in 2008 and were third in 2009.
Fangio was hired by the Ravens after stints as defensive coordinator with the Panthers, Colts and Texans. In four seasons in Houston, the Texans defense returned eight interceptions and four fumbles for touchdowns and set a team record with 22 interceptions in 2004.
Fangio helped Carolina reach the NFC Championship Game in the franchise’s second year of existence in 1996 with a defense that ranked second in points. The Panthers allowed just 56 points in the second half of games, breaking a record set by the 1985 Super Bowl champion Bears.
Prior to joining the Panthers, Fangio spent nine seasons as linebackers coach with the New Orleans Saints (1986-94), where he coached a quartet of All-Pro linebackers in Rickey Jackson, Vaughan Johnson, Sam Mills and Pat Swilling that was later voted the best linebacking corps in NFL history by NFL Network.