Notes on the Nagy Coaching Staff

| January 15th, 2018

It’s okay to get excited about a new coaching staff.

It doesn’t mean you irrationally believe that staff is going to cure all that ails the franchise you root for; in this case your Chicago Bears. It doesn’t mean the good players will now become great players and the bad players good players. It just means you believe a new collection of leaders, a new assemblage of ideas has the chance to change things for the better.

When John Fox hired Adam Gase and Vic Fangio to be his offensive and defensive coordinators (respectively) there was nary a negative word to be written. Gase was the hottest young offensive assistant in the game, having interviewed for several head-coaching vacancies. Fangio was a steady rock of a coordinator, coming off his most successful stint in the league. Did it work out? No. But was that any fault of the initial coordinator hires? Doubtful. That blame falls on quarterback turnover, a tsunami of injuries and a head coach watching the game blow by like a Dakotan tumbleweed.

This is a coaching staff to get excited about. And fans should allow themselves that moment of excitement, even if it is only a moment. There are many reasons why.

  • When I ask my friends in the league to name the best offensive line coaches in the sport, three names surface: Dante Scarnecchia (the gold standard), Mike Munchak (will be employed in the NFL for 30 more years) and Harry Hiestand. Hiestand’s first time around with the Bears was exceptional but over the last five years he’s built Notre Dame’s OL into one of the most consistently dominating position groups in the nation. Of all the hires Nagy made this week, this is the most impressive.
  • But don’t get wrapped up in how this effects the draft. Yes, I believe Quenton Nelson is the best player entering the NFL next season and would be THRILLED to see him in Chicago. But the Bears would have known his ability with or without Hiestand on the staff. All having Hiestand at Halas Hall does is eliminate the need for lengthy pre-draft meetings with the ND guard. (The same can be said for the other major league prospect off this unit, tackle Mike McGlinchey.)

  • Mark Helfrich is the offensive coordinator but he’s not going to call plays. This means what interested Nagy were the concepts Helfrich would bring to a professional offense from the college ranks. An article in the Tampa Bay Times from 2015 did a nice job summarizing the Oregon offense. (Read the entire piece by CLICKING HERE.) But here’s a passage worth pointing out:

3. It’s confusing

Oregon’s connection with zone-read option runs is well known. Quarterback Marcus Mariota (left) reads the defense, then decides whether to keep the ball or hand it off to a running back (or receiver).

The Ducks passing game is equally confusing for defenses. Mariota threw the ball 27 times during the first half of the Rose Bowl. All but five of those passes involved some sort of misdirection: a pump fake to a receiver, a designed quarterback rollout, a fake handoff to a teammate, or some combination of the three.

According to profootballfocus.com, Mariota used play action on 51 percent of his 372 passes during the regular season.

  • Chris Tabor’s special teams units were nothing to write home about in Cleveland. But when the bottom of the roster is as poor as Cleveland’s has been, how can anyone expect anything else? Tabor is a well-respected coach around the league but if the Bears don’t make personnel improvements in their kicking game (namely, the kickers), he could be Dave Toub II and it wouldn’t matter.
  • Charles London (RB) might have the easiest job on this new staff. He’s really the only one coming into a position room with a stacked deck.
  • Mike Furrey (WR) played for the Lions and produced under Mike Martz. He also was a teammate of Nagy’s in the Arena League and coached at some college called Limestone. And there’s video!

  • Both London and Furrey are known for their intensity. This is going to be a young, hungry staff on the offensive side.
  • Kevin M. Gilbride (TE) is the son of the great offensive coordinator, Kevin Gilbride, who ushered the Eli offense in New York to two Super Bowl titles before being scapegoated by management and forced into retirement. He’s young. He’s hungry. And he was lauded for his work with rookie Evan Engram in 2017.
  • When Ryan Pace interviewed Nagy he asked him to consider keeping both Dave Ragone (QB) and Frank Smith (TE). Smith is now in Oakland. Bears are actively seeking Ragone’s replacement, calling for both Houston’s Pat O’Hara and Oakland’s Todd Downing. This is Nagy’s staff.
  • A debate broke out over social media on the importance of re-hiring Vic Fangio. One side argued it’d be good to have the veteran DC back but not a necessity. The other side argued the defense would cease to progress without him, falling off a cliff, back to the age of Mel Tucker. The truth is simpler. Bringing Fangio back was a no-brainer. The language stays the same. The talent assembled doesn’t require re-configuring. The voice at the front of the defensive meeting room stays consistent. Could this group have survived without Fangio? Possibly. But there was absolutely no reason to find out.
  • Does Fangio’s return mean anything for Kyle Fuller’s return? I don’t know. What I do know is the two developed a close relationship last off-season. There’s nobody closer to Fuller in the Bears organization than Fangio.
  • Per Mark Potash of the Sun-Times, Fangio is the first defensive coordinator retained by a new head coach since Buddy Ryan in 1982. A few years later the Bears were champions.

This is not only a good staff. It’s an interesting one. And it will be exciting to see what this team looks like in Bourbonnais. Now they need more good players.

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