The 2018 Bears have been one of the NFL’s biggest surprises, at least for those who weren’t paying attention to what was being built there. Little did we know that the NFL’s best defense would come from the organization known for leaning on that unit for decades.
In a year where only six defenses finished with positive expected points, Vic Fangio’s unit stands out above the rest.
Due to his immense progress as Chicago’s defensive coordinator this season, Fangio is now being pegged as a hot commodity on the head coaching market. Would the Bengals be buyers on said market for Fangio? Let’s explore that possibility here.
Fangio is a vested veteran after serving in the NFL for the last 32 years, spending 19 of those years as a defensive coordinator. Several teams have expressed interest in hiring him as their head coach, most notably the Broncos and the Dolphins. But the Bengals would do well to consider the coordinator of the best defense in the NFL in 2018.
- 1979-1981: Dunmore High School (PA) (Defensive Coordinator & LB Coach)
- 1982: Milford Academy (CT) (Defensive Coordinator)
- 1984: Baltimore Stars (USFL) (Defensive Assistant)
- 1986-1994: New Orleans Saints (LB Coach)
- 1995–1998: Carolina Panthers (Defensive Coordinator)
- 1999–2001: Indianapolis Colts (Defensive Coordinator)
- 2002–2005: Houston Texans (Defensive Coordinator)
- 2006–2008: Baltimore Ravens (Special Assistant to Head Coach/Defensive Assistant)
- 2009: Baltimore Ravens (LB Coach)
- 2010: Stanford (Defensive Coordinator)
- 2011–2014: San Francisco 49ers (Defensive Coordinator)
- 2015–present: Chicago Bears (Defensive Coordinator)
Why he could work
First and foremost, the Bengals defense was awful this past season while the Bears defense was outstanding. Offensive coaches are all the rage today, but the Bengals are going to need to clamp down on the other side of the ball.
After his first several stints as an NFL defensive coordinator from 1995-2005, Fangio took over defenses again in 2011 on the San Francisco sidelines. After working with Jim Harbaugh at Stanford in 2010, the Harbaugh brought Fangio with him across the Bay to San Francisco, where the 49ers would improve from 6-10 to 13-3 and make it to the NFC Championship. That year, the 49ers defense gave up the fourth-fewest yards and second-fewest points in the league.
Fangio’s defense would be in the top five or better for his entire tenure with the 49ers. But when Harbaugh was fired after the 2015 season, his replacement Jim Tomsula did not retain Fangio. The 49ers defense quickly became the worst in the NFL in 2016.
Fangio was brought on by John Fox and his staff with the Bears. Chicago’s defense would be middle-of-the road until 2018, when the Bears made two key additions: head coach Matt Nagy and edge rusher Khalil Mack. In 2018, the Bears had third-fewest yards in the NFL in yards and fewest points given up.
If he were given the reigns in Cincinnati, Fangio would have plenty to work with on defense. He could use young edge rushers like Carl Lawson and Sam Hubbard to replicate Mack’s success (though Mack is a transcendent talent and then some). He could also try and develop safety Jessie Bates the same way he developed Eddie Jackson into a turnover machine. Fangio would not have to start all the way over if he were to come into the Queen City and turn the defense around, he’d have plenty of pieces already in place.
Why he might not be the guy
Fangio had some great success in San Francisco, but stumbled into a great situation. He had the chance to work with players like Eric Reid and Patrick Willis, which any defensive coordinator would love. When he took over for the Bears, his defense was quite average until they acquired a two-time All-Pro in Mack. While the Bengals also have a two-time All-Pro on the defensive line in Geno Atkins, there were times in 2018 when he was neutralized.
There is a reason that Fangio floated around in his first ten years in the league. Unless he has a superstar on his defense, his defenses have been average or worse.
While current special teams’ coordinator Darrin Simmons seems like the frontrunner for the job, the Bengals would do well to hire a great defensive coach from outside the organization.
That said, while he seems to be a hot commodity around the NFL, the Bengals don’t seem to show much interest. The likeliest defensive candidate for the job appears to be Vance Joseph.
But when the Bengals hired Marvin Lewis, he was the coordinator of one of the league’s best defenses coming off a great season. Fangio seems to fit that bill, but don’t be surprised if the Bengals go in another direction.