Bears hope to spoil reunion with Vic Fangio, Godfather of the defense

Gene Chamberlain

The Denver Broncos hadn't even played their opener yet Monday and the Bears were already talking about their trip to see "the Godfather" of their own defense in the Mile High City.

The game in Denver against the team coached by Vic Fangio was circled immediately when the schedule came out, and the Bears quickly put away the disappointment over their opening loss to Green Bay in order to focus on the man Khalil Mack used to call the Bears' "Evil Genius."

"He's with new players and I'm sure he's changed a few things here or there and so that'll be the biggest question from everybody is you know how does Vic attack us, how do we attack him," Bears coach Matt Nagy said after Monday's practice. "But in the end it really comes down to the players on both sides and there will be some chess match going on between both.

"But we have a lot of respect for him, the players do and I just think schematically it'll be interesting."

Players on both offense and defense have the utmost respect for Fangio as he built the current defense, and they enjoyed his crusty personality.

"He doesn't have a personality," running back Tarik Cohen deadpanned. "He's really a mob boss, though. That's what I see him as."

The mob boss nickname was one Cohen and several other Bears gave Fangio for obvious reasons.

"One, he's Italian," Cohen said. "And then just two, he's a man of few words and the words that he does say he means business."

The Bears' offense sees it as a huge challenge. It's the kind of thing to cause a team to open up their offense more.

"I guess so," Cohen said. "We ain't scored a touchdown. We gotta open it up."

Most players indicate neither they nor Fangio possess any sort of edge, but safety Eddie Jackson thinks the inside knowledge Fangio has could go a long way.

"One of the things I'll say he knows the guys, he knows the type of players we have here (from) going up against our offense in practices and things like that," Jackson said. "And also the type of guys we have on defense, he knows our strengths and also our defenses.

"It's going to be a formidable one, a tough one, you know, another tough one. I know a lot of people look at like 'oh it's Denver, it should be an easy win.' But it's a lot on the line for him being his old team and for us being he was our coach."

The natural inclination is for comparisons to be made between Fangio and new Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano. The big difference they all point to is Pagano is simply more talkative.

"Well, Vic isn't a many of many words as you all know," defensive end Roy Robertson-Harris said. "He don't really say too much.

"They're both good dudes, they're both great coaches. They've got a great resume as coaches."

As successful as Fangio was in San Francisco and other places, he didn't get the Bears into elite status defensively until last year. They were never ranked better than 10th in yardage allowed until finishing third last year. And they had only eight interceptions for three straight years while John Fox was head coach, before making 27 last year.

"He was a guy who has so much experience that he can hang his hat on," Nagy said. "And he's been successful in a lot of different places.

"So for me coming in as a younger coach and a younger head coach at that, being able to rely on him for situational football and just kind of saying, 'hey, how would you look at this formation or this personnel grouping? How would you attack it?' " Nagy said. "But really more so than anything, it was just trusting and believing the advice that he gave. You knew that there was merit behind it because of all his experience."

Nagy doubts it will affect how the game plan is made.

"We’re not going to just change our whole offense because we’re playing Vic," Nagy said. "It’s still hard. I mean, I can tell you just from last year playing the Chiefs in the preseason, I know that offense inside-out. But I couldn’t tell you what plays they were running based on formations."

The competitive nature of both Fangio and Nagy helped create last year's wild run to a 12-4 record after the Bears were 3-3 early in the season.

Nagy recalled the times he had the offense facing the defense in scrimmage, and how Fangio once was a bit out of character. He raced all the way down the sideline at full speed after an interception and fired up his players. Fangio then got a hold of the ball, and spiked it violently.

"They had a pick-6 and he grabbed the ball and he did a ba-boom and spiked the ball on us," Nagy said. "It was on video. And the first thing he did was ran into the video department and told them to delete that.

"But he forgot that I got 51 percent (on decisions) and I made 'em put it back in. So we got it on the video and we played it later in the year."

So Fangio may have been the Godfather of the Bears defense, but he wasn't the boss of the team.

Now he's the boss of his own team, and an obstacle for the Bears as they try to bounce back from a disappointing Week 1.