Ed Donatell or Chuck Pagano? Evaluating the resumes of reported Bears defensive coordinator candidates originally appeared on nbcsportschicago.com
If what's past is prologue, it's worth diving into what a pair of potential candidates to replace Vic Fangio as the Bears' defensive coordinator have done in their coaching careers.
As of Friday afternoon, three potential candidates had already been hired, or will be hired, by other teams: Todd Bowles (Tampa Bay), Vance Joseph (Arizona) and Gregg Williams (New York Jets). But two names have emerged as Bears targets in the last 24 hours: Ed Donatell, the team's incumbent defensive backs coach; and Chuck Pagano, the former Indianapolis Colts head coach.
Let's look at how their resumes stack up against each other:
Chicago Bears: Defensive backs (2015-2019)
Key stat: 21 interceptions from DBs in 2018
Donatell's work with All-Pros Kyle Fuller and Eddie Jackson stands out, for starters.
Fuller went from an injured, average afterthought to earn a $56 million contract and lead the NFL in interceptions all in the span of two seasons. Beyond those seven picks, Fuller developed into one of the best cover corners in the league, too, allowing 69 receptions in 745 coverage snaps with an average of 3.8 yards after the catch - important for someone who plays mostly off coverage.
Jackson, meanwhile, had six interceptions while excelling as a ball-hawking, yet fundamentally sound, safety. Cornerback Prince Amukamara and safety Adrian Amos both have been solid players since entering the starting lineup in 2017, while slot corner Bryce Callahan had the best year of his career in 2018 before a season-ending injury. And after Callahan was lost for the year, Sherrick McManis stepped in and acquitted himself well.
San Francisco 49ers: Defensive backs (2011-2014)
Key stat: 9th, 3rd, 9th, 9th in passing yards/play
Donatell's secondaries with the 49ers were consistently among the best in the league, with standout seasons from cornerback Carlos Rogers, safety Donte Whitner, safety Eric Reid and safety Antoine Bethea highlighting each of those years.
Denver Broncos: Secondary coach (2010)
Key stat: 32nd in points/game
This was the year in which the Broncos fired Josh McDaniels after 12 games. While this was the league's worst defense, the coordinator was Don "Wink" Martindale, who went on to scheme this year's excellent Baltimore Ravens defense. This year shouldn't be held against anyone who was on that defensive staff.
Atlanta Falcons: Defensive coordinator (2004-2006)
Key stat: 14th, 18th, 15th in points allowed/game
Donatell's defenses in Atlanta weren't anything special, though they did rank No. 1 in third down defense in 2005. The Falcons slid from losing the NFC Championship in 2004 to going 8-8 and 7-9 in the next two years, resulting in the firing of Jim Mora Jr. and his coaching staff.
Green Bay Packers: Defensive coordinator (2000-2003)
Key stat: 14th, 5th, 12th, 11th in points allowed/game
Donatell was fired after the Packers' defense slipped in 2003, with the flashpoint a fourth-and-26 conversion by Donovan McNabb that spurred a game-tying Eagles field goal in the divisional round of the playoffs, a game the Packers went on to lose in overtime. Donatell's defense, in 2002, ranked in the top 10 in passing yards/game (No. 3), passing yards/play (No. 3), interception rate (No. 3), sacks/pass attempt (No. 8) and third down percentage (No. 5), and that group ranked fifth in defensive DVOA.
Denver Broncos: Secondary coach (1995-1999)
New York Jets: Secondary coach (1990-1994)
Donatell cut his teeth in the NFL with the Jets and then Broncos, winning two Super Bowls on Mike Shanahan's staff in Denver.
Final thought: The benefit to promoting Donatell is the Bears wouldn't have to change much with the structure of their defense. The Chicago Tribune reported the Bears interviewed Donatell this week for their defensive coordinator position, though he could be a candidate to follow Fangio to Denver to be his defensive coordinator, too (though that job would not involve playcalling duties).
Indianapolis Colts: Head coach (2012-2017)
Key stat: One year as top 10 in points allowed/game (2013)
Pagano's Colts teams were more based on Andrew Luck and an explosive offense than great defense, though those Indianapolis defenses rarely were stocked with talent thanks to some poor drafting by general manager Ryan Grigson (Indianapolis' only first-round pick on defense was defensive end Bjorn Werner, who was a whiff). Defensive end Robert Mathis, though, had an incredible 2013 season under Pagano's watch, leading the NFL with 19 1/2 sacks and 10 forced fumbles.
The Colts made the playoffs in each of Pagano's first three seasons, but missed the postseason in his final three years in Indianapolis, culminating with his firing after a 4-12 season in 2017.
Baltimore Ravens: Secondary coach (2008-2010), defensive coordinator (2011)
Key stat: No. 1 in defensive DVOA in 2011
The Ravens went 12-4 and won the AFC North on the backs of Pagano's defense, which ranked third in points allowed and third in yards allowed and had two All-Pros in edge rusher Terrell Suggs and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. Ray Lewis and Ed Reed were there, too, and former Bear Pernell McPhee was second on the team with six sacks.
The Ravens never finished lower than seventh in passing defense DVOA while Pagano was in Baltimore, and his work with Reed in the twilight of his career (a league-leading nine and eight interceptions in 2008 and 2010) could stand out for a Bears team that employs Eddie Jackson.
Oakland Raiders: Defensive backs coach (2005-2006)
Key stat: 4th in passing defense DVOA in 2006
While the Raiders went a league-worst 2-14 in 2006, Pagano's unit was actually good. In addition to that DVOA efficiency-based success, they ranked third in interception rate (4.39 percent) and fifth in passing yards/play (5.43). Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha picked off eight passes that year.
Pagano spent 2007 as North Carolina's defensive coordinator before returning to the NFL.
Cleveland Browns: Secondary coach (2001-2004)
Key stat: No. 1 in passing defense DVOA in 2001
Pagano quickly proved his worth at the NFL level after making the leap from college, where he coached defensive backs at East Carolina, UNLV and Miami (Florida) from 1989-2000. The Browns' pass defense was the best in the NFL his first year in Cleveland, and ranked 11th and 8th in DVOA the next two years before slipping to 18th in 2004. The 2002 Browns were the last group to make the playoffs in franchise history.
Final thought: Pagano operates a 3-4 scheme and is well-respected around the league, especially for his work with defensive backs. It's easy to see why he's getting reported interest from not only the Bears, but teams like the Jets, Cardinals, Browns and Panthers. His experience as a head coach, too, should make him an attractive candidate for Nagy if he's looking for someone to run the defense similarly to how Fangio did.