The Chicago Bears hired Vic Fangio as their new defensive coordinator Tuesday, hoping the veteran coach who spent the last four seasons with San Francisco can breathe some life into the once-storied unit.
The Bears said they have reached an agreement with the 56-year-old Fangio to take over the Bears struggling defense under new coach John Fox. Terms were not disclosed.
Fangio had been a candidate for the defensive coordinator job with the Washington Redskins, who instead hired Joe Barry. Fangio was also bypassed for the 49ers' coaching job, given to defensive line coach Jim Tomsula last week.
Fangio just finished his fourth season as 49ers defensive coordinator after coming from Stanford with former coach Jim Harbaugh before the 2011 season. San Francisco had one of the NFL's top defenses during his tenure, but missed the playoffs at 8-8 last season following three straight NFC championship game appearances.
The 49ers defense struggled to find any consistency last season after the injuries of star linebackers NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis, and the nine-game suspension of linebacker Aldon Smith to start the year. Nose tackles Ian Williams and Glenn Dorsey went down, too, and so did cornerback Tramaine Brock and top rookie and first-round draft pick defensive back Jimmie Ward.
“It usually happens in droves that way sometimes,” Fangio said about the rash of injuries. “Like I said, I've been in the NFL a long time. There's been other years like this. You can't let it get your dauber down. You just have to keep your focus, keep the blinders on and do the best you can do. … It's challenging, but you have to deal with the circumstances you're dealt with whenever they're dealt to you.”
Fangio has 28 years of NFL coaching experience with 15 seasons as a defensive coordinator — Carolina (1995-98), Indianapolis (1999-2001), Houston (2002-05) and San Francisco. He also worked for the Saints and Ravens.
During his time in San Francisco, the 49ers were second in the NFL in scoring defense (17.4 points per game), third in total defense (310.2 yards per game) and fourth in takeaways (122). The 49ers also had the top run defense (92.0 ypg) and allowed the second-lowest yards per carry (3.78) — numbers that Bears fans can appreciate after all the years of watching everyone from Butkus to Urlacher stifle opponents. The 49ers also led the NFL in fewest first downs allowed (1,143) over those four seasons.
Fangio will now be asked to reshape the Bears into the same kind of stingy, ball-hawking, hard-hitting bunch he had in San Francisco.
Chicago made sweeping changes last month, firing general manager Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman after missing the playoffs for the seventh time in eight years during a mostly miserable season that ended with a 5-11 record.
While quarterback Jay Cutler and the rest of the offense was lackluster at best, the defense under coordinator Mel Tucker put up some truly awful numbers: The Bears allowed 442 points, the second most in franchise history behind a team-record 478 one year earlier. They also joined the 1923 Rochester Jeffersons as the only teams to give up 50 or more in back-to-back games.
Bringing in Jared Allen among others during the last offseason did not pay off, either, and a spotty record in the draft left the Bears lacking depth.