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State of the Bears: Vic Fangio's future

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The Bears defense is finally playing at an elite level again. How important is it that Fangio returns next season?

Minnesota Vikings v Chicago Bears Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images

Dominant defense and an inept passing offense. No one does it better than the Chicago Bears. It's practically tradition ingrained deep into the franchise.

Despite the efforts by Chicago to bring along Mitchell Trubisky slowly, or curtail their young quarterback altogether, a newly reinvigorated elite defense has sprung up in the headlines lately. Whether it be coaching or talent (it's primarily the talent), the standard of defensive play that Chicago is used to when it comes to the Bears has returned over the past month. A refreshing ideal in the face of recent incompetence on that side of the ball.

For frame of reference, in October, Chicago's defense allowed four total offensive touchdowns and scored three of their own. A dominant front seven accrued 14 sacks, terrorizing opposing quarterbacks who in total had one passing touchdown.

One passing touchdown allowed in four games in the modern pass-happy NFL of 2017. Absolutely mind-boggling.

Overall, the unit forced eight turnovers, 12 three-and-outs, and 10 punts - all on a sizable 46 total possessions.

This was the Bears defense that most wanted back that imposes its will on opponents. A defense that dictates game flow and rhythm on its terms, not a star quarterback that normally dominates any contest. This was the defense most expected when the Bears originally hired defensive coordinator Vic Fangio following the demise of the Jim Harbaugh 49ers back in 2014. This was the unit the guru was going to revolutionize following a disastrous run by the much-maligned predecessor, Mel Tucker. It's taken two and a half years, but here the Bears finally sit with a championship level defense under their belt again.

And for as successful as they've been of late. And for how likely they'll maintain their high level of play in the second half of this season, their mastermind in Fangio might be on his last legs in Chicago. A harrowing thought for some. Not much of a lingering concern for others.

The third part of this evaluative conversation concerns the future of Fangio at the helm of the Bears defense, as the WCG staff and I weigh his importance for a team on the cusp of possible greatness.

3. If the Bears defense continues its torrid pace, how open are you to having Vic Fangio return as defensive coordinator?

The sentiment I've seen recently regarding Fangio's future in Chicago is that he's some kind of Messiah that the Bears can absolutely not afford to let go. Some would rather keep the stagnant John Fox, if that somehow meant Fangio would return in 2018 (Trubisky would be a sacrificial lamb to maintain the sanctity of the defense in this scenario). Some would rather promote a likely career defensive coordinator that is almost 60-years-old then risk losing his golden goose mentorship of a budding defense.

To that I ask: why?

There's no doubting the inherent good Fangio has done for the Bears. He's re-instilled a dominant defense after five or so years of mediocrity - something this franchise wasn't used to. Fangio has been integral to unleashing Akiem Hicks as one of the league's best defensive players: a game breaker as a 3-4 defensive end is nothing to scoff about. Guys like Leonard Floyd and Kyle Fuller almost certainly wouldn't be the studs they are right now without Fangio's stewardship of challenging them both publicly and privately.

This is a coordinator that maximizes the talent he possesses on his defense to the best of his ability. Ultimately a coach's job must first prioritize making a player comfortable by catering to his strengths versus fitting a square peg into a round hole of a convoluted scheme. Not many modern NFL coaches understand that notion better than Fangio.

I'm open to Fangio returning to the Bears. Yet, I don't see it happening barring the unthinkable of hiring Jim Harbaugh away from Michigan. There are too many factors standing in the way.

For one, if an innovative new head coach doesn't want him around, you don't think twice about not pushing to re-sign him. Trubisky's future and whoever the head man wants has priority. Their judgment and development is prioritized. Bruce Arians is somewhere nodding slowly. Not to mention Fangio's contract is also up in January, so it's not as if the decision is in the Bears' hands as to whether they'll be able to bring him back.

Even if Chicago did move mountains to keep Fangio, I highly doubt he wants to be here long-term based on reports of previous rifts with Fox and management. Nor should the Bears necessarily be sweating at his loss because it's my thought that many overrate exactly what he's done for this organization. This is 2017. Not 1985. Stop comparing letting Buddy Ryan walk after a Super Bowl championship to Fangio potentially leaving this January. These are two entirely different scenarios in drastically contrasting eras of football. Not everything about the modern Bears is the same because it compares to the dramatic tale of how Chicago built it's lone Super Bowl champion. That's too easy of a shoehorn. Football isn't played in a vacuum.

Anyway, I wrote about how far away these Bears were from finishing the ideal Fangio defense way back in early April. Meaning, how much more talent they needed to acquire in comparison to his elite San Francisco years. It compared current guys such as Hicks and Floyd to the obvious juxtaposition of Justin Smith and Aldon Smith.

Back then, the Bears seemed like they needed quite a few more pieces to finish the All-Pro and Pro-Bowl littered defense Fangio enjoyed with the 49ers. It wasn't a reach to consider who could be an elite talent. It hadn't happened yet in Chicago, is all.

Now? The Bears have a legitimate playmaker at every level of their defense. Hicks, Floyd and Eddie Goldman comprise a ridiculously good pass rush. Danny Trevathan is one of the league's best linebackers and should be more than fine next to a steady Christian Jones or Nick Kwiatkoski. Finally, a surprising secondary led by Kyle Fuller, Adrian Amos, and Eddie Jackson has taken the league by storm, locking down every recent passing game the Bears have faced. All of these players represent building blocks of a defense primed to step into the spotlight. They're the true reason for the Bears' rise, not because a coach suddenly flipped a magical switch.

NFL coaching does matter, don't get me wrong. Look across the Bears' sideline to John Fox's questionable game management and tenuous handling of a 23-year-old quarterback to reference for that fact. More than anything, though, the professional game is about talent. Talent changes how a team plays on either side of the ball first and foremost.

Fangio is going to move on to greener pastures by my estimation and while the Bears may experience an initial slight hit in performance, they'll survive without him considering the in-prime and young talent on defense (the oldest current defensive starter is the 28-year-old Prince Amukamara).

As long as the 3-4 scheme stays relatively the same and another Tucker-type isn't hired, these Bears are in as great of long-term shape on defense since 2005. With Fangio or without.


Lester Wiltfong Jr.

Fangio is in the last year of his contract, so he may not even want to stick around Chicago. Hypothetically speaking, whoever the head coach is next season should want Fangio to return. He should interview him and ask Bears' management to make him one of the highest paid defensive coordinators in the NFL.

Ken Mitchell

I don't want any coach that is too dumb to realize that Fangio needs to stay. I am 100 percent behind Vic Fangio.

Jacob Infante

If Fangio wants to come back, then the Bears should do just about anything to keep him. That might prove to be a big "if", though.

Josh Sunderbruch

I am completely open to Fangio staying, so long as he stays and Fox goes. I recall good things happening at least once that a new head coach was forced to accept a DC who was already in place. Of course, that seems like a long time ago.

Jack Silverstein

I'm open to it, but it's not a deal breaker for me. Get the right head coach and build from there.

Sam Householder

I am open to it. I think he could even be a head coaching candidate, to be honest. Fangio has been around the block and clearly his fingerprints are all over this defense. While he has been fairly criticized at times in Chicago, I think that he is an integral part of the defensive resurgence.

Andrew Link

I am open to him returning, but I find it unlikely. He has ties to San Francisco and they tried to hire him last year. He is a "free agent' after the season and I think he walks.

Patti Curl

More than open. I would love to see Fangio stay. Probably the most important thing for the Bears' future is finding the right coaching staff for Trubisky's development, but I am loving this defense more and more each week. I really think it's taken time for personnel and scheme to mesh and I would hate to set the reset button on something that is coming together beautifully. Besides, having an elite defense is a boon for a young quarterback.

WCG Contributors: Jeff Berckes; Patti Curl; Kev H; Sam Householder; Jacob Infante;Andrew Link; Ken Mitchell; Steven Schweickert; Jack Silverstein; EJ Snyder; Lester Wiltfong, Jr.; Robert Zeglinski; Like us on Facebook.