Hub Arkush: Where would Bears “D” be without Vic Fangio?
CHICAGO — You know the story of the 1981 Chicago Bears.
It was a mediocre club with some exciting young talent that woke up at the end of the season to win its final three games to get to 6-10 at the finish line.
The club featured an emerging third-year defensive lineman who dominated opponents, a second-year outside linebacker with unique physical gifts and a rookie tackling machine at inside linebacker.
The head coach, Neil Armstrong, made his bones as a defensive coordinator, and in his fourth season was still trying to be a players’ coach as much as a winning one.
He had brought with him a defensive coordinator, Buddy Ryan, who was also a players’ coach but in a very different way. He was an innovative tactician and former Marine whose younger charges might not want to hang out with, but would line up to serve with in a fox hole.
By the end of the year it was obvious Armstrong had to go. That young D-lineman, Dan Hampton, gave one of the quotes of the year when he said of Armstrong’s work, “The inmates were running the asylum.”
I was reminded of that this past week as Houston Texans owner Bob McNair was digging his own hole by making a similar reference to NFL players today, but I digress.
Fearful of losing their leader, the defensive players came together and authored a letter to George Halas begging him to give the top job to Buddy Ryan.
Of course, Papa Bear had his own choice to lead the team, Mike Ditka, but he retained Ryan as well and the rest, as they say, is history.
Those young linebackers were Otis Wilson and Mike Singletary.
As well as Akiem Hicks, Leonard Floyd, Danny Trevathan and Christian Jones are playing right now, I am not comparing them to Hampton, Wilson and Singletary, nor am I comparing these ’17 Bears to that ’81 group.
But I am concerned this team may have a similar coaching situation developing.
Head coach John Fox has one year left on his contract after this season, and until a few weeks ago, many assumed he was a dead man walking.
I have no idea what general manager Ryan Pace thinks about that, and with the way Fox’s team has played — with the exception of the Bucs and Packers games — the coach is making a fairly solid case for sticking around.
But if there is one person on these Bears right now who strikes me as indispensable it is defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, and his contract situation and the Bears ability to retain him is tricky at best.
Fangio is one of the best D-coordinators in football, and I believe he would make a hell of a head coach.
He’d love to take a crack at the job but for whatever reason has been given limited interviews and has never been chosen.
Fangio is 59 years old, but he strikes me as a “Bruce Arians in waiting,” the current Cardinals coach who got his first head job as the interim choice in Indianapolis in 2012 at the age of 60 and went on to be named the NFL Coach of the Year in two of the next three seasons.
Fangio is in the final year of his deal with the Bears, and while he and Fox discounted it there were reports of some potential friction at the end of last season.
Should the Bears decide to move on from Fox, would they consider Fangio for the top job?
If Fox is back, will another club be wise enough to give Fangio a shot at a head job? There’s an interesting young defense in Cleveland, and a near certainty Hue Jackson is on his way out.
Perhaps most interestingly, if Fox is retained, can he and Pace convince Fangio to return as the defensive coordinator here in Chicago?
Of all the personnel moves facing these 2017 Bears at the end of the season, this one could be the most crucial.
Maybe some of the young Bears defenders should start working on a letter?