LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — Chicago has more of a no-name defense than Vic Fangio coordinated in San Francisco — and he’s adjusted well.
Denied the head coaching job by the 49ers after former coach Jim Harbaugh left, Fangio has crafted a Chicago Bears defense ranked second in the NFL against the pass and 14th overall.
Now he gets his chance against his old team with San Francisco visiting Chicago on Sunday.
“We’re 5-6 — all I’m thinking about is trying to get to 6-6,” Fangio said Wednesday. “I just look back on the four years with the 49ers with really good memories. We had a nice run there. Got to a Super Bowl. Got to three championship games, won a lot of football games over a four-year period.”
Fangio said the 49ers’ decision to hire his defensive line coach, Jim Tomsula, as head coach was buried in the past when he moved on to assist coach John Fox in Chicago.
“I’ve just always accepted it’s their decision, their team,” he said. “They do what they want with it.”
Fangio’s 49ers defenses ranked fifth overall in 2013 and 2014, third in 2012 and fourth in 2011. He accomplished this with players such as Justin Smith, Ahmad Brooks, NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith.
There is less star power with the Bears. The talent difference and Fangio’s first year in the system has led to a more basic approach.
“It’s been a really good group to work with,” Fangio said. “They’ve been really coachable. They are trying extremely hard from a mental standpoint from the meetings and trying to take things from the meetings to the field.
So from that standpoint it’s been very enjoyable.”
Fangio has turned Lamarr Houston and Willie Young from defensive ends in a 4-3 to stand-up outside linebackers, and has had to cope with losing two defensive linemen for the season. Injuries have also sidelined outside linebackers Shea McClellin and Pernell McPhee and safety Antrel Rolle at times.
So reserves plucked from the waiver wire have helped carry the load, like safety Chris Prosinski, defensive end Mitch Unrein and linebacker Jonathan Anderson.
As a result, Fangio hasn’t gambled much.
“I haven’t adjusted in style or teaching techniques,” Fangio said. “You just have to be cognizant that there may be some things you want to do schematically that the group as a whole, and it may be just because of three or four guys, isn’t ready for.”
Fox isn’t surprised by what Fangio has achieved.
“As I’ve mentioned many times, it’s not a one-man show,” Fox said. “You need a good staff. I think we’ve assembled an outstanding staff — Vic’s one of those guys. I think he’s earned that reputation in this league in a variety of different spots. He is a good teacher. He puts our guys in the best positions to utilize their abilities.”
While the Bears defense has improved over the last two years when it finished 30th overall, the run defense has surrendered 170 and 177 yards the last two games to fall to 29th.
“I think our secondary is doing a great job of covering — they did that all year,” McPhee said. “But we’ve just got to get better in the run defense and that’s what our focus got to be going in because San Fran is going to come in here and probably try to run the ball down our throats.”
Fangio came over with former 49ers defensive backs coach Ed Donatell. He doubts their knowledge of San Francisco provides much adventage.
“Things like this happen every week in the NFL,” he said. “Sometimes I think you can overdo it and think you know too much and it works both ways. Obviously there’s a couple coaches there that we’re with me the past four years there. It works both ways.”