LAKE FOREST, Ill. — There’s an interesting coincidence with the Chicago Bears finishing their 2017 season at the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. Minnesota's head coach, Mike Zimmer, is one of a handful of men in recent years to earn their first NFL head-coaching jobs close to the age of 60.
Zimmer was 57 when he earned the Vikings’ job, and he’s 61 now — the man guiding the best team the Vikings have had in almost a decade. After years of being passed over for head-coaching jobs, it’s a point Zimmer has said he wasn’t sure he’d even get to.
His counterpart of sorts, Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, can relate to Zimmer’s position. He’s 59 now, having spent the past two-plus decades working his way up the NFL’s totem pole as a respected assistant and now coordinator, just as Zimmer did.
As for whether Fangio might get the chance Zimmer did, he’s unsure. But Fangio did find some time for a little humor — in what might have been his final meeting with Chicago-area media on Thursday — on that matter.
His final question came from Dan Jiggetts, who asked about Zimmer: “It took him a long time to get an opportunity. Guys with gray hair don’t seem to get those opportunities anymore …”
Fangio didn’t miss a beat — and didn’t even let Jiggets finish the question.
“Especially if they’re not coaching offense.”
It was a light moment as the Bears head into the final few days of a disappointing season and what could and is expected to be the end of head coach John Fox’s tenure with the team. Fox brought in Fangio to improve the Bears’ defense, and he did just that.
Although Fangio’s name has been floated as a possible head-coaching candidate, we might be able to cross the Bears off that list. The thinking goes like this: If GM Ryan Pace really wanted Fangio to replace Fox, which was a popular theory at one point, Pace likely would have fired Fox prior to the end of his third season as head coach and promoted Fangio from within. That could have set up perfectly as an on-the-job interim interview of sorts.
But that didn’t happen. And the feeling around Halas Hall is that Fox, Fangio and the rest of the staff will be dismissed as early as Monday. Some coaches will have to scrounge for job interviews. Fangio likely isn’t one of those people — and he said he’s not fearing what fate awaits them after Sunday’s game.
“No. I just don’t,” Fangio said. “My whole focus is on the game Sunday. I know that sounds like a packaged answer. But it really is. And then we’ll deal with next week when we need to deal with it. I think experience and longevity helps me do that easier than other coaches.”
It’s entirely likely that Fangio will be a hot name — as a defensive coordinator for hire elsewhere. Is there a future for him as a head coach one day? Does he even want to be a head coach in the NFL?
“Well, sure,” he said. “I mean, it wasn’t my ultimate dream … my ultimate dream when I got into coaching was to be a high school head coach and live happily ever after.”
But Fangio has far exceeded that. He’s regarded as one of the smarter coordinators in the league, an excellent builder of 3-4 defenses in multiple NFL cities now. So why hasn’t he attracted more attention as a possible head coach?
“I don’t take it personal or think I am not any better or less qualified than anybody else,” Fangio said. “Certain people are looking for certain parameters.”
Akiem Hicks has been one of the players who have blossomed under Fangio’s watch in Chicago. The defensive lineman credits Fangio for installing a new scheme and said he’d love to be with him for the rest of his career.
“I can’t speak to his wanting to be a head coach, but I know he loves what he does now,” Hicks said.