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Mark Carrier was ecstatic when he found out Chuck Pagano, his former coaching colleague with the Baltimore Ravens, was named Chicago's new defensive coordinator.
"One, Chuck's a good person," the former Bears Defensive Rookie of the Year and three-time Pro Bowler told PFW by phone Tuesday. "He’s a damn good football coach. And he’s a good leader. The Bears are lucky to have him."
Carrier, of course, cut his NFL teeth with the Bears as the No. 6 overall pick in the 1990 draft. His 10 interceptions as a rookie remain a franchise record. Carrier credits the Bears and former teammates such as Richard Dent and Mike Singletary for giving him his NFL education as a player. But he says he learned plenty about how to lead from Pagano, with whom he coached the Ravens secondary from 2008-09.
"The thing I loved about Chuck was his relatability to players," Carrier said. "He knew how to talk to players, from the Ed Reeds to the Haloti Ngatas to Terrell Suggs. He has a great way of communicating with the players where they buy in and he develops trust and relationships with them and guys love to play for him."
Reed first met his future NFL DBs coach and defensive coordinator at the University of Miami, where the former safeties — Pagano played collegiately at Wyoming — began forming a particularly special bond. One element that made it so special, Carrier recalls, was Pagano knowing how to best manage his star pupil.
"I love Ed," Carrier says. "He’ll be in the Hall of Fame — and deservedly so. One of the greatest players I’ve ever been around and had the pleasure of watching play.
"But Ed could be a little moody at times. Chuck had that ability to deal with someone like Ed, who was smart and studied. But he wasn’t always going to come in the early part of the week with the greatest of attitudes.
"Chuck allowed players to speak their minds and not feel threatened like they don’t have a say. Players were very comfortable, like Ed, going to share his opinion with Chuck and not have Chuck take it personal."
A longtime Colts reporter who covered the entirety of Pagano's six-year tenure as head coach, echoed Carrier's sentiments.
"Everyone who plays for him loves him," he told PFW. "He's a players coach."
Carrier expects no one will love playing for Pagano more than Eddie Jackson, the Bears' second-year All-Pro safety who's drawn some very lofty comparisons to Reed.
"He’s thrived under Vic," he said of Jackson, one of the Bears' few great ballhawks since Carrier was in Chicago. "He’ll keep it going and he’ll put Eddie Jackson in great positions to make more plays. One thing about Jackson — he’s a playmaker. And one thing about Ed Reed — he was a playmaker. Chuck will help that continue to blossom moving forward."
How, you ask?
Carrier said Pagano's focus as a coach is on technique, that he's all about striving for perfection in practice.
"But one thing I love about Chuck — he doesn’t over-coach it either," Carrier says. "You work at it, you try and perfect it in practice, and then you allow them to play on game day and you make adjustments."
In-game adjustments weren't one of Pagano's strengths with the Colts, but it's only fair to mention that he was never working from a position of strength the way he will be in Chicago. Pagano received only four top-100 picks in five drafts from 2012-16, when he and GM Ryan Grigson worked together — not exactly in harmony. Three of those selections — Bjoern Werner, D'Joun Smith and T.J. Green —are already out of the league.
For a truer feel of what Pagano can offer the Bears, then, one should hearken more to Pagano's four years in Baltimore, and especially his lone season coordinating the Ravens, than his time with the Colts.
Like the 2018 Bears, whose defense was led by another of Carrier's former Ravens colleagues, now-Denver Broncos HC Vic Fangio, Pagano's 2011 Ravens ranked No.1 in Football Outsiders' defensive DVOA, boasting three future Hall of Famers (Reed, Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis, who was enshrined last year). That's not only an incredible collection of talent but egos, the likes of which Pagano probably won't have to manage here. But he's shown that ability.
"[Fangio and Pagano] are both very positive and understanding," Carrier said.
That includes their shared understanding of who should collect the most credit for the success of their defenses.
"One thing I learned being around both of those guys, as good as Vic is and the things that he’s done and accomplished, it was never about him; it was about the players. It was about doing his job, X’s and O’s, and making sure the players got the credit for their success on the field.
"Chuck is almost exactly the same way. It’s never about the person, it’s about the players."
It's also about unrelenting positives with Pagano. He's so well-liked and well-respected around the league largely because of his contagious enthusiasm. And that includes Pagano's darkest days, when he was diagnosed with leukemia only three games into his Colts tenure and was forced to take a leave of absence.
"I remember talking with him when he was ill and, like always, this man never has a bad day," recalls Carrier. "Even in tough situations that he was going through, he was still always the most positive person to be around, always cracking a joke, always had a big smile and always had a great outlook on life."
Fangio might be the man most responsible for the Bears' rise on defense, but it's no wonder the unit's outlook remains so bright with Pagano taking over the reins.