If Bears head coach Matt Nagy is concerned with making the most seamless transition as he replaces departed defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, the team’s DBs coach Ed Donatell makes the most sense.
Donatell, who reportedly interviewed for the job Thursday night, has worked on Fangio’s staffs for the previous eight years, so he knows the scheme and the personnel thoroughly. Prior to their time together in Chicago, Fangio and Donatell spent four years with the 49ers (2011-14) before Fangio took the Bears’ job as coordinator and brought Donatell with him.
There is speculation that Fangio, the new Broncos head coach, will bring Donatell with him to Denver as his defensive coordinator. But Donatell would have that title in name only, as Fangio would clearly be the defensive boss. Remaining in Chicago would give Donatell clear-cut authority over the defense, as Nagy is content to focus on offense and delegate all things defense to his coordinator.
Donatell, who turns 62 next month, has seven years’ experience as an NFL defensive coordinator, including 2000-03 with the Packers and 2004-06 with the Falcons. His defenses possessed many of the same strengths that characterized Fangio’s units.
In his three years running the defense in Atlanta, Donatell’s teams were No. 7 in the NFL in sacks, including No. 1 in 2004, when they had 48 (two less than this year’s Bears team) and helped the Falcons reach the NFC title game. During those three years, the Falcons were also No. 8 in third-down defense, including No. 1 in 2005.
Donatell’s Green Bay defenses were third in takeaways during his four-year tenure and led the NFL with 45 in 2002 (nine more than the 2018 Bears, who led the league). Under Donatell, the Packers produced a franchise-record 52 sacks in 2002.
Bears DL coach Jay Rodgers, a nine-year NFL coaching veteran, is considered the only other in-house candidate, while former Colts head coach Chuck Pagano has been mentioned as the top outside candidate and interviewed for the opening Friday, one day after Donatell, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Like Fangio, Donatell is a calm, low-key teacher who stresses attention to detail in technique.
When word reached the 27-year NFL coaching veteran that Bears starting CB Prince Amukamara had set a goal of 10 interceptions this season, even though he had a total of just seven in his first seven season, Donatell was quick to challenge the player — and just as quick to provide assistance.
“Coach Ed said, ‘Hey, you wrote a check, and we have to cash it,’ ” Amukamara said with a laugh. “I said, ‘Coach, I didn’t write it,’ I just said, ‘This is something that I would love to happen.’ He said, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, let’s go.’ So he threw me on the Jugs (football-throwing machine), and we went to work.”
Amukamara didn’t come close to his goal, but he did match his career best with three interceptions, one of which he returned for his first career touchdown.
Amukamara was just one of Donatell’s success stories in 2018. On a star-studded defense, no position group performed better than the defensive backs.
Second-year S Eddie Jackson and five-year veteran CB Kyle Fuller both had career years and made All-Pro and the Pro Bowl for the first time. They combined for 13 interceptions, including seven by Fuller, who tied for the NFL lead. Jackson took back two of his picks for touchdowns and also scored on a fumble return. He has five defensive touchdowns in two seasons under Donatell, more than anyone in the NFL since the start of the 2015 season.
Nickel CB Bryce Callahan also enjoyed a career year, matching his personal best with two interceptions in 13 games before winding up on I.R. with a foot injury.