CHICAGO — While Vic Fangio was being introduced Thursday as head coach of the Broncos, the Bears swung into motion to identify his replacement.
Defensive backs coach Ed Donatell, who has been with the Bears since 2015, when he arrived in that role under coach John Fox and Fangio, was interviewed Thursday, according to a league source.
Donatell, 61, has been a coordinator twice in a long NFL coaching career that began in in 1990 with the Jets. He is credited with developing one of the best defensive backfields in the league. Cornerback Kyle Fuller and free safety Eddie Jackson were named to the All-Pro and Pro Bowl teams this season; veteran cornerback Prince Amukamara is coming off arguably his best season; and nickel cornerback Bryce Callahan has developed as an undrafted player into an unrestricted free agent who will draw strong interest from the Bears and other teams.
The Bears led the NFL with 27 interceptions, their most since 31 in 1990, and a 72.9 opponents passer rating.
Keeping Donatell would be the most seamless transition for coach Matt Nagy as none of the language would change and the playbook would remain the same. Donatell has worked with all of the assistants, so there would be little turnover.
The Bears are also believed to be keenly interested in meeting with former Colts coach Chuck Pagano, who is reportedly in the mix with several clubs. He could be the No. 1 outside target for Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace.
A source said the Bears are driven to seek a quality candidate who runs a 3-4 scheme, although they would not rule out someone with a 4-3 background. That's not considered a huge issue because the defense lined up in a three-man front much less than a four-man front as the modern NFL calls for such a heavy reliance on nickel and other sub packages.
Pagano, 58, has interviewed with the Panthers, who have a vacancy for a secondary coach but might rearrange titles on the staff with coach Ron Rivera running the defense again. Pagano sat out this season but could have options; the Browns and Cardinals have also been reported to have interest in him as a defensive coordinator.
Donatell is coming out of contract with the Bears, and if he is not promoted to coordinator, there is a strong chance he would leave to join Fangio's staff in Denver. With multiple teams seeking defensive coordinators, the Bears job stands out as the best in the league, so Nagy and Pace won't have trouble getting candidates' attention.