What Will Fred Pagac Bring to Buffalo from Minnesota? Q&A with Vikings Writer Arif Hasan

BBD Assistant Editor: Ryan Talbot

Arif Hasan, who covers the Minnesota Vikings for the Daily Norseman and Bleacher Report, recently took the time to share his thoughts with Buffalo Bills Draft on new Buffalo linebackers coach Fred Pagac. Pagac spent the past eight years on Minnesota’s coaching staff as linebackers coach and for one year, defensive coordinator (2011).

1. How was Fred Pagac as linebackers coach for the Vikings?

Hasan: Overall, he was good. I would characterize him as a better than average positional coach for linebackers in the NFL, although I would hesitate to call him “great.” He got more out of players than most positional coaches and I think with the appropriate tools could get quite a lot. You might always get the sense that there’s some missing potential, but I don’t think that’s really the case and the players were fundamentally sound.

The one caveat is that he and his unit did terribly this year. But he and Mike Singletary were both basically the positional coaches for the linebackers and they worked at cross-purposes far too often. Singletary and Pagac had functionally opposite leadership styles and seemed to want different things. Singletary was very good when he was the lone positional coach, and the same can be said of Pagac. Together, they were very bad.

2. What went wrong when Pagac was the defensive coordinator in 2011?

Hasan: Everything.

That’s not fair, but it’s an easy reaction to a terrible season, and giving up the second-most points in the NFL that year. The first reaction people had to Pagac was that he was too “safe,” relied on base coverages and didn’t blitz too often. While I think the first is probably true, I don’t think the second two accusations are on point. In fact, the Vikings blitzed just below league average that year (blitz percentage was tied for 20th, according to Pro Football Focus).
But his playcalling was uncreative, stodgy, stubborn and acontextual. Players were given confusing assignments and the defenses weren’t fundamentally sound at times.
And worst of all—by the end of the year, players refused to run the plays he called and ran their own.

3. You mentioned that Pagac overdoes the yell/shame routine with players. Can you elaborate on that further? Is Pagac very intense/emotional on the sidelines? If so, he sounds a lot like new Buffalo defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.

Hasan: It’s not that I think he hurts his coaching by doing that, I just think it tends to fall on deaf ears and feels a bit forced and annoying. I remember players at training camp multiple years rolling their eyes or chafing at it. It sounded like the usual, “my grandmother could stick it better,” etc. Some cursing, and so forth.

That’s not to say it undercuts his authority or makes him a joke, he just overdoes it a lot. Players listen to him and do better for it, but he comes off as a bit ridiculous at times.
Pagac is very intense and emotional on the sidelines, however, and it seems to work out.

4. Who are some players that thrived under Pagac on Minnesota?

Hasan: As a defensive coordinator: Jared Allen, Antoine Winfield, Kevin Williams and Erin Henderson (sort of)

As an linebackers coach, there were always at least two high-performing players of the three starters in the linebacker corps and many times all three did well. That is particularly notable given the linebackers rotation he had in his last couple seasons. Chad Greenway, Ben Leber, E.J. Henderson and Erin Henderson all had good stints with him, and at times Dontarrious Thomas, Napoleon Harris and Heath Farwell could do well, too.
One could argue his biggest failure was Jasper Brinkley.

5. Chad Greenway is a possible cap casualty and Erin Henderson has had some off-the-field issues. If either player leaves Minnesota, who do you think would be a better fit in Schwartz’s defense?

Hasan: That is an interesting question. I haven’t lost hope in Nigel Bradham, so I’m not sure either would be huge additions to the Buffalo defense, but under Schwartz my guess is that the outside linebackers will be very important given his preferred defensive line setup. In that case, I would put Kiko at Will, Bradham at Mike and Henderson at Sam. I think Greenway has lost a step and I’m not sure he can get it back.

That is, if the Bills move to a 4-3 from the hybrid front they had previously. In the hybrid they have now, Henderson would be a better SILB in the rotation.