Denver’s top-ranked defense reached Super Bowl 50 based on its ability to rush and cover in coordinator Wade Phillips’ aggressive 3-4 scheme.
Helping Phillips teach that scheme in the first season of his second stint in Denver were two former Vikings assistants who now fill similar roles in the rush and cover departments with the Broncos.
Joe Woods and Fred Pagac were with the Vikings from the time Brad Childress was hired in 2006 to when Leslie Frazier was fired after the 2013 season. Woods was the defensive backs coach, which is the same role he fills in Denver. Pagac spent most of his time with the Vikings as linebackers coach and is now the outside linebackers coach on the team with the best outside linebacker duo (Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware) in football.
“Minnesota was great because of the people and the fact that we were there long enough to raise a family in one place for longer than a lot of coaches get to,” Woods said.
As for whether Super Bowl 50 takes some of the sting out of that heartbreaking loss to the Saints in the NFC title game six years ago, Woods said, “You know, for me, mentally it does a little bit.”
When Childress was fired and Frazier promoted to interim coach 10 games into the 2010 season, Pagac was promoted to defensive coordinator. He stayed in that role until returning to linebackers coach only in 2013.
This is Pagac’s second Super Bowl. He was with the Raiders when they lost to Tampa Bay in Super Bowl XXXVII during the 2002 season. Ask “Pug” whether he feels this should be his third Super Bowl based on how the Vikings lost that game in New Orleans and he’ll say, “It should be my fourth. I was with the Raiders for the ‘Tuck Rule’ game, too,” a reference to the controversial playoff loss to Tom Brady and the Patriots.
Pagac doesn’t like to talk much to reporters, especially during a season. But he handled this week’s media access periods well. He even told a story about how his college coach, Woody Hayes at Ohio State, changed his life forever.
Pagac was a rookie tight end for the Bears in 1974. He went on to play for the expansion Bucs team that went 0-14 in 1976 and was released in 1977.
“I owe coach Hayes probably everything,” Pagac said. “I got released in 1977 and I was working construction. I had my daughter then. He called me and had me come back as a graduate assistant. That’s how I got into coaching. I didn’t know I was going to be a coach. I didn’t even know I wanted to be a coach. He saw it in me before I saw it in me, and he called me back.
“I went back back as a graduate assistant and spent 23 years at Ohio State. I thought I had a chance to be the next head coach there. It didn’t work out and that’s when I decided to go to pro ball.”
Pagac is 63, but he’s five years younger than Phillips, who’s currently the hottest assistant in the league. Of course, things change quickly in this league. Last year, Phillips was out of work.
“The key to Wade’s success?” Pagac asked. “Being who he is. Good person, knows football, been doing it a long time, lets the players play and does what the players do well. That’s about it.”
Woods said he still texts coaches from that Vikings staff. He shared a text with Frazier when he recently got the defensive backs job in Baltimore. Frazier’s son, Corey, a former safety at Rice, is now working as an intern in the Broncos’ scouting department.