Let’s be real. It is very difficult to give a Coach of the Year award on a staff that is almost certainly not going to be retained. Though he could very well be replaced by former Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther on presumably Jon Gruden’s 2018 staff, we do need to appreciate the work John Pagano did on the defensive side of the ball in the interim.
Pagano had spent well over a decade with the then San Diego Chargers before joining Del Rio’s staff in 2017 as an assistant head coach. The idea was that Pagano would work closely with the defensive backs to help fix a terrible secondary. We did see second-year safety Karl Joseph get better as the season progressed. Slot cornerback T.J. Carrie really took to Pagano’s coaching and will make some money as a free agent because of it.
When Del Rio fired former defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. after that disaster down in Mexico City versus New England, that thrust Pagano into the role as Oakland’s new defensive coordinator. Though the Raiders only won two games with Pagano in charge of the defense, you could see this unit start to improve immediately once he took over the group.
The pass rush became filthy, as Bruce Irvin began to challenge Khalil Mack as an elite pass rusher. The secondary started to play with greater awareness and started to pick off the occasional errant throw. Yes, the Raiders got torched by the Chargers in Week 17, but the Raiders put together at least four excellent defensive efforts under Pagano’s watch as defensive coordinator. One has to wonder how the defense would have been if he was in charge of it from the jump.