John Pagano is a long-time NFL Coach who entered the league in 1996 and held the role of Defensive Coordinator of the Chargers from 2012-2016. He most recently held the position of Outside Linebackers Coach with the Denver Broncos.
We caught up with John for this week’s Friday Five…
Who is your biggest mentor?
Growing up, it was my dad—seeing him coach and really watching him build a championship program from the high school level, the relationships that he built with his players and seeing how they played for him. I thought he was huge.
Then, in the middle of my career, my brother had a big impact on me on how to go about coaching, how to handle certain things, and how smart he was.
Probably the third person that I would have to put up there is Wade Phillips. I learned so much being around him—how he ran meetings, talked to his players. He really taught me a lot about his defense.
What is a way that football has evolved positively over your time around the game, and what is one way you think things were better, “back in the good old days?”
The answer to the first one is player safety. That has really changed the game, trying to keep people safe from how you’re coaching it and the proper way to tackle, the proper way to block. Those things have evolved very positively over the last 26 years I spent in the National Football League.
The thing that was better back then: the two-a-day type of work mentality, getting yourself prepared for the season. There was probably more time in training camps that you had to develop guys and get the work. I’m not saying it needs to be going hard at practices all the time, but it was better having more time to be able to develop players.
What is unique about the way you look at the game of football — whether that’s defensively, team building or culture?
Culture is the big thing—having the players with the right mindset coming in every day to work in the building. That is probably the number one aspect of having that culture, and it starts with the work ethic. Winning creates a great culture, don’t get me wrong, but having that certain culture that everybody buys into is something that’s important.
Defensively, I’ve always enjoyed the process of being able to prepare for opponents. I enjoy the weekly preparation and being able to come up with a plan and having your players take ownership in that plan during the week and having everything come together and then letting it develop on Sunday.
What is one moment in your life you wish you could bottle up and go back to over and over again?
Seeing both my sons being born — Jagger and Brody. Going back to that would be awesome. I mean, football wise, there’s so many moments. But the birth of your child? It’s amazing.
If you could invite any three people to dinner—living, dead or fictional. Who would it be, and why?
My sister Kathy, who passed away at the young age of 22. I was younger, and to be able to speak to her and have her see how I’ve grown up and to let her know she was the rock and a warm, loving person. I wish I had more time to be able to talk to her and for her to be able to see where I’m at and see what she says.
For the others, probably my grandparents. I lost my grandparents at a young age, and I think about how fortunate my boys are to be able to have their grandparents and still be around them, to grow up and visit with them.