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Five things to know about senior defensive assistant John Pagano

San Diego Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano gets excited during the team's practice at their training camp in San Diego, Sunday, July 28, 2013. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
San Diego Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano gets excited during the team's practice at their training camp in San Diego, Sunday, July 28, 2013. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

The Washington Commanders have finalized their coaching staff for the 2024 season, and has spent the past few weeks providing an inside look at their backgrounds and what they can add to the team.

We'll wrap things up with senior defensive assistant John Pagano.

1. He rose through the ranks with the Chargers.

Pagano had been in coaching long before he joined the Chargers franchise in 2002. After wrapping up his playing career at Colorado Mesa University, he coached at Mesa State, UNLV, Overland High School, Louisiana Tech and Ole Miss at the college level before moving to the NFL with the Saints and Colts.

It wasn't until he became the Chargers' defensive assistant and defensive quality control coach that his career truly took off.

Over the next nine seasons, Pagano was promoted from assistant linebackers coach to mentoring the outside linebackers and eventually the entire position. During that time, several of his players had individual success, but the most notable was Shawne Merriman, who led the league with 17 sacks in 2006 after being the Defensive Rookie of the Year the previous season.

In 2012, he was named as the Chargers' defensive coordinator, a position he held for five seasons. In his first year, the Chargers scored seven defensive touchdowns, nearly tying a franchise record set in 1961. The Chargers had two top 10 finishes in yards allowed during his tenure as coordinator, ranking ninth in 2012 and 2014.

2. He places high value on being able to build a culture.

Pagano has had a long coaching career that spans more than three decades. He's been around NFL teams since 1996, and those years of experience have taught him the value of having a strong culture in the building.

Back in 2022, he spoke with The 33rd Team about how he looks at the sport and the place culture has in creating success.

"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."

We don't have a full list of Pagano's responsibilities, but it's fair to assume that keeping the Commanders' new culture on track will be part of it.

3. He's worked with premier defensive talent.

Pagano has worked with numerous defensive players during his coaching career, but some stand out among the rest. You're probably familiar with their names, but let's roll through some of the best.

Sitting near the top of the list is longtime Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa, who the team drafted third overall in 2016. They only worked together for one year, but he did help the former Ohio State pass rusher put together a stellar rookie season that ended with him getting 10.5 sacks and Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.

Next up is Von Miller, who technically played under Pagano for two seasons but missed the 2020 campaign because of an ankle injury. When Miller came back, he didn't miss a beat, recording 9.5 sacks on top of 50 tackles and a forced fumble.

And before they even worked together, Miller said he was familiar with Pagano's reputation and called him "another great, smart coach."

4. Football runs in the family.

You probably picked up on this, but Pagano is not the only NFL coach in the family. His brother, Chuck Pagano, entered the professional coaching ranks not long after John and spent time with the Browns, Raiders, Ravens, Colts and Bears. And unsurprisingly, the two take their jobs seriously.

"We never talk during this time," Chuck Pagano said back in 2016.

"We've always been tight, but this is probably the only week in the year we don't talk," John Pagano told "We go (dark) on each other.  It's tough but, when that ball kicks off the most important thing is about the Chargers getting a win and that's all that matters."

But Chuck and John aren't the only ones in the Pagano family who have ties in football. Their father, Sam, was a high school coach for 20 years and played a role in introducing the sport to them.

"We'd be in elementary school or junior high and you couldn't wait for Friday night to come," John said.  "Being able to ride on the bus as kids to go to games with our dad and be a ball boy; we were a football family."

5. He's in lockstep with Joe Whitt Jr.

Commanders defensive coordinator Joe Whitt Jr. held a fiery press conference when he first joined the team, saying that he's going to coach a "run and hit" unit that is going to prioritize taking away the football. The style isn't going to be for everyone, he said, but it will be a successful strategy.

Those are sentiments that Pagano can get behind.

"That's our motto," Pagano said. "Ball is life. We run to the football. Everything that has been taught to us, what [head coach Dan Quinn] not is the ball is life, but it's that 'see ball, get ball' mentality. You have to have that, and Joe said it best. That's our identity. That's what we want our identity to be. That's what you have to have to play defense. You have to create an identity, and it's getting 11 guys hunting that ball down. That's what it's all about."

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