Why Jim Mora says new UConn football special assistant John Pagano is a ‘tremendous asset’ to the program

PUBLISHED August 28, 2023 at 1:50 p.m. | UPDATED: August 28, 2023 at 1:50 p.m.
More than a year removed from his 26th season coaching in the NFL, John Pagano decided to come to Storrs to meet up with his old friend, Jim Mora, and hang out with the UConn football team for about five weeks in the spring.
“Johnny,” as Mora calls him, was let go from his position as outside linebackers coach for the Denver Broncos after the franchise replaced head coach Vic Fangio with Nathaniel Hackett and was itching to get back, closer to the sport he grew up around. Like Mora, who had a similar feeling before taking the head job at UConn during the 2021 season, Pagano is the son of a coach.
The two “go way back,” Mora said Sunday, less than a week after the Huskies announced Pagano’s hiring as special assistant to the head coach.
With about a five-year age difference, Mora has known Pagano, 61, since he was about six years old , when his dad, Jim E. Mora, was an assistant at the University of Colorado. Pagano’s father, Sam, was the head football coach at the local high school, Fairview High in Boulder, just a 10-minute ride from the Buffaloes’ home at Folsom Field.
“Our families were really close, we share a very similar background,” Mora said. He and Pagano worked together in New Orleans with the elder Mora as head coach of the Saints. Mora was the defensive backs coach and Pagano was a defensive assistant. Pagano then went to the Indianapolis Colts, where he was a defensive assistant under the elder Mora.
John’s brother Chuck, a year older than Mora, went into coaching around the same time and eventually became head coach of the Colts from 2012-17, while John was defensive coordinator of the San Diego Chargers and Mora was leading UCLA.
“(John is) a tremendous defensive mind and a tremendous football mind. He’s had a lot of success at the NFL level as the defensive coordinator in San Diego and then Oakland, and then as a position coach at other places that he’s been,” Mora said. “He spent some time with us this spring, he came in and just was hanging out with us and he really bonded with our staff. I think our players really took to him, they liked him, he gave them great advice off the field whether it be about football or about life, kind of from the perspective of an older guy that’s spent time in the NFL.”
Mora said Pagano had a “willingness and a desire” to get back, closer to the sport, so UConn offered him a special assistant position. Pagano’s role is unique, he’ll have conversations with every positional group, he’ll sit and watch film with Mora, but he won’t be at every game because Mora didn’t want to take him away from his son, Jagger, who is a senior linebacker at San Diego.
“He’s been a tremendous asset to our whole staff, he’s been a tremendous asset to me. Our football backgrounds are very similar, our philosophies about, not just defensive football, but football and how to run a team are very similar. He’s a guy that has a lot of experience that I can bounce things off,” Mora said. “We have a fairly young defensive staff and I have a tremendous amount of confidence in them, but when you’re able to bring in a guy that has so much experience at the highest level and had so many successes at the highest level, it can only help your team. I’m really excited that he’s here.”
Depth a question at linebacker
The UConn depth chart has nearly filled itself out with the Huskies’ season opener on Thursday, though linebacker is one of the main areas in question. UConn, which returns its most dynamic defensive player, Jackson Mitchell, was tasked with replacing long-time starter Ian Swenson, Brandon Bouyer-Randle and Marquez Bembry – all of whom graduated – in the offseason.
On the depth chart revealed Sunday, which could change at any point, Delaware transfer Noah Plack and returning junior Tui Faumuina-Brown will be starting alongside Mitchell.
“We lost some real experience in the linebacker room. Fortunately in adding Noah Plack, we added some pretty good experience. This guy’s played a lot of football – now, it was at a different place, in a different scheme – but he’s still a good football player, so I feel pretty good there. And he’s kind of an Ian-type body, bigger, but an Ian-type body and an Ian-type athlete, he can do some things in space,” Mora said. “And then Tui’s been here, he’s been working hard, he’s developed and it’s his turn to step up and play and I feel good about that. The depth is what’s a little bit unknown.
“Everyone behind those guys is really new, whether they’re transfers or freshmen coming in, you know hopefully we won’t have to get to that depth unless we choose to. So I will say I’m comfortable with the starters and uncertain about the depth right now.”

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