UA-59049186-1 2021 Chicago Bears Off-season: Defensive Coordinator Search - Good if it Goes

2021 Chicago Bears Off-season: Defensive Coordinator Search

Qwan made this

Chuck Pagano’s retirement leaves an opening at a critical spot on the Bears’ coaching staff. The man your author would have called his top choice for the opening, Dan Quinn, has already been hired by the Cowboys. So, we look elsewhere. One thing complicating the search: it’s pretty clear at this point that if the team doesn’t at least make the playoffs next year, head coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace are out. That said, this defense still has Khalil Mack, Roquan Smith, Akiem Hicks, and Eddie Jackson, who would be awfully fun to coach, and the last time the Bears fired their head coach, the DC was retained. If the unit performs well, but the team fails to win enough to satisfy ownership, it’s a serious possibility that the DC could again be retained.

Jay Rodgers, Bears defensive line coach

The internal candidate drawing the most mentions, Rodgers was a QB in college and, save for one year as a defensive GA at LSU and two years as a coaches’ assistant in Denver, was an offensive assistant everywhere he had been until 2011, when he became a defensive quality control coach for the Broncos before being promoted to defensive line coach the following year. After John Fox was fired in Denver and hired in Chicago, Rodgers came with him and he’s been here ever since. While in Chicago, the Bears have seen multiple late-round picks and free agent signings turn into quality players.

Scheme: Dunno. Never been a DC. Hopefully, he’d be more Fangio than Pagano.

Wade Phillips, former head coach and DC recently retired from retirement

The Son of Bum spent the better part of the last four decades as either a head coach or DC in the NFL, so experience isn’t an issue. What is an issue: he’s 73. So, obviously not around for the long haul. That said, it’s not like the game has passed him by. Everywhere he’s gone, defensive success has followed. DVOA currently only goes as far back as 1985, but here’s Phillips’ career from ’85 on:

1985 NO (DC, interim HC): 21st Def. DVOA (20th pass, 22nd rush)
1986 PHI (DC): 7th (6th, 15th)
1987 PHI (DC): 7th (6th, 8th)
1988 PHI (DC): 2nd (7th, 3rd)
1989 DEN (DC): 4th (3rd, 6th)
1990 DEN (DC): 19th (23rd, 17th)
1991 DEN (DC): 5th (4th, 13th)
1992 DEN (DC): 16th (19th, 11th)
1993 DEN (HC): 15th (19th, 2nd)
1994 DEN (HC): 28th (27th, 24th)
1995 BUF (DC): 10th (11th, 14th)
1996 BUF (DC): 7th (12th, 6th)
1997 BUF (DC): 7th (12th, 5th)
1998 BUF (HC): 16th (15th, 18th)
1999 BUF (HC): 12th (15th, 6th)
2000 BUF (HC): 7th (6th, 10th)
2002 ATL (DC): 8th (5th, 19th)
2003 ATL (DC, interim HC): 24th (19th, 25th)
2004 SD (DC): 12th (14th, 12th)
2005 SD (DC): 16th (22nd, 3rd)
2006 SD (DC): 18th (14th, 24th)
2007 DAL (HC): 9th (8th, 13th)
2008 DAL (HC): 9th (11th, 14th)
2009 DAL (HC): 11th (11th, 12th)
2010 DAL (HC): 24th (26th, 13th)
2011 HOU (DC): 7th (5th, 6th)
2012 HOU (DC): 2nd (4th, 4th)
2013 HOU (DC, interim HC): 16th (23rd, 12th)
2015 DEN (DC): 1st (1st, 3rd), Super Bowl Champions
2016 DEN (DC): 1st (1st, 19th)
2017 LAR (DC): 7th (4th, 23rd)
2018 LAR (DC): 16th (11th, 24th), NFC Champions
2019 LAR (DC): 9th (8th, 17th)

Pretty good.

Phillips employs a 3-4 one-gap scheme, so no adjustment required there for the Bears. On the back end, Phillips favors man and match zone coverage. Hopefully, should be be hired here, we would see more of the latter. Phillips is known for his ability to adjust to his personnel, I’m not worried.

Sean Desai, Bears safeties coach

A doctor of educational administration, Desai spent five years at Temple, the first three on the academic side before working as a defensive GA in 2009 and then the special teams coordinator the following year. Desai moved on to Miami to take a job as the assistant director of football operations, where he stayed for a year before getting back into coaching as the running backs coach and special teams coordinator at Boston College. Desai’s stay in Boston lasted only a year, after which he headed to Chicago to work as a quality control assistant. He held that position for six years before serving as safeties coach for the last two.  Your author didn’t think he was a serious candidate for the job since Jay Rodgers’ is here and given his success as D-line coach and level of experience, one would think that if the Bears were going to promote from within, they’d just promote Rodgers and be done with it. But Ian Rapoport tweeted that he is, so he draws mention in this space.

Scheme: Dunno. No DC experience. Probably is smart enough to not try to turn Eddie Jackson into a box safety.

James Bettcher, former DC for the Cardinals and Giants

Bears Twitter has been intrigued by Bettcher since his name first came up when Nagy was hired in 2018. At the time, Bettcher was coming off of three years as Cardinals DC where he had produced top 5 defenses.

2015 ARI DC: 2nd total defense DVOA (3rd pass, 2nd rush)
2016 ARI DC: 2nd (2nd, 7th)
2017 ARI DC: 3rd (6th, 2nd)

Vic Fangio ended up being retained and Bettcher took the DC job with the Giants, which went…less well:

2018 NYG DC: 25th (25th, 21st)
2019 NYG DC: 28th (30th, 7th)

Bettcher favors an aggressive, man-heavy scheme and loves to bring pressure, which is the sort of thing you can do when you have a corner like Patrick Peterson at your disposal. During Bettcher’s time in Arizona, he showed a particular ability to disguising his packages, but it;s worth noting that in Arizona, he had Tyrann Mathieu, Deone Bucanon, and Budda Baker, who are all capable of doing the same things. Without that same amount of skill and versatility to work with in the Big Apple, Bettcher struggled mightily. While the Giants weren’t exactly a defensive juggernaut before his arrival (25th – 21st, 28th in 2017), they didn’t get better while he was there. This space questions how replicable his success in Arizona is.

Raheem Morris, Falcons DC/interim head coach

Morris broke into the coaching ranks as a GA at his alma mater, Hofstra, in 1998. The following year, he went from Hempstead to Ithaca to take a job as the DB coach at Cornell. He would head back to Hempstead the following year to take the same job at Hofstra. After two years there, he headed down to Tampa Bay, where he served as a defensive quality control coach for the Super Bowl Champion Bucs. After three years on the defensive staff as an assistant and then assistant DB coach, Morris spent a year at Kansas State as DC in between Bill Snyder stints. Morris’ time in Manhattan lasted only a year before he was back in Tampa as DB coach. After two years in that role, Morris was named DC for the Bucs after Monte Kiffin left to join his son Lane’s staff at Tennessee. Then the Bucs fired Jon Gruden and were like “Ehh, let’s just give him the job.” That went about as well as you’d expect initially, as the Bucs lost their first seven games in 2009 before beating the Packers in Josh Freeman’s first start. That Bucs team finished the season 3-13. The following year, the Bucs finished 10-6, narrowly missing the playoffs. That success was short-lived, as the Bucs were right back to the basement the next year, finishing 4-12 in 2011, a result that would earn Morris a pink slip. Morris would spend three years with the Washington Nothing-Left-To-Trademarks as DB coach before heading to Atlanta for the same job with an assistant head coach title attached. After one season in that role, Morris moved over to receivers coach for three years before moving back to the secondary in 2019. Morris was named Falcons DC before the start of the 2020 season and got the interim HC job after Dan Quinn was fired.

Morris is a disciple of the Tampa-2 after coming up under Monte Kiffin. Should he end up in the Windy City, expect the Bears to shift to a four-man front. This is not a big deal, as the Bears already employ what is largely a one-gap scheme.

Morris’ defenses’ DVOA:

2009 TB HC: 24th total defense DVOA (24th pass, 28th run)
2010 TB HC: 25th (15th, 32nd)
2011 TB HC: 31st (30th, 31st)
2020 ATL DC/interim HC: 14th (19th, 6th)

Joe Barry, Rams assistant head coach/linebackers coach

Barry’s had two stints as a DC in the past: Detroit in 2007 and 2008 and Washington in 2015 and 2016. Let’s check in on that:

2007 DET DC: 30th total defense DVOA (26th pass, 29th run)
2008 DET DC: 31st (31st, 32nd)
2015 WAS DC: 21st (20th, 20th)
2016 WAS DC: 25th (23rd, 24th)

Not great. But hear me out. Barry was the linebackers coach in Tampa from 2001 to 2006 and has spent the past four years with Sean McVay and Wade Phillips and now Brandon Staley as assistant head coach and linebackers coach. Plus, Detroit and Washington are not exactly models of stability in this league.

Jonathan Gannon, Colts defensive backs coach

This seems like a “due diligence” interview to me given some of the options available in house, but Brandon Staley also put in a request to interview Gannon for the DC role on his staff, so maybe there is something to this. Gannon came to Indianapolis when Frank Reich was hired in 2018 after spending four years in Minnesota as a quality control and then defensive backs coach. While in Indy, he’s had a hand in crafting one of the better units in the league.

George Edwards, Cowboys senior defensive assistant

I’m mentioning Edwards here because the Bears are interviewing him and also interviewed him during the search that ultimately yielded Matt Nagy, so they clearly like him. That said, the Cowboys just passed on him despite him being in house and Mike McCarthy having seen his defenses twice a year when Edwards was the DC in Minnesota. This screams “due diligence interview,” but here are his defenses’ DVOAs anyway:

2003 WAS DC: 25th total defense DVOA (23rd pass, 27th run)
2010 BUF DC: 28th (28th, 29th)
2011 BUF DC: 25th (23rd, 29th)
2014 MIN DC: 23rd (21st, 25th)
2015 MIN DC: 14th (11th, 18th)
2016 MIN DC: 7th (6th, 10th)
2017 MIN DC: 1st (2nd, 5th)
2018 MIN DC: 3rd (3rd, 10th)
2019 MIN DC: 4th (5th, 12th)

So who should it be?

Your author’s ideal scenario is hiring Wade Phillips with the idea that Jay Rodgers is next in line. The issue there is that Rodgers is already being mentioned as a potential target for other openings around the league and likely wouldn’t just wait it out in Chicago. The other really good option would be to bring Ed Donatell back from Denver. While Donatell is already a DC there, he’s not calling the shots on his own with Fangio there. I have no idea if full control of the defense would be enough to get him back here or if the Broncos would even let the Bears interview him and I haven’t seen any indication that the Bears would even try, thus, Donatell drew no mention above. All things considered, this space advocates for the hiring of Jay Rodgers.

Twitter: @KSchroeder_312

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