Todd Bowles’ decision to join Bruce Arians and the Buccaneers has left the Bears sorting through options that could be lower on the ethereal pecking order. Because even though Bears Head Coach Matt Nagy insisted he had contingency plans if assistants were to leave, it’s easy to connect the dots and see how Tampa Bay thwarted Chicago’s efforts to land its top candidate.
Replacing Fangio will be difficult, but not impossible. Fangio and his defensive staff did an excellent job with regards to player development and game-calling. And during his one year with Nagy, Fangio served as the de facto head coach of the defensive side of the ball. But still … there isn’t a more attractive job on the market. And as Kevin Fishbain of The Athletic points out, there should be plenty of able-bodied suitors in the mix.
Fishbain’s list of internal candidates is littered with Bears assistants who are worthy of promotions. Defensive Backs Coach Ed Donatell, whom we discussed earlier, Linebackers Coach Glenn Pires, Outside Linebackers Coach Brandon Staley, and Defensive Line Coach Jay Rodgers could all make compelling cases for the job.
Each of the aforementioned coaches has had their hands in improving the defense and their hands on players whose games have developed over the last few years. But of this group, only Donatelle and Staley have experience as a DC calling games. Donatell was a defensive coordinator in Green Bay (2000-03) and Atlanta (2004-06), as well as the University of Washington (2008). Staley doesn’t have play-calling experience at the big league level, but was did so for John Carroll University (2013, 2015-16), James Madison University (2014), and Hutchinson Community College in Kansas (2010-11). If the Bears prioritize continuity and game-calling experience, Donatell and Staley should probably be at the top of the list.
There are also candidates outside the walls at Halas Hall who are sensible and logical candidates, while also bring a bit of intrigue to the table. Recently fired head coaches Vance Joseph (Broncos) and Steve Wilks (Cardinals) are eyebrow-raising names, especially Wilks because of his prior ties to the team, as well as a connection to Ron Rivera (who like Nagy, is a branch off the Andy Reid coaching tree). The Browns parted ways with Gregg Williams, whose career crossed paths with Bears GM Ryan Pace in 2009-11 when he was Sean Payton’s DC while Pace was the team’s Director of Professional Scouting. His name might be sullied by Bountygate, but his career certainly hasn’t taken a hit since the scandal rocked the league. Other ex-head coaches listed by Fishbain include Jack Del Rio (he coached Khalil Mack once upon a time) and Chuck Pagano (whose years as a coordinator are remembered more fondly than his time as a head coach).
And that’s just a small sample of what’s out there in the coaching universe. Surely, there are some names under stones that have gone un-turned. After all, this is just the beginning of the Bears’ search.
The good news is that the Bears’ defensive coordinator job is one of the best in the league. It’s a group that features a former NFL Defensive Player of the Year (Khalil Mack), three first-team All-Pros (Mack, Kyle Fuller, Eddie Jackson), a Pro Bowler who should have received All-Pro consideration (Akiem Hicks), and three Pro Bowl alternates (Roquan Smith, Danny Trevathan, Leonard Floyd). And the only two starters who aren’t under contract next year (safety Adrian Amos, slot corner Bryce Callahan) could return on reasonable contract extensions or be replaced with in-house candidates, free agents, or draft picks.
So while the Bucs might have upended the Bears’ Plan A, hope shouldn’t be lost. The Bears have a good thing on the defensive side of the ball and whoever gets to coach those players will be presented a major opportunity to do great things.