The Chicago Bears are looking for a new defensive coordinator — again.
For the second time in three years, Head Coach Matt Nagy is looking for a top dog on the other side of the ball. Much like last time around, the Bears’ DC gig should be viewed as a plum opportunity for some enterprising coach. Perhaps it is an assistant on the rise. Maybe it is an experienced coordinator who has been out of the game. It’s possible the right fit is a defensive coordinator with previous head-coaching experience, as to essentially serve as the defense’s head coach and allow Nagy to focus in on fixing that broken offense of his.
All in all, there should be no shortage of candidates who are intrigued by this position. And while Nagy’s long-term uncertain future could scare some away (he’s got just two years left on his deal), coaching Chicago’s defense is still a unique opportunity that someone will want to take.
Kevin Fishbain and Adam Jahns (The Athletic), JJ Stankevitz (NBC Sports Chicago), and Chris Emma (670 The Score) are among those who rounded up candidates. Let’s sort through the most intriguing options.
Jay Rodgers, Bears Defensive Line Coach — Rodgers has done a remarkable job building the Bears’ defensive line into a strength since arriving with John Fox in 2015. Should Chicago choose to stay with an internal candidate, Rodgers makes sense as a favorite. His coaching résumé and football life makes Rodgers all the more intriguing. Rodgers was a college quarterback and Indiana and Missouri State, has experience coaching quarterbacks (Missouri State) and receivers (Iowa State) before settling into being a defensive assistant starting with the Broncos in 2011.
Sean Desai, Bears Safeties Coach — Desai is the longest-tenured Bears defensive coach. Which, yes, means he worked for Marc Trestman as a quality control assistant in 2013-14. Surviving the Trestman and John Fox eras means you’re doing something right as a coach … right? Desai has dabbled in all sorts of different football gigs. He coached defense and special teams at Temple (20016-10), running backs at Boston College (2012), and was the Miami Hurricanes’ Assistant Director of Football Operations. Maybe it’s just my preferences showing, but I love when assistant coaches have a variety of experiences rather than a specialization in just one area. It shows the potential for depth and perspective needed to handle bigger roles.
Speaking of which, Desai has been pegged as a young coach to watch as a future head-coaching candidate. So maybe the Bears could see Desai as a Brandon Staley type and choose to promote him with that in mind.
Others: Mark DeLeone (ILBs Coach), Ted Monachino (OLBs Coach), Deshaea Townsend (Secondary Coach)
One-Time Head Coach Candidates
George Edwards, Cowboys Senior Defensive Assistant — The Bears interviewed Edwards for their head-coach opening after firing Fox. Unlike in 2018 when concerns were raised about Edwards’ ability to build an offensive staff, the Bears wouldn’t need to bother with that if they were hiring him just as a DC. Edwards’ defenses have been pretty good over the years and deserves plenty of praise for his work as a coordinator.
Teryl Austin, Steelers DBs/Senior Defensive Assistant — Austin was an under-the-radar head-coaching candidate as recently as a few years ago. He even interviewed for the Lions opening that ultimately went to Matt Patricia, which has since sent him elsewhere in the league. The Bengals hired Austin after failing to poach Vic Fangio from the Bears in 2018. After that, he landed on his feet with the Steelers. It could be time for him to make the step up again.
Others: Kris Richard (Cowboys DBs/Defensive Play Caller, 2018-19)
Actual Former Head Coaches
Wade Phillips, Rams Defensive Coordinator (2019) — Phillips took the 2020 season off after being dismissed by the Rams and replaced by Brandon Staley. But it sounds like the well-traveled, long-time defensive coach is ready to get back in the game:
I am ready to retire from retirement! I am ready and available. Let’s win.
— Wade Phillips (@sonofbum) January 15, 2021
In addition to having a large personality, previous head-coaching experience, and loads of success as a defensive play-caller, Phillips has an active and engaging Twitter account. Put it all together and we have my favorite potential defensive coordinator candidate. It’s probably a long shot, but adding a de-facto head coach with defensive coordinator experience makes sense. After all, it’s exactly what Nagy did when he hired Chuck Pagano. That was a solid line of thinking then, and could be again.
Raheem Morris, Falcons Interim Head Coach — Did you read what I wrote about Phillips? Good. Because everything I wrote him can essentially be applied to Morris. But with Morris, the Bears could hire a younger coach who actually had his hands in the game THIS SEASON. Morris did a bang-up job as the Falcons’ interim head coach in 2020. So much so, he should be a popular candidate for head coach and coordinator positions for his efforts.
Aaron Glenn, Saints DBs Coach — We all know how much GM Ryan Pace loves the Saints. With that in mind, I wouldn’t be surprised if Glenn lands on the Bears’ wish list. Glenn will likely attract interest from teams with more stable positions. But as JJ Stankevitz points out, Chicago could pitch him on this being a spring-board opportunity to bigger and better things.
Joe Berry, Rams LBs/Assistant Head Coach — Barry has previous defensive coordinator experience with the Lions (2007-08) and in Washington (2015-16). And having picked up experience under Wade Phillips and Brandon Staley in recent years during his stint with the Rams probably helps. Perhaps the third time is a charm?
James Bettcher, Cardinals/Giants DC — Like Phillips, Bettcher took the 2020 season off. But taking a year away from the game has allowed him time to re-work his scheme, see what’s working elsewhere, and position himself for a bounce-back. Perhaps that opportunity is with the Bears. For what it’s worth, Bettcher was an interested candidate in 2018 before Vic Fangio returned to Chicago. Depending on how things shake out elsewhere, he might be considered a favorite again.