The Chicago Bears cooked up top-10 defenses in each of the last two seasons under Chuck Pagano, according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric. And while Chicago’s defense is still loaded with stars, the unit saw Pagano ride off into the sunset and into retirement. So for the second time since becoming a head coach, Matt Nagy is looking for a defensive coordinator. Over the following days, we’re taking a closer look at some rumored candidates, their coaching history, what they bring to the table, their general desirability, and more.
Name, Current Team, Current Position
Jay Rodgers, Chicago Bears, Defensive Line Coach
• Chicago Bears (Defensive Line Coach, 2015-presents)
• Denver Broncos (Defensive Line Coach, 2012-14; Defensive Quality Control, 2011; Coaches Assistant, 2009-10)
• Iowa State (Wide Receivers Coach, 2007-08)
• Stephen F. Austin (Quarterbacks Coach, 2005-06)
• Missouri State (Quarterbacks Coach, 2004)
• Dodge City Community College (Passing Game Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach, 2003)
• LSU (Defensive Graduate Assistant, 2002; Offensive Graduate Assistant, 2001)
Late last week, Rodgers emerged as a top internal candidate to replace Pagano as the Bears’ defensive coordinator. Rodgers followed John Fox from Denver, joining his Chicago staff in 2015. He was retained after Fox’s firing and was one of the holdovers from Vic Fangio’s staff when he left for Denver. Being a preferred in-house choice is one thing, but beware of teams who could try to hire him away. Rodgers’ contract expires this week, and rumors have already surfaced connecting him as a target for new Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley’s staff.
Rodgers isn’t a candidate just because he is already on staff. His work in developing Bears defensive linemen over the years has been top-notch. We see Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman shine on Sundays, but those aren’t the only players Rodgers has put his hands on. The Bears have witnessed the likes of Roy Robertson-Harris and Bilal Nichols develop into solid rotational options. They have also seen role players such as Brent Urban, Mario Edwards Jr., and Mitch Unrein carve niche roles in the defense. Player development is important, and Rodgers’ position group is thriving.
Beyond that, the Bears might see retaining Rodgers as an ideal situation because they strive for continuity. With all due respect to Pagano, Chicago’s defense has been missing that little something extra that was there before his arrival in 2019. Perhaps handing the keys to someone who worked for Fangio can bring that flavor back? Not that hiring a new coordinator is some magic elixir, but I can see the value in turning play-calling duties over to someone who was in the trenches during the peak of that defense’s power.
Part of me is intrigued by Rodgers’ coaching history being something that makes him a worthwhile candidate. Bears fans are familiar with his work as a defensive line coach. However, his time coaching wide receivers (Iowa State) and quarterbacks (Stephen F. Austin, Missouri State) should give him unique perspectives on approaching how to stop opposing offenses.
Finally, the Bears might see Rodgers as someone who grows with this defense. The 44-year-old would be on the younger side of things, but after watching Brandon Staley’s stock skyrocket after leaving Chicago, the Bears could opt to unearth their own home-grown coordinator.
They Said It …
With Chuck Pagano retiring, have to imagine #Bears will at least consider DL coach Jay Rodgers for defensive coordinator role. They hold him in high regard and have for some time. With the staff surely under a win-now mandate, it can be challenging to get top outside candidates.
— Brad Biggs (@BradBiggs) January 13, 2021