By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
On the day the Chicago Bears hired head coach Matt Nagy, just over a year ago now, the immediate question fans wanted answered was who would be his defensive coordinator?
The defensive coordinator at that moment, Vic Fangio, had done such a good job with the group in the prior three years that all of Chicago hoped he would stay to preserve continuity. On January 8, 2018, Nagy was hired and his first choice of Fangio as his coordinator was a home run. Today, Nagy is faced with the task of hiring a new defensive coordinator after Fangio agreed to become head coach of the Denver Broncos.
Fangio leaves behind the most talented collection of players of any defensive unit in the league and because of that the Bears easily become the number one destination for any defensive coach candidate in the NFL. A whole host of candidates will be interested in this job — from former head coaches to up and coming assistants — which will be seen as a new path to getting a head coach job.
The Bears may also decide to promote from within to keep as much of the current scheme and staff intact as possible. No matter what route they take, expect for the position to be filled quickly, which it would make sense to do because multiple head coaching vacancies have been filled by offensive guys that are in the process of looking for defensive coaches.
Lets take a look at some names that the Bears may want to hire to coach the top defense in the NFL.
Promote From Within
Names to consider:
- Defensive back coach Ed Donatell
- Defensive line coach Jay Rodgers
A couple other names to consider in this group are inside linebackers coach Glenn Pires or outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley because of their work with the linebackers and the respect they maintain within Halas Hall. While they and Rodgers would all be interesting hires, the top name to promote from Fangio’s staff is Donatell.
Donatell’s contract expired at the end of the season, but he has defensive coordinator experience with the Packers and the Falcons and he could be in the running to DC in Denver for Fangio. Donatell hasn’t been a play caller since 2008 and started working with Fangio every year since 2011, doing an excellent job with the Bears secondary in his time with them. Donatell’s work experience, respected status, and knowledge of the scheme makes him a perfect candidate if Nagy wants to stay “in house.”
Meanwhile, Rodgers has done great work with the defensive line and he is highly regarded as well. Rodgers originally came with John Fox and was kept over by Fangio.
One thing that is interesting about Rodgers is his experience coaching quarterbacks and wide receivers at the collegiate level before coaching defense in the NFL. The defense of the Bears benefited from the continuity that Fangio provided when he was brought back last season. Nagy may decide to keep consistent with that route and hire someone from within that can keep the defense as whole as possible.
Savvy Vets (Ex-head Coaches)
Names to consider:
- Gregg Williams
- Chuck Pagano
- Vance Joseph
- John Pagano
- Steve Wilks
The most obvious candidate for the Bears upon Fangio’s leaving had been Todd Bowles, the former Jets coach. Bowles and Nagy worked together under Andy Reid with the Eagles, also, Nagy’s father coached Bowles in high school.
The Bears tried to attract Bowles but ultimately he chose to reunite in Tampa with Bruce Arians. With that choice off the board, the next obvious name is Williams — he worked with general manager Ryan Pace in New Orleans, which yes, we remember ended in infamy.
Each of the candidates listed have plenty of experience and success calling a 3-4 defense, but potential success varies with talent because every 3-4 coach does not use the same type of style.
For example, Fangio does not incorporate a lot of blitzing and primarily plays zone coverage on the back end. A change in scheme or style can be a potential worry but any good coach should be able to adapt their system around the players available to them.
These coaches are proven in their work as defensive signal callers, it would not be surprising at all if Nagy would prefer to have another experienced coordinator at his side. That would also give the benefit to keep things the same like last season, when Nagy left his defensive coordinator in charge of the defense while he can focus on the offense.
The Flashy Rooks
Names to consider:
- Ravens secondary coach Chris Hewitt
- Seahawks asst. head coach Clint Hurtt
- Ex Jets asst. head coach/inside linebacker Mike Caldwell
Another thing to consider in this process is that Nagy may want to have more of an influence on the defense. It would be much easier to have that influence with a young up and coming assistant carrying out his plans versus a grizzled vet more likely to do things his way.
A couple names that jump out among the still rising is Hewitt and Hurtt. Fans might remember Hurtt’s time with the Bears as assistant defensive line coach in 2014 and outside linebackers coach after Fangio kept him on staff in 2015. Hurtt left in 2017 to go to the Seahawks as a defensive assistant then got promoted to assistant head coach.
Hurtt is versed in multiple NFL defenses and has a lot of respect around the league. As for Hewitt, he was been a fast riser within the Ravens organization and the Ravens were one of the top defenses in the league this year. Hewitt, with his background as a defensive backs coach, could possibly fill a void if Donatell leaves while retaining as much of the staff as the Bears try to keep around him.
A young assistant from elsewhere would be an interesting choice and the Bears will have their pick of the litter. Any ambitious young defensive assistant with aspirations of becoming a head coach should look to join the Bears. So far, the only defensive assistant hired to be a head coach this year has been the ex-defensive coordinator of the Bears.
Ultimately, losing Fangio stinks but its not the end of the world because the Bears have multiple routes that they can go with this hire. The Bears aren’t losing any of their core talent and even though a defensive coordinator is important, its the players that make a defense great.
Fangio is arguably the best defensive coach in the league, but other coaches can use the talent on the roster in new and different ways that may even enhance the play of the defense. Nagy and Pace are likely putting in long hours making calls and plans trying to bring a swift conclusion to this search so then all focus can shift to a key off-season and keeping up with the eventual Super Bowl champions.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR