On Tuesday night, news broke that Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano was retiring from the NFL. Matt Nagy confirmed the news in the Bears’ end-of-year presser the following day. As it stands, the Bears’ regime of Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace face a classic “win-or-else” situation after a highly disappointing 2020 season.
Because of a probable “lame duck” scenario playing out at Halas Hall, we may not see a lengthy list of external candidates jumping at the job. Instead, I would suspect an internal promotion as being the likely route. That feeling seems to be prominent with most writers in the Chicago media. Most of the conversations have started from within, topped with a recent example in former Bears outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley being “that guy” Chicago should have kept in 2019.
Then again, who doesn’t want to coach a defense led by players such as Khalil Mack, Roquan Smith, and Eddie Jackson in all three levels? It’s got the talent for any coordinator with sound judgment to come in and succeed right away.
The Internal Candidates
Ted Monachino, OLB coach and Senior Defensive Assistant, Chicago Bears - He is the one internal candidate who has any prior experience as a defensive coordinator. Monachino handled the responsibilities as DC for Chuck Pagano and the Indianapolis Colts from 2016-2017. His career in the NFL dates back to his beginning in Jacksonville as the Jaguars’ defensive line coach from 2006-2009. His best work came with the Baltimore Ravens as their OLB coach from 2010-2015.
Jay Rodgers, DL coach, Chicago Bears - If you’re looking for the closest comparison in terms of ascent to Brandon Staley, here’s your guy. Jay comes from a very extensive background of quality internships and work-related experience.
Coaches he’s served and learned from include Nick Saban and Will Muschamp while at LSU; Wayne Nunnely, John Fox, and Jack Del Rio while with the Denver Broncos; and Vic Fangio along with Chuck Pagano while with the Chicago Bears. Everywhere he’s been, he’s produced some serious results. Quite frankly, it’s time for him to be considered for a long-overdue promotion to DC.
Mark DeLeone, ILB coach, Chicago Bears - He’s a fast riser in Chicago’s staff. Hired away from the Kansas City Chiefs in 2019, Mark’s work at the ILB position has been impressive, to say the least. Roquan Smith looks to be a long-time cog in Chicago’s defense, and he really helped to improve former Bears ILB Nick Kwiatkoski in pass coverage. He also did an outstanding job in the same position with the Chiefs, expediting Reggie Ragland’s development and coaching with a major spark. His high tempo energy and mindset would match well with Matt Nagy’s.
Sean Desai, Safeties coach, Chicago Bears - Where Mark DeLeone is a fast riser, Sean Desai is the veteran of this coaching staff. In face, Desai has been with the Chicago Bears since 2013 after signing on as a quality control assistant. In 2019, he was promoted to the team’s Safeties coach position following Ed Donatell’s departure for the Denver Broncos’ DC position under Vic Fangio. Brad Biggs recently highlighted Sean Desai in his latest “Ten Thoughts” article:
ICYMI— Brad Biggs (@BradBiggs) January 14, 2021
- That didn't go so well. But words weren't going to solve a thing.
- Digging in on QB issue.
- Options to create cap space.
- Sean Desai for defensive coordinator? Or James Bettcher? He has a tie-in.
10 Thoughts after #Bears virtual presserhttps://t.co/JblT91hpmx
The External Candidates
James Bettcher, Former DC for Arizona Cardinals and New York Giants - His last experience didn’t pan out well, as the Giants finished 30th in pass defense, and close to the bottom in most categories between 2018 and 2019. He also wasn’t set up with a great deal of talent to begin with, particularly from the edge and the secondary. While with the Cardinals, his red birds were some of the scariest defenders in the league.
How good was the Cardinals’ defense under James Bettcher? The 2016 season was his best statistically, finishing 2nd overall and leading the NFL in sacks (48). Between 2015 and 2017 the Cardinals finished no worse than 6th overall. His aggressive and exotic looks took the NFL by storm when he actually had the talent to make his philosophies work.
James is also the one name who’s been repeatedly mentioned with the Chicago Bears. This dates back to 2018, where he was the one coach identified in the event Vic Fangio left a year early (he didn’t.) Even after James Bettcher’s decision to accept the DC job with Pat Shurmer in New York, he remained in contact with Matt Nagy and Chuck Pagano.
How recent have both parties been in contact with one another? According to this article by ESPN, Bettcher has talked with Chuck Pagano and Matt Nagy as an unofficial advisor. Brad Biggs, in the same article embedded above, mentioned the same thing. Combined with Chicago’s current cast of talent on defense, Bettcher would make the most sense out of any external hire. Consider him the favorite for this job if a promotion isn’t made at Halas Hall.
Gregg Williams, former DC and assistant for several teams - There’s no question that Gregg Williams’s resume and experience will be tied in with a team led by a head coach on the hot seat. There’s also no question that, by experience alone, he’s arguably the most qualified coach on the open market.
He’s also on my personal “do not interview” list. I’ll be civil here, and just say the scandals along with the issues he brings with him aren’t worth the Chicago Bears consideration. If you want a more extreme take, feel free to follow my twitter account.
My Personal Recommendations Not Already Named
Keith Butler, DC (and currently a free agent), Pittsburgh Steelers - Keith is a long-shot to consider for the Bears’ defense. However, he’s also (as of this moment) a free agent. And, he could technically be offered a promotion as “assistant head coach and defensive coordinator” under the new league rules for coaching promotions. If I’m Matt Nagy, and if I truly want to make a splashy hire as a DC, I’d throw my money at Butler.
What Keith Butler has done with the Steelers is incredible. His forte is linebackers, but he has developed All-Pro caliber players at every level in the modern Steel Curtain. The two-time Super Bowl champ has a combined eighteen years in the NFL. Again, I also think he’ll either re-sign with the Steelers, or venture elsewhere with long-term security.
Daniel Bullocks, Safeties coach, San Francisco 49ers - Butler is the one veteran free agent that I’d love for the Bears to make a run at. Daniel Bullocks, on the other side of the coin, is the one young up-and-coming coach outside of Chicago I’d like to see interview for the Bears’ DC job. Again, I’d imagine him being promoted to DC at San Fran if Robert Saleh takes a head coaching job, but Bullocks brings a good combination of experience and teaching ability.
One of the biggest things you’ll hear out from the Bay is how much his players love him. Don’t let his age fool you, he has complete command of the DB room when he speaks. When you’ve got guys like Richard Sherman in your locker room, respect is everything. I’ve been largely impressed with good fundamentals in coverage, pursuit, and tackling. I think he’s ready for the next step as a DC in the NFL.
Who Are My Top Choices?
The Chicago Bears’ defensive coordinator position is sandwiched between two perceptions. On one hand, this is a unit filled with elite talent in all three levels, from the D-line to the secondary. On the other hand, it’s also under a head coach in Matt Nagy who’s seat has turned white-hot. Candidates looking for long-term security may not receive that in Chicago as a result.
With that being said, here is how I have these options stacked:
- Jay Rodgers
- Keith Butler
- James Bettcher
Jay Rodgers is due for a promotion to DC. Whether it’s with the Bears — it needs to be in my opinion — or not, he will be an extremely successful coach. Rodgers has been groomed a long time by many great coaching minds on the defensive side of the ball. It’s time for him to get his chance, and the Bears need to take that chance. No more letting your best assistants out of the building without offering a substantial promotion.
Keith Butler would be the “white whale” if he decides to part ways. As of late, he has allegedly been in talks with the Steelers to return as their DC for 2021. If Matt Nagy wants to make this splash — this will be a tough one — then he needs to act fast. Otherwise, I don’t expect Butler to be on the market by this time next week.
James Bettcher is the ultimate wildcard here. If you’re a betting kind of person, James Bettcher is the most likely favorite to land the job if Chicago goes external with their hire. We’ve seen just how good his defense can be. We’ve, also, seen how bad it can be as well. He spent 2020 away from the NFL to focus on himself and fine tune his schemes. Provided the talent available in Chicago, and Matt Nagy’s aggressive mindset, I think Bettcher would be a good fit.
My prediction is Chicago will promote from within those four candidates I listed atop this article. The timing of Chuck Pagano’s retirement, and a “win-or-else” mentality, will both influence this search significantly. It’s on Matt Nagy to find the right guy for the job.
Overall, good options do exist for this talented group of defenders. At least, so long as it’s not Gregg Williams....if that were to happen, fire everybody.