The Chicago Bears have played four games, and it’s one of those seasons where it’s time to start looking at potential head coaches for the 2024 season.
Who knows when Matt Eberflus is going to be fired, it may be in season, it may not be until January, but it’s certainly more likely than not that he’s going to lose his job at this point. For the Bears to go 7-10, he’s going to need to have a winning record the rest of the way, and based on how they are playing, that’s an impossibility.
The Chicago Bears, perhaps coincidentally, have rotated defensive and offensive head coaches, Lovie Smith (defense) to Marc Trestman (offense) to John Fox (defense) to Matt Nagy (offense) to Matt Eberflus (defense).
It would be within reason that the Bears will be hiring an offensive head coach, not just because it’s their turn in the rotation, but because they will most likely have a rookie quarterback on the roster that should have an offensive coach to help him develop (yes, the same could have been said for hiring an offensive coach for Justin Fields in 2022).
With that plan in mind, here are five potential head coaches (in any order) to take over the sidelines at Soldier Field in 2024.
Ben Johnson, Detroit Lions Offensive Coordinator
If the Bears don’t bring Johnson in for an interview, that’s going to be extremely frustrating. Johnson has been spectacular for the Lions offense. Johnson was already a part of the Lions coaching staff when Dan Campbell took over and he wisely kept Johnson on board. Johnson was promoted to passing game coordinator in 2021 when Campbell took over and has spent the last two years as their offensive coordinator.
Johnson turned the Lions into the 5th highest scoring team in 2022 and they are right back at it this season averaging almost 27 points per game. The work he’s done with Jared Goff has been remarkable.
Johnson is going to be possibly the hottest head coaching candidate by the end of the year, and it’s quite possible that the Bears could potentially be in a position to be a very tempting situation for any offensive guru.
Brian Johnson, Philadelphia Eagles Offensive Coordinator
The Eagles’ Johnson (no relation) is rocketing up the coaching ranks rather quickly and for good reason. This is his first year as the Eagles offensive coordinator, taking over for Shane Steichen, who was hired as the Indianapolis Colts head coach earlier this year. And yes, Bears fans, if you are asking, he calls the plays in Philadelphia.
Johnson may only have been the Eagles coordinator for just this season, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have impressive credentials. He was the team’s QB coach prior and helped mold Jalen Hurts into the quarterback he’s become.
Prior to that, he spent 2018 to 2020 with the Florida Gators as their offensive coordinator and QB coach and helped develop Kyle Trask and Anthony Richardson. Before that? He was at Mississippi State working with Dak Prescott.
The man knows how to develop quarterbacks, and he’s seamlessly taken over for the Eagles on offense, keeping them as a top 5 scoring unit so far this season. Assuming the Bears have a rookie QB in place, they should look long and hard at Johnson.
Shane Waldron, Seahawks Offensive Coordinator
Waldron came to Washington in 2016 when Sean McVay was their offensive coordinator. When McVay left to become the head coach of the LA Rams, he brought Waldron with him and he worked his way up to McVay’s passing game coordinator by 2020.
Waldron jumped to Seattle in 2021 to become Pete Carrol’s offensive coordinator and you have to give him credit for helping revive the career of Geno Smith.
Beyond his work with Smith, he does a great job scheming up protections for the offensive line and keeps the Seahawks offense humming. Seattle was one of 10 teams to crack 400 total points scored last year and this season they are scoring at a clip even higher than that.
Lincoln Riley, USC Head Coach
There is one very specific instance where this could be an interesting hire for the Bears, and that’s if they have the number one pick. Caleb Williams is the presumptive first overall pick in 2024, and why not? Williams is impressive in several aspects of quarterback play and is one of the best QB prospects to come out of the college ranks in years.
He’s not a perfect prospect, but he seems to work very well with Riley, as he followed him from Oklahoma to USC. Williams is a unique character, and keeping him comfortable with a coaching staff and one that he’s been wildly successful with, would make plenty of sense.
There’s certainly risk with Riley, he’s never worked at the NFL level in any capacity and we’ve seen plenty of high profile college coaches fail at the NFL level, including the great Nick Saban.
The other question is whether the Bears would pay Riley what he would want. Riley currently makes $11 million a year, and while he may take a pay cut if he’s interested in the NFL, he’s probably going to have to make twice as much money as Matt Eberflus.
Jim Harbaugh, Michigan Head Coach
Harbaugh’s name seemingly comes up every time the Chicago Bears have a head coach vacancy, but I think this coming year, Harbaugh would potentially be a much more interesting case. I think the first question that would impact a Harbaugh hire is Ryan Poles.
Is Poles going to return as GM or will football operations be totally overhauled? It’s always been my understanding that Harbaugh wants to return to the NFL and run a football operations department like Andy Reid. Reid is the head of Ops as the head coach and the GM answers to him.
Harbaugh has been patient for that opportunity and it hasn’t presented itself. Perhaps his demands would have changed over time, but if they haven’t, if Ryan Poles isn’t there, a Harbaugh-led football ops with a new GM certainly could be possible.
Harbaugh is really helping JJ McCarthy come into his own this year at Michigan, and of course we know the work he’s previously done at the NFL level with Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick and, of course at Stanford with Andrew Luck.
Assuming the Bears need a new quarterback, would they bring in Harbaugh to help develop the new quarterback and try a completely different type of organizational structure in football ops?
Here are my two questions on that. First, Harbaugh can be a difficult guy to get along with, what was Kevin Warren’s relationship like with Harbaugh in the Big Ten? Did they have much interaction? That obviously could have an impact.
Second, would Harbaugh get along with Caleb Williams? To me, it feels like there would potentially be a personality conflict there. I don’t know that with any certainty but they are both unique personalities. If Williams isn’t on the table, the personality issue becomes less of a stumbling block.