ATM: Ten Best Fits for Defensive Coordinator

| January 19th, 2021

10. Ed Donatell

Vic Fangio’s defense is well-known because he mixes up coverages so well and Donatell is the guy who has long run his secondary. The Bears had the opportunity to hire him in 2019 but seemingly passed.

After losing out on the Bears’ job, Donatell went to become Fangio’s coordinator, but he doesn’t have full autonomy. If that’s what he wants, Fangio might allow him to leave.

9. Aaron Glenn

The former Pro Bowl cornerback has become a highly thought-of coach, even taking an interview to be the New York Jets head coach before they hired Robert Saleh.

Glenn coached defensive backs with Cleveland, where he helped both Tashaun Gipson and Buster Skrine have career years in 2014. He moved on to New Orleans, where he has been credited as a major reason the Saints have had one of the best defense in the league the last four years.

8. Mark DeLeone

DeLeone coached with Nagy in Kansas City and was one of Nagy’s first actual defensive hires, with most of the staff being coaches who previously worked with Fangio.

DeLeone’s work as inside linebackers coach has been impressive. In addition to the high level at which he has Roquan Smith playing, he helped get Nick Kwiatkoski paid and got Kevin Pierre-Louis a solid one-year deal.

(He could bring longtime defensive coordinator Bob Sutton with him in an advisory role, as Sutton helped bring DeLone into the NFL with the Jets and then brought him to KC.)

7. Wade Phillips

He might be 73 years old, but there is nothing telling us that Phillips can’t still coach defense. He’s a legend who has stated he’s ready to return to the sideline.

There were some struggles in his latest stint with the Rams, but don’t forget his defense is the reason they were even competitive in that Super Bowl. The thing about Phillips that might be most appealing is that his defenses take the ball away, ranking in the top 10 in takeaways every year from 2015-2019.

The last time he had the kind of talent he’ll have with the Bears, he dragged a crappy offense to a Super Bowl title. with the Denver Broncos.

6. Jay Rodgers

He is a very popular choice among Bears fans but we don’t even know if Rodgers wants to be a defensive coordinator. It’s worth mentioning because Rodgers should have been considered by someone already.

His resume as a defensive line coach is incredible. But it seems he has potential to be more than that, as he was a quarterback at Indiana, something that should help him disguise defenses.

If he wants to be a defensive coordinator, the Bears should at least grant him an interview.

5. Sean Desai

Eyebrows were raised with this endorsement from Sam Acho.


Perhaps just as interesting as Acho’s original Tweet was a follow-up in which he compared Desai to Brandon Staley, Acho’s former position coach, saying “Desai is a spitting image of Brandon Staley. Brilliant defensive mind, scheme is out of this world.” Desai impressed Vic Fangio enough that the Bears had to block the former DC from bringing him to Denver with him.

4. Jonathan Gannon

The man currently coaching the Indianapolis defensive backs would bring a different perspective to the Bears.

Five of the first six candidates on this list are familiar with the team. Gannon has no real connections to the Bears, working in Indianapolis and Minnesota before that. But he does have a connection to a lot of really good defenses. With Matt Eberflus in Indianapolis the last three years, the Colts have ranked in the top 10 in takeaways all three years and the top 10 in scoring twice. Solid, considering they took over one of the worst defenses in the NFL.

The fact that he doesn’t have any obvious connections to the Bears makes me think he is a very serious candidate for the job. Nagy must have seen something on tape prior to Bears/Colts that made him want to talk to Gannon.

It could be that Gannon will want to play press-man, telling a podcast on the Colts team website: “I love it. I love getting in people’s faces, challenging. I was always taught from a super young age, no free entry into the route. That’s why I like to press as much as we can press.”

After a year watching Chuck Pagano have the Bears corners playing 10 yards off the line of scrimmage, this is music to my ears.

3. James Bettcher

Hey, why not hire the coach who beat Aaron Rodgers in the playoffs?

Bettcher’s Arizona defenses ranked in the top three in DVOA all three years. They were top six in yardage three times and top five in takeaways twice. Then he entered a mess in New York that really still hasn’t been straightened out.

The Bears spoke to Bettcher about a job when Nagy was hired and there have been various reports that Bettcher has kept in contact with Nagy and Chuck Pagano over the past year.

Bettcher would bring a complete schematic shift. Unlike the relatively passive schemes employed by Pagano and Fangio, Bettcher is known for bringing the heat. In fact, he did so on a Hail Mary attempt in the playoffs that allowed Rodgers to send the game to overtime. (Bruce Arians took the blame for that call.)

That might not fit what the Bears need. They’ve paid a premium to edge rushers so they don’t have to bring the heat. Should they hire Bettcher, they may have to invest more in their secondary. Can they really afford to do that?

 2. Kris Richard

It’s a little odd that Richard hasn’t gotten another job after the work he did in Seattle and Dallas.

Richard was a hot candidate for head-coaching jobs before Pete Carroll shockingly fired him following the 2017 season. Richard went to Dallas, where he found Rod Marinelli willing to give up play-calling duties.. There, the Cowboys were 9th and 16th in DVOA. The entire coaching staff was fired and Richard didn’t get another job.

Now is the time.

Like with Bettcher, the Bears might have to shift some of their talent, but those shifts wouldn’t be significant. His scheme could also allow Eddie Jackson to roam the middle of the field as he should, and under his tutelage Robert Quinn thrived.

1. Jim Leonhard

The story that Sean McVay fell in love with Brandon Staley the moment they met is fun, but there was another name in that romance: Jim Leonhard.

Whether Leonhard rejected McVay or vice versa isn’t really known. But could he be persuaded to leave his alma mater and move a few hours south and help the Bears? Matt Nagy at least has to try.

There wouldn’t be a great schematic shift with Leonhard, though small changes would be likely. Leonhard survived in the NFL because he was smarter than his opponent. His early coaching career suggests that has not changed.

Tagged: , , , , ,