Bears Coaching Confidential: Pete Carmichael

Bears Coaching Confidential: Pete Carmichael

The Bears enter Week 2 of their coaching search having interviewed six candidates. Could the team's search expand beyond those six, and involve two coordinators with direct ties to general manager Ryan Pace? Today, Paul Aspan and I will look at New Orleans Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael. 

JJ: Carmichael has been in the NFL since 2000 and has been the New Orleans Saints’ offensive coordinator since 2009. He’s 46 and a Super Bowl champion, but hasn’t been the recipient of a whole lot of head coaching buzz in the last few years. The Bears haven’t interviewed him, and despite Ryan Pace’s connections to New Orleans, there hasn’t been anything connecting Carmichael to Chicago. But is there any chance Pace doubles back to the Big Easy for an interview here?

Paul: On the surface, it’s a bit surprising that we did not hear his name as Pace scheduled his first round of interviews….but then again, maybe it’s not. To your point about their familiarity, Pace already knows what he does -- or doesn’t -- have in Carmichael. Even if the Bears were interested, they did the right thing spending that precious first week getting to know the guys that they are not familiar with. Add the fact that the Saints had a playoff game yesterday and there’s no need for Carmichael or defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, who we’ll get into tomorrow, to have this distraction hanging over them.

One offensive mind they did interview on Sunday is Chiefs offensive Matt Nagy, and honestly, after Kansas City's second half collapse on Saturday -- even without Travis Kelce -- the Bears probably only went through with the interview because it would be a terrible look to back out. 

I never seriously considered Nagy as a head coaching candidate for the simple fact that he just started calling plays for the final five games of the regular season. That’s not nearly enough experience and Saturday’s abysmal second half was just the nail in his candidacy coffin. 

JJ: There’s been far too much hand-wringing about the Bears interviewing Nagy less than 24 hours after his team blew a lead and crashed out of the playoffs. Good thing the San Francisco 49ers didn’t back out of hiring Kyle Shanahan after the Atlanta Falcons blew a bigger lead on a bigger stage, eh?

Were those two quarters of football bad? Yeah. It may have made for a slightly different conversation between Pace and Nagy than had the Chiefs won. But the focus of his interview likely wasn’t any different than the previous five interviews Pace conducted: What would your coaching staff look like? What’s your plan for Mitchell Trubisky? How do you plan to command a locker room?

If Nagy nails the answers to those questions...who cares if the Chiefs had two bad quarters in a wild card playoff game? Would it have been "better" for the perception of Nagy if the Chiefs lost 31-0? 

Anyways, back to some thoughts on Carmichael...

Paul: As for Carmichael, one of the most interesting/bizarre/concerning things about him is the silence surrounding his name when it comes to head coaching openings year after year. I remember Drew Brees saying during the Bears-Saints week this season that he "loves Ryan Pace" and Carmichael and Brees clearly have had a long and successful working relationship, so you would think that would work in Carmichael’s favor.

But it is Sean Payton’s offense. We talked about this with Josh McDaniels and Tom Brady, but working with a future Hall of Famer sure makes him look pretty good. Carmichael has that in Brees, and watching the Saints wild card win against the Panthers on Sunday, it sure looked like it was Payton, not Carmichael, calling the shots for the New Orleans offense with the game on the line. So where’s that leave him if he goes out on his own? 

But, JJ, I know when we first started going over names, this one caught your eye, so what’s your take on Carmichael?

JJ: Initially, before really doing any research, this one seemed to make sense: The guy who’s coordinated one of the best offenses in the NFL for years, won a Super Bowl and has an existing relationship with Pace. But diving a bit beneath the surface, this theme became clear: It’s Payton’s offense No. 1, and it’s run by a Hall of Fame quarterback No. 2. 

This line, from a 2016 article on CBS Sports, seems telling: “Carmichael is not one to politic for jobs or kudos.” Perhaps this is a two-way street: Carmichael isn’t getting much interest because the league views him as, at best, the third-most important person on the Saints’ offensive totem pole; and he’s not actively trying to change that impression, either. 

Nobody knows his organizational and motivational skills better than Pace, which doesn’t necessarily work in Carmichael’s favor. He may be one of those guys who’s a great coordinator but not a head coach. 

One final thing working against Carmichael: The Bears appear to be moving quickly on their head coaching search, as our own John “Moon” Mullin explained here. The team has conducted six interviews already and won’t interview Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, indicating they’ve settled on their initial list and may already be zeroing in on their No. 1 guy. 

If that’s the case, there’s no waiting out the Saints’ playoff run to avoid a distraction. Carmichael won’t be the guy. 

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Low

Decisions to be made on: Christian Jones (free agent), John Timu (free agent), Jonathan Anderson (free agent); Jerrell Freeman has reportedly been cut

Possible free agent targets: Demario Davis, Preston Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Avery Williamson, Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson

How the Bears rate Nick Kwiatkoski will be the key to figuring out what this unit will look like in 2018. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought Kwiatkoski finished last season strong, but strong enough to rely on him in 2018 as the starter next to Danny Trevathan?

The thing with the Bears’ inside linebackers, though: Trevathan makes whoever is playing next to him better. The problem is Trevathan hasn’t been able to stay on the field — he missed time in 2017 with a calf injury and a one-game suspension, and missed half of 2016 after rupturing his Achilles’. Trevathan hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2013, so durability is an issue for the soon-to-be 28-year-old.

So that leads to this question: Do the Bears need to find someone in free agency, regardless of how they value Kwiatkoski, who’s also missed time due to injuries in his first two years in the league?

Free agency could provide a few options. Demario Davis had a career high 97 tackles for the New York Jets last year and has never missed a game as a pro. Preston Brown had some decent production in Buffalo and also hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in 2014. Avery Williamson may not be a world-beater but has only missed one game in his four years in the NFL.

The Bears could also opt for someone who fits more of a rotational mold, like Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens, or try to lure a veteran linebacker like Navorro Bowman (who played for Vic Fangio in San Francisco) or Derrick Johnson (who Matt Nagy knows from his Kansas City days) to play next to Trevathan and/or Kwiatkoski.

The Bears could opt to keep the status quo and re-sign Christian Jones and John Timu for depth, and enter 2018 with Kwiatkoski and Trevathan as the team’s starters (Jerrell Freeman, who suffered a season-ending injury and then was hit with his second PED suspension in as many years, was cut on Tuesday). Signing a starting-caliber free agent isn’t out of the question, either, but there is a third option for the Bears if they appear to stand pat in free agency: Draft an inside linebacker in April. If that’s the route they go, Georgia’s Roquan Smith could be the guy. But again, those more pressing needs at other positions could mean the Bears don’t burn a first-round pick on an inside linebacker.

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

The first major move of Ryan Pace’s 2018 offseason hit on Tuesday, as NFL Network reported the Bears will not exercise Josh Sitton’s $8 million option for 2018. 

The move accomplishes two things for the Bears: 1) It frees up about $8 million in cap space and 2) Removes a veteran from the offensive line and creates a hole to fill, presumably by a younger free agent or draft pick. 

The 31-year-old Sitton signed a three-year deal with the Bears after Green Bay cut him just before the 2016 season, and was a Pro Bowler his first year in Chicago. Sitton played 26 of 32 games in two years with the Bears, but him being on the wrong side of 30 was likely the biggest factor here. If the Bears saw his skills eroding, releasing him now and netting the cap savings while going younger at the position does make sense. 

“Going younger” doesn’t guarantee the Bears will draft Notre Dame brawler Quenton Nelson, though that did become a greater possibility with Tuesday’s move. Nelson might be one of the two or three best offensive players in this year’s draft, and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand knows him well from the four years they spent together at Notre Dame. 

There’s a natural fit there, of course, but a few reasons to slow the Nelson-to-Chicago hype train: Would he even make it to No. 8? Or if he’s there, is taking a guard that high worth it when the Bears have needs at wide receiver, outside linebacker and cornerback? Still, the thought of Nelson — who absolutely dominated at Notre Dame — pairing with Hiestand again is tantalizing, and Nelson very well could step into any team’s starting lineup and be an immediate Pro Bowler as a rookie. 

If the Bears go younger in free agency, Matt Nagy knows 26-year-old guard Zach Fulton (No. 25 in Bleacher Report’s guard rankings) well from their time in Kansas City. Fulton — a Homewood-Flossmoor alum — has the flexibility to play both guard positions and center, which could open the door for Cody Whitehair to be moved to left guard, the position he was initially drafted to play (though the Bears do value him highly as a center, and keeping him at one position would benefit him as opposed to moving him around the line again). There are some other guys out there — like Tennessee’s Josh Kline or New York’s Justin Pugh — that could wind up costing more than Fulton in free agency. 

Or the Bears could look draft an offensive lineman after the first round, perhaps like Ohio State’s Billy Price, Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn or UTEP’s Will Hernandez. How the Bears evaluate guards at the NFL Combine next week will play an important role in how they go about replacing Sitton. 

The trickle-down effect of releasing Sitton will impact more than the offensive line, too. Freeing up his $8 million in cap space -- which wasn't a guarantee, unlike cutting Jerrell Freeman and, at some point, Mike Glennon -- could go toward paying Kyle Fuller, or another top cornerback, or a top wide receiver, or some combination of players at those positions (as well as outside linebacker). The Bears were already in a healthy place cap-wise; that just got healthier on Tuesday.