Bears coaching confidential: John DeFilippo

Bears coaching confidential: John DeFilippo

With the Bears' beginning their head coaching search this week, NBC Sports Chicago Bears Insider JJ Stankevitz and producer Paul Aspan will examine 10 coaching candidates who could be considered by Ryan Pace and team ownership. Yesterday, we looked at New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Today: Another quarterback-driven offensive mind. 

JJ: While Frank Reich holds the title of offensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles, it was quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo who's received more of the early head coaching buzz. It’s easy to see why: DeFilippo, 39, was instrumental in the growth of Carson Wentz prior to his torn ACL. He’s been an offensive coordinator (albeit, with the Cleveland Browns) and has worked almost exclusively with quarterbacks since getting into the coaching business in 2000. Could he make the leap from position coach to head coach, though?

Paul: I’m OK with that leap because he’s not only been a coordinator before, but the Eagles thought highly enough of him to block him from interviewing for the Jets offensive coordinator job last season. Nothing can stop the Bears from talking to him about their head coaching job this time around, though. In addition to Wentz’ success, DeFilippo also worked with Derek Carr during his rookie season in Oakland. So he’s worked with two rookie quarterbacks -- both of whom are in the discussion as top 10 QBs in the league now. Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s the guy I want coaching Mitchell Trubisky in his second season. 

Back to his Oakland days though, I think the connections DeFilippo has from his time there will ultimately be what lands him the head coaching job in Chicago. It’s a little bit of six degrees of separation so just follow me here for a second: 

Dennis Allen was the head coach in Oakland when DeFilippo was the QB coach there. Sure, Allen is back with the Saints as their defensive coordinator now, but he was also a defensive assistant in New Orleans for four seasons (2006-2010) -- including their Super Bowl-winning season of 2010 -- when Ryan Pace was also there. This is Pace’s shot to hire his guy. He made it a point to mention how much of a role these sort of connections may play in this process during his Monday press conference. 

“You only have so much time in an interview,” Pace said. “That’s why I think the research done beforehand is critical. The references -- talking to extensive references, that’s critical to really find out about each one of these guys, what makes them tick.”

Pace’s job is very much on the line now, so he’s going to want to hire a guy he knows the most about. Other than Allen, and Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael -- who we’ll get into later -- Pace may very well be able to get the most intel in this entire process on DeFilippo from his old buddy Allen. 

The odds on the Bears head coaches are out, and I’m pretty bummed out that DeFilippo wasn’t listed. Guys like Mike Shula are listed at 12 to 1 and Todd Haley (yikes!) at 15 to 1. I was ready to jump on DeFilippo as a sneaky longshot at something like 25 to 1. 

JJ: Those odds are bizarre. David Shaw is on there! Take the field. Yeesh. 

All good points in favor of DeFilippo here. The word on the street in Philadelphia is DeFilippo was more important to Wentz’s success than Frank Reich, and his previous coordinator experience (even if was with Cleveland) is a benefit here. The Browns offense wasn’t all that good in 2015 (25th in yards/game, 27th in DVOA, 30th in points per game), but that was with Johnny Manziel playing in 10 games. There wasn’t much DeFilippo could’ve done with that...

But what DeFilippo has done in Philadelphia merits consideration. Was a lot of Wentz’s improvement due to his natural talent? Of course. But cleaning up his footwork was a big part of his Year 1 to Year 2 growth, and that’s an area of Trubisky’s game that needs some refinement.  

Position coaches, though, rarely make the leap to head coaching gigs in the NFL, even if they have prior coordinator experience. The Tennessee Titans hired Mike Mularkey to be their head coach after he completed a year as their tight ends coach...but also was an assistant head coach and previous head coach of the Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars.

The most recent example of that pure position coach-to-head coach jump is Jim Tomsula, who the 49ers disastrously promoted from being a defensive line coach after splitting with Jim Harbaugh and passing on Vic Fangio for that gig. 

But consider this: There’s one other coach in the NFL who made the leap from being a quarterbacks coach to being a head coach, and it’s Pace’s former guy from New Orleans: Sean Payton. Yeah, Payton also had the title of assistant head coach with the Dallas Cowboys from 2003-2005, and was the New York Giants’ offensive coordinator from 2000-2002. But if Trubisky is analogous to Drew Brees in this equation, then perhaps DeFilippo could be to Payton, who got his first head coaching job at the age of 42. 

Taking a step back, DeFilippo seems to fit the vision of what Pace wants out of his next head coach. Without explicitly saying on Monday he wants an offensive mind -- “I don’t want to paint ourselves in a corner,” Pace said -- it was apparent that the Bears’ general manager wants a coach to tie to Trubisky.  

“I think he incrementally got better,” Pace said. “You guys saw him. it’s a big jump from college football, and what you saw in training camp and we talked about, starts with breaking an NFL huddle, taking snaps under center, changing things at the line of scrimmage, understanding NFL defenses, blitz packages, coverages. And he just got better every step of the way. One trait he has is he rarely repeats the same mistake twice, starting with he doesn’t turn the ball over, and that’s an attractive trait. 

“I think with his work ethic, his professionalism, the intangibles he has, I’m very confident he’s only going to improve, especially going into the offseason as the guy.”

Could DeFilippo be the guy to help mold “the guy?” He very well could be. 

Ryan Pace says Bears are 'exploring every avenue' to upgrade tight end

Ryan Pace says Bears are 'exploring every avenue' to upgrade tight end

Bears general manager Ryan Pace didn't come across as a guy willing to go down in flames with his decision to sign tight end Trey Burton back in 2018 when he met with the media at the NFL Combine on Tuesday. Instead, he confirmed the Bears will be heavily invested in the tight end market this offseason, both in free agency and the 2020 NFL draft.

"We’re looking at it in free agency and the draft," Pace said of this year's available tight ends. "It’s deep in different areas. That’s an area of focus for us, I don’t think that’s a secret. This offense, a lot of it goes through the tight end, so we’re exploring every avenue."

It's hard to envision a scenario where Pace would be willing to travel down the big-money free-agent path again, but Falcons pass-catcher Austin Hooper could be too tempting to pass up.

Atlanta confirmed on Tuesday Hooper will be allowed to test the open market, and if he ranks high enough on Pace's wish list, we could be setting up to see a $10 million per year offer. It may seem like a waste of resources to tie that much money up in the tight end position (he and Burton would cost the Bears close to $20 million in 2020), but they experienced just how limited Matt Nagy's offense is without a capable playmaker at the position. Hooper would fix that.

The cheaper alternative for Pace to upgrade at tight end would be the draft, where several quality prospects will be on the board when the Bears pick at No. 43 and No. 50 overall. Players like Purdue's Brycen Hopkins, FAU's Harrison Bryant and Notre Dame's Cole Kmet could all be available when the Bears are on the clock, and all three of them would represent a marked uptick in talent for the depth chart.

Pace is being logical and rational when it comes to his evaluation of the tight end group. It's especially impressive considering the top two options currently on the roster -- Burton and Adam Shaheen -- were hand-picked by him and cost Chicago a top-of-the-market free-agent deal and a high draft pick (second round, 2017). 

Pace has a great opportunity to right his wrongs at tight end over the next couple of months.

How Matt Nagy's 'urgency' could foreshadow a Bears quarterback change

How Matt Nagy's 'urgency' could foreshadow a Bears quarterback change

INDIANAPOLIS — The Bears don’t look likely to sign or trade for a true starter to replace Mitch Trubisky, and Ryan Pace made clear he expects the 2017 No. 2 overall pick to be his starter in 2020. 

Let’s add an addendum to that, though, based on something Matt Nagy said: Just because Trubisky begins 2020 as the Bears’ starting quarterback does not mean he’ll hold on to that gig for the whole season, or even for half a season. 

In talking about the need to find an offensive identity in 2020, Nagy offered a response that leads you to believe job security won't be close to where it was in 2019:

“We got to figure out what our identity is and that's going to be an objective for us,” Nagy said. “And then last year you heard me say, sometimes it takes five or six weeks. I feel like personally that's always the case, but there's a sense of urgency for us going into this year. It needs to happen sooner.”

It needs to happen sooner. What happens if Trubisky doesn’t show any improvement through the first three or four games of 2020, and the Bears’ offense is lacking an identity at the end of September?

If there truly is a sense of urgency to find solutions on offense, then the Bears should consider something they didn’t last year: Changing quarterbacks. 

Chase Daniel was not on the roster to push Trubisky for playing time. He was brought in for his knowledge of the offense as “a little bit of an assistant coach,” as Nagy put it. The Bears figured surrounding Trubisky with as many resources as possible would help him thrive in Nagy’s complex offense. 

What the Bears need — and have indicated they want — is more competition in their quarterback room. That does not necessarily mean, again, luring someone like Teddy Bridgewater to Chicago to start. 

But it does mean adding someone to the roster who at least has a chance to be a better option than Trubisky, if Trubisky doesn’t show any improvement. 

Case Keenum could be that guy. Marcus Mariota, too (although Mariota sharing agents Bruce Tollner and Ryan Tollner with Trubisky could complicate any interest in him the Bears might have). Maybe there’s a trade to be made for Andy Dalton after all, if the Cincinnati Bengals are willing to bend to make the money work. 

A free agent signing along those lines and/or a draft pick — it doesn’t have to be a second rounder, either — would put someone on the roster who could be viewed as a legitimate replacement for an ineffective Trubisky. 

“If you're not creating competition around your whole roster, you're not pushing your own guys,” Nagy said.

The Bears didn’t do that at quarterback the last two years. 

But all signs are pointing to that changing in 2020. And while that may not mean an immediate change at starting quarterback, it means a switch during the season could become a real possibility. 

“If we all think that that’s what we want from (Trubisky), from last year, we’re fooling ourselves,” Nagy said. “He knows that and we know that. 

“But at the same time, we need to be real. What’s around him? And that’s where we’re at. I know it’s hard sometimes for all of us to understand that, and you see what’s going on with the instant gratification now, but there is a process for us. I do know that Mitch is very hungry. 

“He understands that we want him to play better, he understands that we want to coach better. So now we cannot worry and dwell about what happened last year. If you do that, you get stuck in the mud. We can’t do it. 

“It’s a clean slate. Now we’ve gotta get better for this year.”

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