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. 

Why coming to the Bears was the right opportunity for Harry Hiestand to leave Notre Dame


Why coming to the Bears was the right opportunity for Harry Hiestand to leave Notre Dame

There wasn’t a single game Harry Hiestand coached while at Notre Dame — 77 in total — in which he didn’t have a future top-20 pick starting at left tackle. 

Zack Martin (16th overall, 2014) was followed by Ronnie Stanley (6th overall, 2016), who gave way to Mike McGlinchey (9th overall, 2018). Hiestand also developed Quenton Nelson, who went on to be the highest interior offensive lineman drafted (6th overall, 2018) since 1986. Nelson and McGlinchey became the first pair of college offensive line teammates to be drafted in the first 10 picks since 1991, when Tennessee had tackles Charles McRae and Antone Davis go seventh and eighth. 

“It wasn’t surprising because the kind of guys they are, they absolutely did everything the right way, the way they took care of themselves, the way they trained, the teammates that they are and were,” Hiestand said. “They just did it all the way you wanted them to do it. So it was. It was a good moment.”

Hiestand said he had a sense of pride after seeing his two former players be drafted so high, even if he wasn't able to re-unite with either of them. The Bears, of course, didn’t have a chance to draft Nelson, and had conviction on using the eighth overall pick on linebacker Roquan Smith (as well as having tackles Charles Leno and Bobby Massie in place for the 2018 season). 

Anecdotally, one former Notre Dame player said (maybe half-jokingly) that Nelson and McGlinchey were fighting each other to see who could get drafted by the Bears to play with Hiestand again.

“There’s nobody that I’ve been around in this game that’s more passionate about what he does,” McGlinchey, now with the San Francisco 49ers, said of Hiestand at Notre Dame’s pro day in March. “There’s really only two things that are important to him, and that’s his family and then his offensive linemen. There’s a lot to be said for that. 

“In this game, everybody’s always trying to work an angle to up their own career — he doesn’t want to do anything but coach O-line, and that’s what really sticks out to us as players. He cares for us like we’re his own. Obviously he coaches extremely hard and is very demanding of his players, which I loved — he pushed me to be the player that I am.

“I’m standing in front of all you guys because of Harry Hiestand. But the amount of passion and care that he has not only for his job but his teaching abilities and his players is what sets him apart.”

Hiestand could’ve stayed as long as he wanted at Notre Dame, presumably, given how much success he had recruiting and developing players there. But six years at one spot is a long time for a position coach, especially at the college level, where the grind of recruiting is so vital to the success of a program. It’s also not like every one of the blue-chip prospects Hiestand recruited to South Bend panned out, either. 

So Hiestand knew he wanted to get back to the NFL after coaching with the Bears under Lovie Smith from 2005-2009. It’s a new challenge for him now, not only to develop second-round pick James Daniels but to continue the growth of Cody Whitehair and Leno while getting the most out of Kyle Long, Massie and the rest of the group (back during his first stint with the Bears, Hiestand had the luxury of coaching experienced, more ready-made offensive lines). 

As one of the more highly-regarded offensive line coaches in the country, though, Hiestand could’ve jumped back into the NFL whenever, and nearly wherever, he wanted. And for him, coming back to the Bears was the perfect fit. 

“That’s an awesome, awesome place, a great franchise,” Hiestand said. “It was something, I always wanted to go back, I didn’t know where I would get the opportunity. So I’m just very fortunate it just happened to be back at the same place that I was before. There are a lot of things that are different but there’s also a lot that’s the same. 

“But it’s one of the — it is the greatest organization. Historically, this is where it all began, and being part of it — and the other thing, and I told those guys when I got here, when we get it done here, you guys are going to see this city like you’ve never seen it. And I remember that. That’s what we’re after.” 

On a scale of 1-10, Tarik Cohen says his dangerous level is 12

On a scale of 1-10, Tarik Cohen says his dangerous level is 12

Don't be fooled by Tarik Cohen's height. He has towering confidence and he's setting up to have a big role in coach Matt Nagy's offense in 2018.

“On a scale of 1-10, the dangerous level is probably 12,” Cohen said Wednesday at Halas Hall about the impact he can have in the Bears' new system. “Because in backyard football, it’s really anything goes, and it’s really whoever gets tired first, that’s who’s going to lose. I’m running around pretty good out here, so I feel like I’m doing a good job.”

Cohen proved last season he can thrive in space. He made an impact as a runner, receiver and return man and will have a chance at an even bigger workload this fall, assuming he can handle it.

With Jordan Howard established as the starting running back, Cohen knows his touches will come in a variety of ways.

“It might not necessarily be rushes,” he said. “But it’s going to be all over the field, and that’s what I like to do. Any way I can get the ball or make a play for my team, that’s what I’m looking forward to doing.”

Cohen averaged 4.3 yards-per-carry as a rookie and led all NFL running backs in the percentage of carries that went for at least 15 yards. He's a big play waiting to happen.