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. We've covered Josh McDaniels and John DeFilippo, but turn our attention to a candidate on the defensive side of the ball today.
JJ: The Bears’ next head coach doesn’t *have* to be an offensive mind, as John “Moon” Mullin and I covered on the Under Center Podcast last month. Steve Wilks has an intriguing resume from the defensive side of the ball: He was Lovie Smith’s defensive backs coach from 2006-2008 and was part of that staff that made Super Bowl XLI, and while he’s only been the Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator for one year, he’s been an assistant to Ron Rivera since his D-coordinator days in San Diego. He’s also held the title of assistant head coach since 2015. Paul, thoughts?
Paul: Wilks is my favorite candidate from the defensive side of the ball. That assistant head coaching experience you just touched on could be invaluable in those crucial game situations in which John Fox...how do I put this…*struggled* repeatedly. He’s grown with Rivera over the last 10-plus years from that Bears team, to San Diego and now in Carolina, working his way up each step of the way. But let me ask you, JJ, do you think his previous Bears / Lovie ties potentially help him or hurt him as a candidate? Does Ryan Pace want to avoid any link to a former -- and not so far removed -- regime?
JJ: That’s an interesting question. I don’t think Pace would rule a guy out because he has ties to the Lovie Smith/Jerry Angelo era -- if he’s the right candidate, he’ll be considered for the job (and you wouldn't figure Ted Phillips or George McCaskey would get in the way of a former Bears assistant, right?). Which brings me to this tangent: Kansas City Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub absolutely could (or should) be considered for the Bears; opening. Toub, of course, was the Bears’ special teams coordinator from 2004-2012 under Smith and is widely respected around the league. The Bears interviewed Toub for their head coaching job after firing Smith and instead went with Marc Trestman, and Toub interviewed for the Miami Dolphins’ head coaching job in 2011 (which went to Joe Philbin).
The Chiefs finished the 2017 season ranked 4th in Football Outsiders special teams DVOA; they were No. 1 in 2016, No. 9 in 2015, No. 3 in 2014 and No. 1 in 2013. Toub is a fantastic coach, and that should out-weigh special teams coaches rarely making the leap to becoming head coaches.
For what it’s worth, Bovada’s odds on the Bears’ next head coach don’t have Wilks, but they do include Toub:
Pat Shurmur 3/1
Josh McDaniels 9/2
John DeFilippo 9/2
Todd Haley 6/1
Frank Reich 6/1
Jim Bob Cooter 9/1
Matt LaFleur 9/1
Matt Nagy 9/1
Dave Toub 9/1
Anyways, now that I’ve successfully hijacked this thing on Wilks, let’s get back to it.
Paul: My other question to you that relates to Wilks and Rivera: No doubt the Jerry Richardson situation in Carolina has much more serious implications than just football, but that being said, Rivera has to have an out clause in his contract if there’s a change in ownership, right? If Ryan Pace is gonna wait out a potential Super Bowl run on one of these highly touted coordinators, shouldn’t he consider rolling the dice on Riverboat Ron? If he does a little back channel research and finds out Rivera might be interested, at least consider waiting to take a shot at Rivera until after the sale of the Panthers. Maybe he’s tired of good Cam/bad Cam and wants a fresh start with a fan base that would welcome him with open arms?
JJ: Man, that would be quite a turn if it were to become realistic. But it’s not. The Bears can’t afford to wait out a process that may not even result in Rivera considering leaving Carolina.
We just keep getting off track for Wilks, don’t we?
Paul: Back to Wilks, Lance Briggs and Alex Brown both were on that Bears Super Bowl team on which Wilks coached in 2006, and both vouched for him as a leader when I asked them about him. He definitely fits the style of a coach that would shape the Bears in that defense first mold that has served the franchise so well historically. Plus, Lance said he looks like Denzel Washington and could parlay that into roles on all the Chicago Fire, Med, Justice, PD, Coast Guard whatever shows. Consider me sold.
JJ: That’s an...interesting...selling point.
I talked with AB about Wilks earlier this week and similarly received a good pitch. Carolina ranked 7th in defensive DVOA this year, and Wilks’ unit was so fearsome that a certain quarterback only threw seven passes against it in October. The Bears aren’t the only team interested in Wilks, too: The Indianapolis Colts, New York Giants and Detroit Lions are in on him. That speaks to him being well-regarded around the league.
I’ll finish here with this thought: Wilks runs a 4-3 defense, which would mean the Bears would likely switch schemes from Vic Fangio’s 3-4, which the team has been building the last few years with guys like Eddie Goldman, Akiem Hicks, Leonard Floyd, Danny Trevathan and Nick Kwiatkoski. But a scheme change shouldn’t necessarily be a deterrent to who the next head coach and/or defensive coordinator will be -- if the right guy runs a 4-3, he’s still the right guy.