That the Bears could be without Adam Gase as offensive coordinator after the annual hiring blitz of NFL coaches has been anticipated for some time, as far back as the time of his hiring in Chicago. Gase had been on multiple NFL interview cards before following John Fox to Chicago. The assumption here has always been that either Gase or Jay Cutler would be elsewhere after the 2015 season. (good = Gase gone; bad=Cutler gone).
The bigger story surrounding the Bears, however, is not where Gase would end up — it became Miami on Saturday — but rather who would succeed him. That carries extreme weight because of the progress made by Cutler — the best statistical season of his career — despite a receiver corps that changed weekly, sometimes daily given the number of nicks suffered in practices.
It has been a volatile position since Cutler’s arrival: Ron Turner (2009), Mike Martz (2010-11, Mike Tice (2012), Aaron Kromer (2013-14) and Gase (2015).
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ESPN’s Adam Schefter, citing sources, said that current quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains is the front-runner to succeed Gase.
Looking ahead, first, at the general philosophy of the offense, and then several of the top possibilities for Bears offensive coordinator:
For all of the focus on Cutler, the Bears were going to be a running football team under Fox, and Gase was an architect of game plans consistent with that philosophy. The fact that the Bears were without Martellus Bennett, Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal for about a half-season each, and Kevin White for the entire year were additional factors tilting the Bears away from heavy reliance on the pass.
But the Bears under Gase ran the ball consistently, with or without their top receivers. In games with Jeffery close to full health (seven), for example, the Bears ran the ball 45.7 percent of the time. The expectation is that Fox, not the coordinator, will set the overall base course of the offense.
“Let me make this clear,” Fox declared in the Bears’ year-end press conference with Fox and GM Ryan Pace. “Our systems are our systems. They’re not any individual’s systems; they are our systems. Our systems aren’t changing, offense, defense or special teams.
“You tweak and you grow and you adjust. You have to do that in this league because it’s a fluid league, there are trends and things that happen, and things that you have to react to regardless of what they are. That’s all part of coaching. One of the hard things about being a new staff is introducing those systems and they won’t change.”
Pace noted that Fox’s experience and time as an NFL coach has given him a wide spectrum of contacts. Two stand out in particular.
Ken Whisenhunt: was reportedly at the top of Fox’s candidate list to succeed Mike McCoy as Denver Broncos offensive coordinator, but Broncos football czar John Elway wanted Gase in the job, which is what happened.
Whisenhunt was fired in-season by the Tennessee Titans after a 1-6 start with rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota and 3-20 record over his tenure with the Titans.
But Whisenhunt also was the Pittsburgh offensive coordinator when the Steelers drafted Ben Roethlisberger in 2004. Pittsburgh reached the AFC Championship game with Roethlisberger as a rookie and won the Super Bowl the next year with a run-based offense around him.
Whisenhunt went from Pittsburgh to the Arizona Cardinals, which he took to 8-8 in his first season (after 5-11 the year before) and to the Super Bowl in 2008 with Kurt Warner. After his run with Arizona, Whisenhunt was hired as San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator in 2013 by new coach McCoy.
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Loggains: was intimately involved in the Cutler process as well as the offense, and has had experience as an offensive coordinator, serving in that capacity for the Titans in 2012-13. One potential problem here: If Fox should choose Whisenhunt, Loggains’ future with the Bears could be in question: Whisenhunt took over the Titans and Loggains was not retained.
Whether a Whisenhunt hire would automatically foreshadow a Loggains exit isn’t a given. But Cutler liked working with Loggains, frequently cited Loggains for credit in his successes. Whether that would be an issue with Cutler, who was not involved in the hiring decisions for Fox’s staff the way he once was when Martz was hired, remains to be seen.
Loggains is even closer in age (35) to Cutler (33 in April) than Gase (37) was when hired. And he actually has slightly more experience as an offensive coordinator (32) than Gase did (16) when the latter was hired in Chicago as OC.
Others such as Pat Shurmur from the Philadelphia Eagles will surface in discussions. But Loggains and Whisenhunt are the two most prominent names in what will be a critical hire for at least the near-term future of the organization.