Bears

Kap: Breaking down Bears' coaching targets

973755.png

Kap: Breaking down Bears' coaching targets

As the coaching carousel continues to spin, Bears fans wonder who will land in the big chair at Halas Hall.

The major shuffling of head coaches this offseason leaves a number of qualified candidates who could possibly fill the job. Here is a look at many of the candidates who could be on Bears GM Phil Emerys interview list.

Nick Saban

While the household name may seem enticing to Bears fans, a number of questions would have to be answered before Saban could even be considered a possibility.

After reconstructing his contract in 2012, Saban is due to make 5.32 million per year with a 100,000 increase each year until 2020 at Alabama. If matched, this contract would make Saban the sixth highest paid coach in the NFL, a hefty sum of money for a college coach who has already tried his hand in the NFL and not gleaned much success.

Sabans two-year stint in Miami could serve as a deterrent for a number of NFL GMs looking to hire an experienced NCAA coach. After winning his second national title last season, Saban was asked about the possible jump to the NFL, to which he answered, We're staying at Alabama and we're not interested in going anyplace else. We weren't interested in going anyplace else at the end of the season, so it really doesn't matter."

Im sure Saban would consider taking another stab at the NFL if the price was right, but it would be tough leaving a program that has already erected a statue in his honor.

Probability: Low to none

Chip Kelly

University of Oregon headman Chip Kelly has been with the program for six years, four as head coach. All signs point to the fact that Kelly is ready and willing to make the jump to the NFL.

Kelly is largely responsible for the up-tempo spread offense that has taken the college game by storm and even begun to trickle into the NFL. As this philosophy begins to make the transition to the next level, so will Chip Kelly. The Browns and Eagles have already asked for permission to interview Kelly upon the conclusion of the season. While I do think Kelly will take the next step in his coaching career, it will not be towards Chicago.

The Bears will look to hire an offensive-minded head coach but the Chip Kelly offense could be a culture shock rather than a culture change. His style of play would make much more sense in a place like Philadelphia that is looking for major change.

Probability: Low

Bill OBrien

Continuing with our theme of collegiate coaches who could make the jump to the next level, Penn State head coach Bill OBrien is a name coming up in a number of different circles around the league.

But he confirmed Thursday that he would not be "one and done," choosing instead to stay at Penn State for another year.

Probability: Not gonna happen

Brian Kelly

The Fighting Irish find themselves in a position they have not been in for nearly a quarter century and their success has not gone unnoticed. Head coach Brian Kelly has popped up on a number of NFL radar screens.

But dont go crazy, Irish faithful, Kelly isnt going anywhere. He is signed through 2016 in South Bend, but his National Championship game appearance could be grounds for a long-term extension. Kelly could use the NFL hype as leverage in negotiations but thats as far as it will go.

Probability: Low to none

Andy Reid

Reids name has been thrown around in multiple front offices around the league but it appears as if the long time Eagles head coach will end up in either Arizona or Kansas City both of which he has already interviewed with.

Reid has already begun assembling a staff he will bring with him wherever he goes, so look for this deal to happen within the next few days.

Probability: None

Rick Dennison

The highly sought after Houston Texans offensive coordinator is looking to take the next step in his coaching career and it is likely he will be hired somewhere.

Dennison has held numerous positions in the NFL since 1995. In 2010, the Texans hired him as the offensive coordinator. Dennisons playbook would be a good fit for the Bears; over the last three years he has found success in evenly distributing the ball between an elite running back and wide receiver. Sound familiar?

Dennisons balanced attack would allow Matt Forte and Brandon Marshall to both play integral roles in the offense and offer a relatively seamless transition between regimes. On top of that, Dennison has three years of coaching experience alongside Cutler and Marshall in Denver (06-08).

This hire would make a lot of sense for Phil Emery and the rest of the Bears front office.

Probability: Medium to High

Mike McCoy

When talking about Denvers offensive coordinator, one word comes to mind -- adaptability.

As an offensive coordinator, McCoy has a history of getting the job done regardless of personnel. He was successful with former Bear Kyle Orton under center, but then had to change his philosophy as the multi-tooled Tebow began to take the snaps.

This season, McCoy once again reconstructed his playbook to fit the endless talents of Peyton Manning. McCoy is the type of offensive mind that will highlight the strengths of an offense and he could boost Jay Cutler to the upper level of NFL quarterbacks.

McCoy is scheduled to interview with the Bills, Cardinals, Eagles and Bears this weekend.

Probability: Medium-High

Kyle Shanahan

Washington Redskins offensive coordinator and son of Mike Shanahan, Kyle Shanahan may only be 33 years old, but he is anything but short on experience. He has coached in the NFL since 2004 and has been an offensive coordinator since 2008, when he got his first opportunity calling the plays in Houston.

In his five years as an OC, Shanahan has only reached the playoffs one time and that is this season. It is evident that he has done a superb job in developing two rookie quarterbacks in Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins, but the young coordinator may want to continue building his resume around one of the most electrifying players to step on a football field in a long time.

Probability: Medium

Pete Carmichael Jr.

If your franchise is looking for a coach with a deep understanding of the passing game, Pete Carmichael, Jr. is at the top of the list. The New Orleans offensive coordinator and former passing game coach has been dialing up the play calls alongside Sean Payton for Drew Brees and the Saints offense since 2009.

During his tenure with the Saints, he has won a Super Bowl and orchestrated some record setting offensive performances. The Saints may have struggled this season, but they still led the league in yards per game (410).

Carmichael would be a definite change in philosophy as the Saints threw the ball 64.5 percent of the time this season, compared to the Bears 50.7 percent. Carmichael Jr. does have some ties with the Bears organization -- his father, Pete Carmichael, Sr., was an offensive assistant from '01-'03. Carmichael, Jr. interviewed with the Bears on Thursday afternoon.

Probability: Medium-High

Bruce Arians

Arians was considered no more than a coordinator across the league until he filled in as Colts head coach in the absence of Chuck Pagano this season. Arians has held multiple offensive positions in the NFL since 1996, most notably as the offensive coordinator of the 2009 Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers.

This season, Arians has orchestrated one of the greatest turnarounds in league history, taking the worst team in the NFL a year ago and leading them to the playoffs. No doubt, he has opened some eyes across the league, but his age is still a concern as he will be 61 next season.

Arians has shown that he is capable of being effective in the head coaching position and the Bears have received permission to interview him around the Colts playoff responsibilities.

Probability: Medium

Mike Sullivan

Sullivan has spent nine years in the league, eight in New York with the Giants where he worked tirelessly with Eli Manning. Manning credits a great deal of his success to his former coach who helped him emerge as one of the games better quarterbacks and a two-time Super Bowl champion.

Phil Emery interviewed Sullivan earlier this week and he is reportedly under consideration with a handful of teams around the league. In 2012, which was Sullivans first year as offensive coordinator in Tampa Bay, he helped turn around Josh Freemans career who before Sullivan was on the fast track to being labeled a bust. This season, the Bucs were a vastly improved offensive team.

Probability: Medium-High

Tom Clements

The saying goes: If at first you dont succeed, try, try again.

In 2010, the Bears asked the Packers' permission to interview their offensive coordinator; the Packers were not too fond of the idea and blocked the Bears from speaking with Clements. The OC spot was eventually filled by Mike Martz and well, we all know how that turned out.

Two years later, the Packers have agreed to allow the Bears to interview Clements for the head coaching position, but NFL rules do not allow them to do so until the Packers have availability after their first-round playoff game. Clements says he is flattered by the Bears interest but will not further address the topic until after the season.

I guess if you cant beat 'em, steal 'em.

Probability: Medium

Joe DiCamillis

The highly-respected Dallas special teams coordinator has made a couple of possible hiring lists the past two years.

This year, DiCamillis reputation across the league has earned him an interview for the Bears' vacant head-coaching job. He has held special teams positions across the league since 1988. Emery worked alongside DiCamillis in Atlanta in the early 2000s.

My only concern is with the high number of coaching vacancies; why are the Bears the only team pursuing DiCamillis at the moment? In addition, Dallas special teams werent exceptionally special in 2012.

Probability: Low

Keith Armstrong

The Atlanta Falcons special teams coordinator has been interviewed by the Eagles, Chiefs and Bears already this offseason. Armstrong has been coaching in the NFL since 1994 and his duties have included special teams and defensive position coaching.

While Armstrong does have the background to take the next step as a head coach, the Bears may be looking for a more offensive-minded coordinator.

Probability: Medium-Low

Jon Gruden or Bill Cowher

Both Super Bowl Champions. Both well established head coaches. Both are considered students of the game. Neither is headed to Chicago.

Jon Gruden and Bill Cowher have both come up in a number of different teams hiring conversations, but I expect both of them to stay in the TV booth. Gruden is signed on with ESPN until 2017, and he is great at what he does. He is also the antithesis of everything Lovie Smith was.

While the fanbase is clamoring for either man to lead the 2013 Bears, I dont see any chance that either one is a serious candidate for the job. In fact, I would be surprised if either one resurfaces anywhere in the league.

Mike Holmgren

Holmgren is another Super Bowl Champion, having taken home the Lombardi Trophy in 1996 with the Packers. The San Francisco native got his professional start as the quarterbacks coach of the 49ers before moving to offensive coordinator. In 1992, he was hired as head coach of the Packers and moved to Seattle in 1999, compiling a 272-161 record and three NFC Championships in 17 seasons.

His offenses have ranked in the Top 10 in yardage and points 13 times in 20 seasons, including four Top 3 finishes in yards and five Top 3 finishes in points scored.

Holmgren is reportedly interested in coaching in the NFL again, but he has spent the last three seasons as the President of the Cleveland Browns and turns 65 in June.

Probability: Extremely Low

Joe Musso contributed to this article

The Bears love their defensive depth. Now their playoff chances – and offseason plans – rely on it

0918_nick_kwiatkoski.jpg
USA Today

The Bears love their defensive depth. Now their playoff chances – and offseason plans – rely on it

As it turns out, the Bears’ inside linebacker situation is a great litmus test for how you feel about the team in general. Roquan Smith is done for the year, and it doesn’t feel like Danny Trevathan is ready to return yet. The Bears will likely have to win out with Nick Kwiatkoski and Kevin Pierre-Louis, and while that was certainly never the plan, it also may not be the disaster that many think. 

“It’s unfortunate with some of the injuries that we’ve had this year,” Matt Nagy said on Monday. “But it’s a part of the game. It’s a physical game. I just like the fact that our coaches are preparing our depth guys to come in. It’s no slight on the other guys — the depth of guys that are coming in and playing, we like that.”

The Bears coaches, particularly on defense, have raved all year about the depth across all three levels. How Kwiatkoski and KPL – both UFA’s after the season – play is quietly one of the more important storylines in a final three weeks that’s already not lacking for narrative substance.

“I think they both can do the jobs,” inside linebackers coach Mark Deleone said. “There’s a perception about Kwit that I think, this year, he’s shown that he has coverage skills, and he’s done really well this year when we’ve put him in those situations. I feel comfortable with both of them – they play different positions, but they do a lot of the same jobs. I don’t feel like we’re changing the way those two guys play, based off who’s in the game.”

The good news is that so far, things look good. Though he’s only appeared in seven games, Nick Kwiatkoski’s overall grade (79.8), per Pro Football Focus, is already the fourth-highest on the defense. 

“I think he’s productive,” Deleone said. “Every single game he’s played serious minutes in, he’s made a lot of plays. And that’s something that, and I really believe this, that good linebackers make tackles. And he’s made a lot when he’s played.”

The only players with higher scores? Sherrick McManis (!), Khalil Mack, and … Kevin Pierre-Louis. After logging the second-most snaps (46) of his 68-game career, KPL was PFF’s highest-graded player on the Bears’ defense. 

“It’s not college anymore, where certain players supposedly have to do everything,” he said on Monday. “We have the right pieces, so I just have to make sure I do my job, and the rest of the team is going to have my back.” 

Deleone said that if Kwiatkoski and KPL are in fact the starters in Green Bay this Sunday, Kwiatkoski will wear the green dot. Even still, facing Aaron Rodgers and a Packers’ run game that ranks fourth in DVOA is a lot to ask, and possibly (probably?) getting Akiem Hicks back will be critical to helping both ILBs. The team’s still working to gauge where Hicks is physically, and for the first time since suffering the injury, he’ll be going against blocks in practice.

“I’ve always thought that Akiem has been an integral part of this defense,” defensive line coach Jay Rodgers said. “When he’s on the field, he obviously has more impact than when he’s off the field. But his impact off the field has been great so far.” 

Getting Hicks back in time for the Packers game may be especially good news for Leonard Floyd, who, for whatever reason, has a fun tendency of putting together huge games against Green Bay. Floyd is well on his way to another divisive and all-around confusing season: sack loyalists see a bad player, the analytics see a productive player, and the Bears see a great one.

“I think there are a lot of DBs that would love to have some of his traits,” outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino said. “I think there’s a lot of defensive linemen that would love to have some of those traits, and they just don’t. He’s got that package, and if we can get him to finish those rushes and drive those sack numbers up, I think that we’d all be talking about him differently.”

The ifs are doing a lot of heavy lifting in that quote, and eventually the Bears are going to have to decide if they want to pay top dollar for a player whose best contributions can only be described because they ‘don’t show up on tape.’ For what it’s worth, Monachino also said that he can’t think of too many players that he’s asked more from than Floyd, and that every week the edge rusher is in the conversation for “who does [their] job best on our defense.”

Especially with Kevin Tolliver filling in for Prince Amukamara, the Bears’ defense looks as unfamiliar as it has during the Khalil Mack era, and at the worst time. They’ve always been proud of their depth, and now their playoff odds – not to mention offseason budgetary plans – directly rely on it. With all that in mind, you can understand why Matt Nagy’s still looking for this season’s silver lining.

The Bears' run game hasn't been good. Yet in a weird way, it's also why they win

The Bears' run game hasn't been good. Yet in a weird way, it's also why they win

Is the Bears’ run game working? 

It’s a simple (fine, lazy) question that, however binary, continues to have a complicated answer. It quickly became pretty clear that the David Montgomery-Tarik Cohen combination would be a work in progress, and on the surface, neither have particularly impressive stats thus far. The team ranks 29th in rushing DVOA and only the Dolphins (3-10) and the Jets (5-8) have a lower average yards per carry than the Bears (3.5). 

But check this out: The Bears are 7-2 when they rush the ball 20+ times. They’re winless (0-4) when they run it any less.

“For our offense, I just appreciate the way that our guys have continued to just fight through this year and try to figure out where we're at,” Matt Nagy said on Monday. “I do feel a lot better with where we're at right now as an offense. That part, that's good, and that's a credit to our guys.” 

The obvious talking point when it comes to the Bears’ running woes has been Tarik Cohen’s decline in production. As a rusher, he’s on pace to set career worsts in yards per attempt (3.1), yards per game (12.1), and attempts per game (3.2). The analytics are brutal too: according to Pro Football Focus, his Yards After Contact per Attempt (YCO/A) is under 2.0 for the first time in his career; Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric says he’s 18% less effective, per play, than the average NFL running back. 

Before the Bears’ Week 12 game against the Giants, Nagy talked at the podium about wanting to get Cohen more touches. “Trust me,” he said. “Just like everybody, we want to do everything we can to get 29 going. He’s a playmaker and every time he’s on the field, even if he doesn’t touch the football, the defense has to know where he’s at.”

That Sunday Cohen would have 9 targets and six rushes. Since then? 10 targets and six rushes. 

“Teams are doing a good job game planning for him,” running backs coach Charles London said. “I don’t know if you guys have noticed, but every time he’s out on a route, there’s a lineman trying to hit him. He’s usually double-teamed. They’re usually trying to stay on top of him so he can’t go deep. Teams have done good jobs scheming him, but we’ve just got to continue finding ways to give him the ball.” 

Cohen was never meant to be the feature back, and his struggles to regain that explosive form is felt far more in the pass game than it is on the ground. He’s having a weird year as a pass-catcher: he’s on pace to set a career high in receptions per game (4.6), but his yards per game (25.4) is barely half of what it was last season, as is his yards per reception (5.5). As well as any stat can, this one says it all: Cohen had a 70-yard play in each of his first two seasons. This year his longest play, so far, has gone for 31. 

“It’s just about moving the chains,” London added. “It may be a three or four yard route, but maybe it’s third-and-three and we move it and get another set of downs. I think that’s the biggest thing – obviously we’d like some more explosive plays there, and we’ve got to do a better job as coaches of getting him those touches. But as long as we’re moving the chains, we’re good with it.” 

There’s also no denying that Cohen’s usage coincides with David Montgomery, who’s on pace to get more carries in his first season (roughly 265 by back-of-napkin-math) than the Bears gave Jordan Howard in 2018. Montgomery’s season started slowly, but the rookie had his breakout game (27 rushes, 135 yards and a touchdown) against the Chargers in Week 8, and most recently has strung together back-to-back games averaging over 4.0 yards per rush for the first time in his career. 

“I think it’s just him seeing the holes,” London said. “I think he’s done a good job, especially the last 2-3 weeks, of just seeing how the line is blocking and getting a feel for how the game’s going, getting a feel for how the run’s being blocked. I think he’s done a really good job of it the last few weeks.” 

Running the ball isn't what Nagy was hired to do – or wants to do – but it’s hard to say the ground game isn’t working when the Bears are a far better team when they commit to it. 

“I think that just right now, what the feel is with our offense is that it's not just the running back, it's not just the quarterback, it's not just the O-line,” Nagy added on Monday. “Everybody is just kind of syncing right now.”