NFL rosters undergo upheavals and turnover on an annual basis. NFL coaching staffs undergo their own changes, obviously when a fire-hire happens at the head-coach level, but also in some surprising situations – in this case, the Bears.
The Bears have seen five assistant coaches exit John Fox's staff since the end of the disastrous 3-13 season, the latest being wide receivers coach Curtis Johnson this week, as first reported by the Chicago Tribune. This follows departures of the team's running backs, outside linebackers, assistant DB's and offensive line staffers.
A 3-13 season creates different types of internal goings-on. But while once the hot topics were whether Fox and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio would return for a year three, those two have remained in place while others under them have split.
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If there is a common thread through it all, that thread is difficult to find. "Jumping ship" may be the convenient thought but not the accurate one, since O-line coach Dave Magazu and safeties coach Sam Garnes were not tendered contract extensions. And Stan Drayton wants to become a college head coach, so left the Bears to become associate head coach and run-game coordinator for the University of Texas.
Johnson, who was widely praised for his developmental work with Cam Meredith and Kevin White, had signed just a one-year contract with the Bears in what appeared to be a step to get back into the NFL from a disappointing stint as a college head coach (Tulane). Assistants typically sign two-year contracts but Johnson left himself an out to explore other options in the NFL.
The situation does raise questions of continuity as Fox heads into a pivotal third year after consecutive losing seasons for the first time in his career. What it really does, however, is keep the personnel work under GM Ryan Pace at a premium: Because of what they had in place player-wise, the Bears lost defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan after the 1985 season, replaced him with Vince Tobin and a different mindset, and proceeded to set the NFL record for fewest points allowed.
Bears Pro Bowl running back Jordan Howard will have a new positional coach in 2017.
According to ESPN's Adam Caplan, the Bears are expected to hire former San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins as their running backs coach.
Before joining the 49ers in 2016, Modkins served as the Detroit Lions running backs coach from 2013-15. Modkins broke into the NFL as a running backs coach with Kansas City Chiefs in 2008. After serving one year in Kansas City, Modkins left for the same job with the Arizona Cardinals in 2009. The following season Modkins took a promotion with the Buffalo Bills, becoming the team's offensive coordinator from 2010-12.
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Modkins will be reunited in Chicago with reported new Bears offensive line coach Jeremiah Washburn. The duo worked together for three seasons with the Lions from 2013-15.
The Bears were in need of a new running backs coach after Stan Drayton departed to take an associate head coaching job under Tom Herman at the University of Texas.
As a sign of good things to come, three Bears were selected to the NFL's all-rookie teams. But there's a negative thread running through the honors of linebacker Leonard Floyd being named to the rookie defensive team, and the selections of center Cody Whitehair and running back Jordan Howard to the rookie offensive team.
The concern lies not in the players or the personnel department under GM Ryan Pace that designated them for drafting. It is in the fact that the position coaches for all three rookie standouts are all gone from the staff of coach John Fox.
Finding talent is difficult enough. Developing it is the crucial next step in the football process, and what was evident in the rookie years of Floyd, Whitehair and Howard was that each developed into NFL-grade players with some very solid coaching.
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Offensive line coach Dave Magazu was not brought back, reportedly in favor of former Miami Dolphins assistant offensive line coach Jeremiah Washburn, as reported by Sirius XM radio and Sporting News.
Stan Drayton, who coached Carlos Hyde and Ezekiel Elliott at Ohio State, then Howard this year, left for the University of Texas.
Outside linebackers coach Clint Hurtt appeared to be exiting for the New York Jets, although sources report that the deal may not go through.
Coaches can't create talent but they can certainly foster and maximize it. Replacing the mentors of their three top rookies from arguably the best draft class since 2004 (Tommie Harris, Tank Johnson, Bernard Berrian, Nathan Vasher) now becomes a talent search in its own right.