Breaking up is hard to do. After a 10-6 season that will leave the Chicago Bears watching the NFL Playoffs from their couches, the team cut their ties with head coach Lovie Smith after 9 seasons.
Many players have already voiced their displeasure with GM Phil Emery’s decision to fire Smith. Devin Hester is even threatening retirement now that Lovie will no longer be calling the shots.
But as Emery stated in his press conference this past Tuesday, a lack of offensive consistency and playoff appearances are what did Lovie in. The Bears only managed 3 postseason berths, a 3-3 postseason record, and ranked in the top half of the NFL in yards per game just once (15th in 2006) in the past 9 seasons.
That track record would’ve done anyone in, not just Lovie. Despite being a defensive genius and a true “leader of men”, Emery knows that it’s in the best interest of the team to find a coach who will bring the offensive production to the same level that the defense has been producing at for decades.
Finally, someone understands.
The Bears will now be testing the free agent coaching waters for the first time since 2004. There are 7 names that have already emerged as candidates for the job, most of them being offensive coordinators.
While it’s nice to imagine all of the big name coaches on the market in blue and orange, I’m going to stick to the 7 men who have been granted permission to interview for the job.
My apologies to anyone hoping to hear Nick Saban or Andy Reid.
Emery has a lot of deciphering to do in the coming weeks, but he hopes to have picked his replacement before the East-West Shrine Game (college football’s “all star game”) on January 19th.
Without further ado, let’s meet the contestants.
Broncos Offensive Coordinator Mike McCoy
- Interview Date: Either Saturday or Sunday in Denver during the Broncos playoff bye week.
- NFL Experience: Broncos Offensive Coordinator (2009-present).
- Highlights: In ’09, he was able to construct an offense that allowed quarterback Kyle Orton to post career highs in almost every passing category. The following year, the passing offense ranked 7th in the NFL. In the 2011 season, the Tim Tebow saga unfolded, and McCoy molded the offense into the league’s most prolific rushing attack, racking up 2,632 total rushing yards. This season with Peyton Manning at the helm, McCoy has orchestrated the league’s 2nd highest scoring offense en route to a 13-3 record.
- Verdict: McCoy is a hot commodity, also receiving clearance to interview with the Eagles, Bills and Cardinals. It’s clear that McCoy can construct a high powered offense no matter what the skill set is geared toward, and has been able to get the most out of his star players.
Buccaneers Offensive Coordinator Mike Sullivan
- Interview Date: Wednesday, January 2nd
- NFL Experience: New York Giants Wide Receivers Coach (2006-09) and Quarterbacks Coach (2010-11). TampaBay Buccaneers Offensive Coordinator (2012).
- Highlights: The Giants passing attack consistently ranked in the top 10 in the NFL in terms of points and yards per game between 2008 and 2011. Sullivan is widely credited with the emergence of Eli Manning, who averaged 4,467 yards and 30 touchdowns in his 2 seasons as quarterbacks coach. In 2012, the Buccaneers offense posted the 9th highest yardage total in the NFL under Sullivan, and quarterback Josh Freeman set career highs in yards per game and touchdowns. Rookie running back Doug Martin recorded nearly 1,500 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns, and 9 different players were able to find the endzone over the course of the season.
- Verdict: Sullivan has been climbing the coaching ranks ever since 2006, and a head coaching job is likely in his future. He has presided over some of the best years of each quarterback he has coached, and turned the Bucs into a dynamic scoring offense in just one season.
Falcons Special Teams Coordinator Keith Armstrong
- Interview Date: Tuesday, January 1st in Atlanta
- NFL Experience: Atlanta Falcons Secondary/Safeties Coach (1994-96), Chicago Bears Special Teams Coordinator (1997-2000), Miami Dolphins Special Teams Coordinator (2001-07), Atlanta Falcons Special Teams Coach (2008-present)
- Highlights: Armstrong is one of the more experienced options being considered with nearly 2 decades of NFL coaching under his belt. He’s already been a part of the Bears organization as a Special Teams Coordinator for 4 seasons. While the impact of a Special Teams Coordinator can be tough to gauge, the fact that Armstrong has consistently been able to find a job is indicative of his ability.
- Verdict: Armstrong may simply be benefiting from the Falcons 13-3 record this season, as we typically see at least 1 coordinator from a dominant team get a head coaching interview in the following offseason (IE: Ron Rivera after the Bears Super Bowl appearance). He will also interview for the Chiefs coaching vacancy. But ESPN’s Jeff Dickerson has reported that Armstrong would make Norv Turner his offensive coordinator if given the Bears job. Turner built the San Diego Chargers into an offensive juggernaut as a head coach, as they ranked in the top 5 in the NFL in points scored from 2008-11. He might be able to heal what ails the Bears offense.
Cowboys Special Teams Coordinator Joe DeCamillis
- Interview Date: Saturday, January 5th in Dallas
- NFL Experience: Denver Broncos Special Teams Coordinator (1988-92), New York Giants Special Teams Coordinator (1993-96), Atlanta Falcons Special Teams Coordinator (1997-2006), Jacksonville Jaguars Special Teams Coordinator (2007-08), Dallas Cowboys (2009-2012)
- Highlights: DeCamillis has presided over special teams units that have at least 1 punt of kick return touchdown in 15 of the last 17 seasons, and his units have 25 total return touchdowns to their credit. Matt McBriar, the Cowboy’s punter in 2010, earned a Pro Bowl appearance while leading the league in gross and net punt yardage.
- Verdict: DeCamillis is seen as a special teams guru in most circles, and is a very passionate, vocal coach according to sources close to the Cowboys. But his special teams units have experienced some ups and down during his tenure, and other teams aren’t exactly chomping at the bit to bring him in for an interview. I’d say this one is a stretch.
Packers Offensive Coordinator Tom Clements
- Interview Date: TBD (Packers are still in the playoffs, but they have made Clements available for interview when eliminated)
- NFL Experience: New Orleans Saints Quarterbacks Coach (1997-99), Kansas City Chiefs Quarterbacks Coach (2000), Pittsburgh Steelers Quarterbacks Coach (2001-04), Buffalo Bills Offensive Coordinator (2005), Green Bay Packers Quarterbacks Coach (2006-11) and Offensive Coordinator (2012)
- Highlights: As a former college quarterback at Notre Dame, Clements has made coaching that position his specialty in the NFL. During his tenure in Green Bay, he’s been able to work with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, and even coached up Matt Flynn to the point where he performed well enough in a single game to earn a multi-year contract from the Seattle Seahawks. Bears fans should be well aware of the quarterbacking success to the north in recent years, but here’s a refresher: a Pro Bowl season for Brett Favre in 2007 (4155 yards/28 touchdowns), 3 Pro Bowl appearances in the past 5 seasons for Aaron Rodgers, including an MVP performance in 2011 (4643 yards/45 touchdowns), and no less than 3855 yards from any Packers starting quarterback in any season since 2006.
- Verdict: If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Or… at least have them join you. The Bears tried to hire Clements a few years back when there was a vacancy at the quarterbacks coach position, but the Packers wouldn’t allow him to interview. Now the Bears must wait patiently for the Packers to be eliminated from the playoffs just to be able to talk to Clements, and that flies right in the face of Phil Emery’s “get it done soon” mentality. But it might be worth the wait. Clements is a hands-on coach who is constantly trying to find ways to improve on the sidelines during games. Clements might be able to mold Jay Cutler into the second coming of Aaron Rodgers considering their similarities: larger-bodied quarterbacks who have good mobility and cannons for arms.
Saints Offensive Coordinator Pete Carmichael
- Interview Date: Thursday, January 3rd
- NFL Experience: Cleveland Browns Tight Ends Coach (2000), Washington Redskins Offensive Assistant (2001), San Diego Chargers Offensive Assistant (2002-05), New Orleans Saints Quarterbacks Coach (2006-08) and Offensive Coordinator (2009-2012)
- Highlights: Having been in the Saints organization for the past 7 years, Carmichael knows what it takes to build an explosive offense. Even before he became offensive coordinator, he had a vital role in quarterback preparation. In 4 of the last 6 seasons, the Saints have ranked 1st in the NFL in yardage and lead the league in scoring in 2008 and 2009. Even though the Saints won the Super Bowl in his first year as offensive coordinator, Carmichael’s crowning achievement came in 2011, as he called the plays for one of the most potent offenses in NFL history. The Saints set NFL records for net yardage (7,474), passing yards (5,347) and first downs (416) while setting franchise records in 3rd-down conversions (118) and 3rd-down conversion rate (56.7%).
- Verdict: Carmichael may be more influential to the quarterbacks he has coached than any other offensive position, but that’s not to say he doesn’t know how to utilize the run game. The Saints are the premier “lightening strike” offense in the NFL, which is something the Bears have never had.
Indianapolis Colts Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians
- Interview Date: TBA
- NFL Experience: Cleveland Browns Offensive Coordinator (2001-03), Pittsburgh Steelers Offensive Coordinator (2004-11), Indianapolis Colts Offensive Coordinator/Interim Head Coach (2012-Present)
- Highlights: Bruce Arians provides another offensive minded option for the Bears. Other than leading the Colts to a 9-3 record on an interim basis in the wake of head coach Chuck Pagano’s health situation, Arians did some great things with the Steelers in his 8 seasons with the team. The Steelers made 2 Super Bowl appearances with Arians at the reigns of the offense, and in 2009 he called the plays for the first offense in NFL history to feature a 4,000 yard passes, two 1,000 yard rushers and a 1,000 yard receiver. Most recently with Indy, he stepped in to the head coaching role at a crucial time and guided his team to 9 wins in 12 games. The Colts offense ranked 10th in the NFL in total yards and 7th in passing yards. He also played a major role in developing rookie phenom Andrew Luck, who is a finalist for Rookie of the Year honors.
- Verdict: I find it shocking that it took up until January 3rd for the Bears to request an interview with Bruce, and even more shocking that the Bears are the only team that is attracted by his services. At 60 years old, he’s not exactly a spry, young leader a lot of GMs are looking for in coaches these days. But his resume speaks for itself. Many of his former Steeler players have been outspoken with their displeasure that he hasn’t gotten a head coaching opportunity over the years, and when given a shot with Indy, he lead them into the playoffs one year after being the worst team in the NFL. He knows how to build a balanced offense and will only ask players to play within the confines of their skill set. His offenses have traditionally featured a power run game with a lot of play action and bootlegs. He’s already comfortable with big bodied quarterbacks who are mobile (Roethlisberger, Luck), so he might have a natural fit in Jay Cutler.
So there you have it. 7 candidates, 5 offensive coordinators and 2 special teams coordinators.
At the end of the day, I see this being a 4 horse race between McCoy, Clements, Carmichael and Arians. Those are the types of coaches that can turn the offense around in a heart beat, given that the proper improvements will be made to the offensive line this offseason.
It will be interesting to see how Keith Armstrong’s interview pans out in the eyes of Phil Emery. His choice of making Norv Turner his offensive coordinator may lead Emery to look at him more favorably.
At any rate, Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte should all be salivating like Pavlov’s Dog after hearing the names of some of these coaching candidates. Phil Emery is 100% serious about upgrading this offense and is willing to make that the focus of this team for the first time in franchise history.
Who do you think will be the best coaching fit for the Bears? Are there any names that I didn’t mention that you would like to see the Bears try and go after?