With each passing day it appears less likely that the Bears will move on from defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, but they have some nice options if they do.
Tucker’s resume looks horrendous and it’s always been blamed on the players. The Bears are currently in the process of determining if their horrendous defense in 2013 was just a matter of bad players or if bad coaching also played a role.
Should the Bears decide it’s the latter, they’ll have some excellent candidates to choose from.
The biggest name is former Houston Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who has 32 years of experience as either a defensive coordinator or head coach, dating back to 1981.
Phillips has coached defenses that ranked in the top 10 in scoring 11 times and they’ve been in the top 10 in takeaways seven seasons.
He seems to excel in featuring his best players as stars such as J.J. Watt, DeMarcus Ware, Shawne Merriman, Keith Brooking and Reggie White all had some of their best seasons with Phillips calling the plays.
Phillips doesn’t run the traditional 3-4 defense. His scheme is a one-gap scheme, not like the two-gap scheme most associated with the defense. He’s made his defense work without mammoth nose tackles.
Another upside of hiring Phillips is that won’t likely be getting any head coaching opportunities in the future.
The biggest downside of Phillips is that his teams tend to get roasted by good quarterbacks. Over the last two seasons, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers and Aaron Rodgers have averaged 317 yards in seven games. They’ve also thrown 25 touchdowns and just two interceptions in that span.
Part of that is personnel, part of it is scheme. In Rodgers’ six-touchdown game last season, Phillips played man coverage against their excellent group of receivers and didn’t change until it was too late.
If they don’t go with Phillips, the Bears could call Ray Horton, who just coordinated the Browns defense, but will likely go elsewhere since head coach Rob Chudzinski was fired.
Horton runs a two-gap 3-4 defense, similar to what the Packers and Steelers run as he came up under Dick LeBeau with the Steelers.
He mixes some hybrid looks to confuse opposing offenses. As the Bears saw first hand last season, they create exotic looks and it can be very effective.
The downside is that his team’s haven’t really had a lot of success. In three years as a coordinator his defenses ranked in the bottom half in the league in scoring, although is Cardinals team was fourth in takeaways in 2012.
The excuses have been that he hasn’t had a lot of talent and that his team’s were so bad offensively, that their defense was always on the field. Those sound a lot like the excuses Tucker has been given.
Horton has also gotten quite a few interviews for head jobs. If he were to have success in Chicago, he likely wouldn’t be there long.
Two other assistant coaches looking for work from the Tennessee Titans staff are Jerry Gray and Gregg Williams.
Gray has been a coordinator for eight seasons in Buffalo and Tennessee. His career has mostly been boom or bust as his defenses have ranked in the top 10 in scoring three times, but in the bottom 10 four. The only other season was this past year when they were 16th. That wasn’t good enough as the Titans management apparently wanted Gray replaced by Williams, a move former head coach Mike Munchak wouldn’t make.
Williams was the key name in the Bountygate scandal, but there’s little doubt he can coordinate a defense.
Williams has some connections with the Bears as he and Aaron Kromer coached together in New Orleans. Williams was the coordinator when they won the Super Bowl in 2009.
In 12 seasons as a coordinator, his teams have ranked in the top half in the league in scoring defense nine times.
If the Bears could absorb a potential public relations hit, Williams blitz-heavy scheme could be perfect for the Bears.
Another viable option and perhaps most likely option for the Bears could be San Francisco secondary coach Ed Donatell.
While the 49ers have gone through numerous injuries in the secondary, they still held Aaron Rodgers and company to just 20 points as Rodgers failed to reach 200 yards passing.
Donatell spent seven years as a coordinator for the Packers and Atlanta Falcons. His team’s ranked in the top half of the league in scoring in six of those seven years and were never lower than 18th. They were also in the top half in takeaways five times, including first in 2002 and seconds in 2001.
He was fired from the Packers after his defense suffered a coverage breakdown and gave up a first down on 4th-and-26 in the divisional round of the playoffs. That season, the Packers were 10th in scoring and 11th in takeaways. Yet, that one play led to Donatell being replaced by Bob Slowik. The next season, they dropped to 23rd in scoring and 31st in takeaways.
Donatell was hired as the Falcons defensive coordinator under Jim Mora in 2004, which also happens to be the year current Bears general manager Phil Emery went to Atlanta.
It appears most likely that the Bears will stick with Tucker as their defensive coordinator at this point. If they do decide to make a change, however, there are plenty of candidates who have shown they can consistently run a good defense, which is more than Tucker can say.
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