Breaking down Chicago Bears' head coaching candidates

Breaking down Chicago Bears' head coaching candidates
Broncos' offensive coordinator Mike McCoy.

UPDATE: Bears add Pete Carmichael, Bruce Arians, Marc Trestman and Rick Dennison, and Darrell Bevell to list of candidates. 

When Chicago Bears’ general manager Phil Emery met the media on Tuesday to address the firing of his head coach, one thing was made clear to this writer: Lovie Smith wasn’t going to save his job by making the playoffs. He may not have saved it with anything less than a championship.

When asked what led to the decision, Emery referred back to Smith’s number playoff appearances—just three through nine seasons. In addition, Emery very clearly identified his goal of winning championships. But how to get there? Be continually in the mix. And being continually in the mix, according to Emery, means making the playoffs far more often.

In addition to Smith’s record, Emery described what he wants in a head coach, stressing flexibility, adaptability, excellence and high-energy. He talked about hiring a coach who can adapt and be successful with the current players on the roster, indicating he wasn’t interested in a high-turnover rate.

Lovie Smith may be a good football coach—I believe he is—but I’m just not sure anyone would define him as adaptable and flexible within is system.

Which brings us to who the next guy might actually be. Currently, as I sit down to write this, there have been five names reported by multiple outlets as being in the mix. Of the five, three are offensive coordinators, zero are defensive coordinators in the vein of Smith. Those names are:

  • Denver Broncos’ offensive coordinator Mike McCoy
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan
  • Atlanta Falcons’ special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong
  • Dallas Cowboys’ special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis
  • Green Bay Packers’ offensive coordinator Tom Clements

These are the names we know the Bears will be interviewing this week and next, although we also suspect there will be others. In addition to those listed above, some of the guys who’ve been mentioned as parties of interest are:

  • Washington Redskins’ offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan
  • New Orleans Saints’ offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael
  • Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien

As for those last three, each of them was reported as a person the Bears are “interested in.” No interviews have been reported and each were named by single entities, although credible. I have absolutely zero knowledge if they are in the mix or not. However, knowing that there are likely more guys in the mix other than those we know about, I felt it appropriate to mention these names as well.

In order to get a better sense of the candidates, I spoke to some colleagues and beat reporters around the League with some insider knowledge of each of the coaches’ careers. Having said that, let’s take a look at each of the five candidates in the first list.

Mike McCoy

Age: 40

NFL coaching experience: 12 years

McCoy, perhaps more than the other four, fits Phil Emery’s description of adaptability. But more on that in a bit. McCoy is currently on the list for the Chicago Bears, the Arizona Cardinals and the Buffalo Bills. Because the Broncos are currently preparing for the playoffs, the Bears will fly to Denver to interview McCoy sometime this weekend (Saturday or Sunday).

In terms of McCoy’s adaptability, how about this: Under McCoy, as his quarterbacks coach in 2009, former Chicago Bears’ QB Kyle Orton posted career highs in completion percentage, total yards, total TDs and passer rating. Not impressed? Okay . . .

In 2011, McCoy completely reworked the Broncos’ offensive scheme to work with QB Tim Tebow. Subsequently, their offense ranked No. 1 in the League in rushing, and Tebow went 8-5, propelling his team to the playoffs, including winning one playoff game.

This season, and granted it’s with Peyton Manning at the helm, the Broncos were the second-highest scoring offense in the NFL during the regular season. McCoy is, if nothing else, successfully adaptable.

Mike Sullivan

Age: 45

NFL coaching experience: 10 years

Mike Sullivan is one of the fastest rising stars in the NFL to date. He led one of the best offenses in Tampa Bay’s history this season, ranking ninth in the League in total yards (a franchise high by . . . a lot), but he’s only been a coordinator for one season. In four years, he’s gone from wide receivers coach to quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator to head coaching candidate.

Sullivan may appeal to Emery for both his offensive prowess and his military background, having played his college ball at Army (Emery served as strength and conditioning coach at the United States Naval Academy from 1991-1998).

Sullivan took his current position in Tampa after an eight-season stint with the New York Giants, during which time the team won two Super Bowl Championships. Sullivan is often credited for helping Eli Manning throw for 4,933 passing yards on his way to Super Bowl XLVI MVP honors.

Keith Armstrong

Age: 47

NFL coaching experience: 9 years

Armstrong has ties to both the Chicago Bears and general manager Phil Emery himself. While Emery was serving as the Atlanta Falcons’ director of college scouting in 2008—his last season—Armstrong was hired on as the team’s special teams coordinator.

Armstrong’s ties to the Bears’ organization go back to 1999 and 2000, when he served as special teams coordinator. During that time, Phil Emery was a regional scout for Chicago.

Armstrong served as Dolphins’ ST coordinator from 2001-2007, a time when the team enjoyed marginal success considering they went through three different head coaches in seven years.

Joe DeCamillis

Age: 47

NFL coaching experience: 24 years

A friend of mine who covers the NFL and is a Dallas Cowboys fan said this of DeCamillis: “Absolutely love him. He’s such a great motivator and always gets the best out of his players. He deserves a big shot. If you want to know how players feel about DeCamillis look how they rallied around him when he broke his back.”

An unnamed beat reporter, who covers the Cowboys, told me this: “He’s a very hard worker, and he holds players accountable. He’s the most vitriolic coach on the Cowboys staff.” Really? Vitriolic? And the players still love him? No, they respect him.

Make no mistake about it, Joe DeCamillis is a legitimate candidate for this position. His passion, work ethic and experience make him, seemingly, the perfect fit for Phil Emery. The only problem is he might, just might, be too intense. Emery said he wanted someone who would be positive and would pull people together. Maybe DeCamillis fits that description, maybe he doesn’t.

Here’s what else you need to know about this candidate: Emery and DeCamillis worked together in Atlanta for three years. Emery was director of college scouting, DeCamillis special teams coach, so there are ties there.

Another interesting nugget is that DeCamillis’ father-in-law is Dan Reeves. Reeves, a former player turned coach who participated in more Super Bowls than anyone in history (9) as either a player or a coach.

Tom Clements

Age: 59

NFL coaching experience: 16 years

In 2010, when the Bears hired Mike Martz as offensive coordinator, the team had tried to interview Tom Clements, but they were ultimately blocked by the Packers. Because the position in question was not a head coaching position, Green Bay was not required to allow Clements to interview; this time, they have no choice. Phil Emery will get to explore the option Jerry Angelo was never allowed to.

Back then, the Bears obtained references on Clements from Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, who went out of his way to credit Clements for his development as a passer. He’s been with the Packers since 2006, first as QBs coach, and is known as a great offensive mind. “Tom has been an integral part of our success and our staff,” Mike McCarthy said upon promoting him to offensive coordinator prior to this season.

It's hard to deny Green Bay's offensive success through the past few years, but it's also important to note that the person calling the Packers' offense on game-day has always been Mike McCarthy; not Joe Philbin, and not Tom Clements.

. . .

Well, there you have it. Those of you who follow me closely will say, “thanks for the info, Adam.” Those of you who don’t will say, “well, what the hell . . . who do you want the Bears to choose.” My answer to that is simple: whoever will help them win a Super Bowl. If I got paid to make that decision, I’d be on a boat in the Caribbean somewhere.

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