NFC North: Brick Haley
Let's continue our early look at the NFC North offseason with this season's second-place team.
Chicago Bears offseason analysis
- 2008 record: 9-7
- Coaching changes: Hired Rod Marinelli to replace defensive line coach Brick Haley. Put defensive coordinator Bob Babich in charge of linebackers, replacing Lloyd Lee. (Babich won't call defensive signals.) Replaced defensive backs coach Steve Wilks with Jon Hoke.
- Salary-cap space: $17.4 million before end-of-year credits and adjustments.
- Restricted free agents: None of note.
- Unrestricted free agents: Safety Mike Brown, quarterback Rex Grossman, running back Kevin Jones, wide receiver Brandon Lloyd, safety Brandon McGowan, offensive lineman Fred Miller, offensive lineman John St. Clair.
- Draft highlight: The Bears have the No. 18 overall selection.
- Free-agency comment: It seems unlikely the Bears will bring back Brown or Grossman. Jones was nearly a nonfactor and reduced to special-teams work. Lloyd's fade in the second half of the season suggests the Bears won't be eager to bring him back.
- Three biggest needs: (1) Playmaking receiver to draw coverage away from Devin Hester. (2) A coverage-oriented safety to replace Brown and protect Kevin Payne. (3) A trusted running back to take some burden off starter Matt Forte. (Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times wonders if holdover Garrett Wolfe might get that chance.)
Chicago coach Lovie Smith is continuing to replenish his defensive coaching staff and now has only one more significant hire to make.
Jon Hoke is the Bears' new defensive backs coach, replacing the fired Steven Wilks. Saturday, Smith hired former Detroit coach Rod Marinelli to replace defensive line coach Brick Haley. (Marinelli also received the title of assistant head coach.) The Bears' final opening is at linebackers coach, a job Smith vacated by firing Lloyd Lee last week.
Hoke played in 11 games a cornerback for the Bears in 1980. Much more recently, he served as Houston's defensive backs coach from 2002-08. His career path has not crossed with Smith or Bears defensive coordinator Bob Babich, as far as I can tell. (If anyone is aware of a connection, send it my way.)
UPDATE (2:25 p.m.): Smith told members of the Chicago media that Babich will coach the linebackers -- meaning the staff is now complete, according to Brad Biggs' account on his Inside the Bears blog. Because of Babich's increased role, Smith will take on more daily responsibilities with the defense. We'll add a new post later Tuesday on these developments.
What once appeared a tweak in the Chicago coaching staff has now turned into full-scale upheaval. The Bears fired linebackers coach Lloyd Lee on Tuesday, the third defensive assistant to leave the organization since the end of the season. Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times has the story.
The Bears have now fired Lee and secondary coach Steve Wilks. Defensive line coach Brick Haley reportedly will join the staff at Louisiana State. As of Tuesday, the only defensive assistant remaining is the one many Chicago fans were hoping would depart: Defensive coordinator Bob Babich.
Former Detroit coach Rod Marinelli is a candidate for the defensive line job. The Bears have offered no comment on Babich's status, but from afar it appears that coach Lovie Smith has chosen Babich over the rest of the defensive staff. (Biggs reports that changing Babich's title could be a possibility.)
Six coaches are out in Green Bay, including the defensive coordinator. The Chicago Bears have paraded a long-time coaching friend through their facility. The Lions are looking for someone to lift them from the NFL's defensive dungeon. Minnesota will be searching for its eighth new coordinator in 11 years if their current defensive leader moves on.
It's clear that we Black and Bluers are in for a defensive overhaul in 2009. The Packers and Lions will each have new defensive coordinators, and possibly new schemes as well. The Bears desperately want former Lions coach Rod Marinelli to join their defensive staff as a trusted advisor, possibly as their new coordinator. And the Vikings could lose defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, who will interview for at least two head coaching jobs this week.
Altering the makeup of a coaching staff is an annual rite of the NFL offseason, but this year's intensity is unusual for one division -- especially when only one team has fired its head coach. But 2008 was an especially dreary year for three of your NFC North defenses, and so it's not surprising to learn that no one is standing pat.
It's been assumed for a few days that former Detroit coach Rod Marinelli would soon join Chicago's defensive staff in some capacity, but it's apparently not a done deal.
Marinelli was scheduled to speak Monday with Seattle officials, possibly about the Seahawks' defensive coordinator position. Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer notes that Marinelli and Seahawks President Tim Ruskell worked together in Tampa Bay.
I'm aware of no direct connections between Marinelli and new Seahawks coach Jim Mora, who will replace outgoing coach Mike Holmgren. Joining a coaching staff based on a front-office connection is always a dicey situation. The head coach, in this case Mora, needs to be on board.
Bears coach Lovie Smith apparently wants Marinelli as well, and it appears a position is close to opening for him. Defensive line coach Brick Haley reportedly is set to join the staff at Louisiana State. If that move occurs, Marinelli could take over in his area of expertise and possibly add an assistant head coach's title as well.
Make sure to check my colleague Mike Sando's NFC West blog for future developments from the Seahawks' angle.
Two grizzled veterans might have played their final games Sunday in Minnesota's 26-14 wild-card playoff loss to Philadelphia.
Center Matt Birk had a picture taken of himself on the field after the game and spent a long time working the locker room. Quarterback Gus Frerotte, meanwhile, made plans to re-join his family in St. Louis amid rumors he does not want to return as the Vikings' backup.
Birk, who completed his 11th season with the team, does not have a contract for next season and the Vikings want to move on at the position. He said "you never know" about future plans but made clear that moving on was an option, according to Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune.
"After [the game] I made sure I went around and just shook everybody's hand and just telling them how much I appreciate them," Birk said. "One thing that's evident is change in this deal. A lot of guys aren't going to be back."
Frerotte, meanwhile, is signed through the 2009 season but did not hide his objections to remaining the backup after a back injury healed two weeks ago. He has spoken often about the hardship of leaving behind his family in St. Louis, where his children are in school, and might not be interested in returning to Minnesota in 2009.
Here's what Frerotte said afterwards, according to Rick Alonzo of the St. Paul Pioneer Press:
"Like I told Coach [Brad Childress], I want to be the guy that's out there. It's hard to sit back. Any professional wants to be out there and play with these guys. Obviously I'm a pro, and you're going to do whatever you can to help Tarvaris and help the team, but you want to be the guy out there that's facing the bullets."
Continuing around the NFC North on the first day of the offseason for all four teams:
- Chicago defensive line coach Brick Haley appears to be leaving for a job at Louisiana State, according to Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Sun-Times. Haley's departure would open the door for the Bears to add former Detroit coach Rod Marinelli to the staff.
- Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal confirms a report that Green Bay has fired defensive coordinator Bob Sanders.
- Among the possibilities for Sanders' replacement, according to Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, is Packers assistant head coach/linebacker Winston Moss. Other candidates include former San Francisco coach Mike Nolan and interim St. Louis coach Jim Haslett.
- The Lions likely will interview Minnesota defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, Atlanta offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and Miami assistant head coach Todd Bowles for their head coaching job this week, according to Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com. It's also possible they will meet with Baltimore defensive coordinator Rex Ryan.
- Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press was disappointed in the answers former Lions president/general manager Matt Millen gave Saturday on NBC: "Detroit deserves a detailed explanation for what went so horribly wrong from those who perpetrated the deed. Simply saying that you're responsible for the disaster doesn't make you accountable. That requires serving a penance. If Millen truly seeks atonement, he must delve deeper into those additional "reasons" of which he spoke."
Former Detroit coach Rod Marinelli is visiting Chicago's practice facility Friday, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times. Although Marinelli's agent stressed that no deal has been finalized, it seems clear that he will join the Bears' coaching staff in some capacity this offseason.
As of Friday, the Bears had created only one opening on their staff, having fired defensive backs coach Steve Wilks. Defensive coordinator Bob Babich and defensive line coach Brick Haley, whose jobs Marinelli would seem most likely to take if he were hired, remain on the payroll.
But Marinelli has a long history with Bears coach Lovie Smith and Bears general manager Jerry Angelo from the trio's time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It's possible Marinelli could take Haley's job along with an assistant head coach's title.
Marinelli's agent, Frank Bauer, also represents Smith and Babich. Bauer told the Sun-Times that Marinelli is going to "take his time" deciding on his future plans. But there is a widespread belief in the NFL that Marinelli will eventually find his way to Chicago.
The Bears will need to handle this situation delicately. The fact that coaching candidates are visiting while Babich remains employed suggests the Bears are still weighing his future.
But bringing in Marinelli, while retaining Babich, would create a situation that historically is difficult to manage. Babich might technically remain in charge of the defense, but you would have to assume Marinelli would assume an unusually significant role for a non-coordinator. That creates chain-of-command issues that almost always lead to internal factioning.
To make it work, Marinelli, Babich and Smith would have to forge an exceptional relationship to present a united front and maintain a clear hierarchy. In the reality of today's NFL, that's a tough task.
If you're Kyle Orton or a coach on Chicago's defense, you might not want to start a home expansion project anytime soon.
That's the major news out of Chicago general manager Jerry Angelo's season-ending news conference Tuesday. Speaking to local reporters, Angelo said he hopes to add former Detroit coach Rod Marinelli in some capacity and admitted he isn't completely sold on Orton as the Bears' long-term answer at quarterback.
UPDATE (5:25 p.m. ET): The Bears began the bloodletting late Tuesday afternoon, firing defensive backs coach Steven Wilks. The team did not indicate if more changes are forthcoming.
Earlier in the day, here's what Angelo said about Marinelli, who was a long-time defensive line coach with Tampa Bay before taking the Lions job:
"I think the world of Rod Marinelli. I would love to have Rod Marinelli on our staff and I think Lovie [Smith] would say the same thing. He's a great football coach. Anytime you get a chance to get a great coach or great player, you're not going to sit here and say that you wouldn't consider him or you wouldn't work a way to do that. But again, that's premature, the answer to your question about Rod because I do know Rod. I think Rod is a very good coach and he'll be a great addition to any staff."
Smith didn't provide many clues earlier this week about his intentions for the Bears' defensive staff. But it can't be comforting for defensive coordinator Bob Babich or defensive line coach Brick Haley to hear Angelo speak so openly about Marinelli. There are a lot of ways Marinelli could come aboard -- as defensive coordinator, line coach, assistant head coach or even a special assistant -- but none would reflect positively on the Bears' opinion of Babich.
Meanwhile, Angelo said he "is not convinced 100 percent" that Orton should be the Bears' long-term starter. He said the Bears "have to" have some level of competition at the position next year. Here's a representative quote on the situation:
"I believe in Kyle but until Kyle puts a good year together we can't say for sure. I saw some really good things out of Kyle, particularly early on in the season, he didn't have the second half of the season that he did the first half of the season. Is that part of the growing pains that come along with the position? I can't answer that right now. We do believe that Kyle has some good things, really buy into Kyle the person. He's shown an exemplary work ethic, leadership to be named captain by your peers I think speaks volumes, particularly at that position, but really do feel good about Kyle. He's still a work in progress. We have time. We're going to take our time and we're just going to have to wait and see."
You don't have to read too far between the lines that 2009 will be Orton's make-or-break year as the Bears' starter. It's the final year of his contract with the team and it's unlikely he'll return in 2010 unless he makes significant improvements. While that's a fair assessment to make, it makes the next 12 months of Bears football all about Orton -- even though many would suggest the defense is a bigger concern.
That's why Babich's situation is so murky. Do the Bears really plan to keep him if they bring in Marinelli? That type of passive demotion almost always causes internal factions to develop. Marinelli is too close with Angelo and Smith for that to be a positive working environment. If the Bears want Marinelli on their defensive staff, they need to let Babich go.
Here's an NFC North question to ponder: Could Rod Marinelli find himself dressed in a different Black and Blue uniform next season?
Marinelli, fired Monday after three seasons as Detroit's coach, told reporters he wants to coach next season. And coincidentally, his name surfaced in Chicago during Bears coach Lovie Smith's season-ending news conference. Marinelli and Smith were assistants together in Tampa Bay, and according to the Chicago Sun-Times, Marinelli was Smith's first choice to be defensive coordinator when he took the Bears job in 2004.
As of Monday, of course, the Bears had no openings. But Smith said he has made no decisions about the future makeup of his staff -- including the continued employment of defensive coordinator Bob Babich and defensive line coach Brick Haley, among others.
Here's what Smith said Monday about potential changes, courtesy of Brad Biggs of the Sun-Times:
"We'll evaluate everything, as I said, players, coaches and all. Every year there is change. I don't know if we'll have change right now. I can't comment on any of that right now. We've just started our evaluation process and we'll kind of go from there."
Smith was noncommittal when asked directly about Marinelli, according to Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune:
"Rod Marinelli is an excellent football coach. I've known him for a long time," Smith said. "I worked with him. But, again, that doesn't have anything to do with what we're doing right now. I was just sad to see an excellent football coach not be the coach for Detroit anymore."
This isn't to suggest that Smith wants to bring in Marinelli. A lot has changed since 2004. But let's just say there are a lot of eyes focused on Smith's intentions for resurrecting a defense that collapsed this season.