Top Ten Chicago Bears Head Coaching Candidates
If… I should say “When” the Chicago Bears fire Head Coach Matt Nagy as expected on Sunday night after the Vikings game, or more likely on Black Monday, who will GM Ryan Pace hire to replace him? Of course, this assumes Pace hasn’t been fired and will be the one hiring the new head coach. Nevertheless, whether Pace is the one making the decision or someone else, here are our top ten candidates to lead the Bears back to the promised land.
If I’m doing the hiring, I want a head coach with experience as a head coach. I’m tired of hiring “the next hot wunderkind” who is almost always a rising offensive or defensive coordinator. At the worst, I want a guy who has been a head coach before. The Chicago Bears have hired exactly one head coach with previous head coaching experience… since 1957! (John Fox in 2015). You could argue the only good Bears coach since 1957 was Mike Ditka. He was only a Special Teams Coordinator/Assistant Head Coach with the Dallas Cowboys under the legendary Tom Landry. In that case, his lack of head coaching experience didn’t hold him back, but that was a rare case where talent, coaching, and scheme (Buddy Ryan’s 46 defense) collided to give us the greatest team in the history of football. That shows us how often the strategy has worked, at least for the Bears, exactly one time. So why does Bears management keep falling into the coordinator trap? It’s time to scrap that strategy and start a new philosophy… hiring a head coach with head coaching experience.
Before we get to our Top Ten, here’s a sometimes comical list of honorable mention runners-up.
Honorable Mention: Jack Harbaugh (just kidding about John and Jim’s father), Doug Pederson, Steve Spurrier (I’m kidding, right?), Robert Saleh, Lovie Smith (just kidding), Ron Rivera, Mike Vrabel (I’m assuming he likes it in Tennessee. If not, he would be at the top of my list), Mike Ditka (definitely kidding), and Urban Meyer (super definitely just kidding; I hate this guy).
10. Jeff Fisher – For many years Fisher coached the Titans and the Rams, and for many years Bears fans wished they had a head coach as good as Fisher. The former Bears cornerback was hurt in 1985 and transitioned into coaching, helping Buddy Ryan’s Monsters of the Midway as an assistant. He was often victorious in his 22 years as the head man, almost winning Super Bowl XXXIV (34) in 1999 as his Titans got stopped at the one yard line to end the game. His head coaching career ended in 2016 after a five year run with the St. Louis Rams/Los Angeles Rams. Is he done coaching? If I’m the Bears I think Fisher is certainly worth a look. He would bring instant credibility.
9. Jason Garrett – Jason Garrett joined the NFL as a quarterback in 1989. He’s been involved ever since, as a player or coach each and every season. That’s three decades in the NFL. He became Cowboys head coach in 2011 after being their offensive coordinator for four years. He’s a successful offensive guy who had many good years in Dallas. He obviously fits our criteria for having head coach experience. Owner Jerry Jones let him run the show for nine years (2011-’19). He certainly knows what he’s doing. Could he take a team all the way? In the right situation, you’re darn right he could.
8. Rex Ryan – Buddy Ryan’s son is a defensive guru. Big surprise, right? He must have learned plenty from his pappy. His defensive pedigree as an assistant led him to the head coaching job in New York with the Jets. Then, he actually had success as a head coach with the New York Jets. Not many can say that. Ryan grew up in the Chicago area and went to Stevenson High School. I work there and see his autographed Jets helmet in a trophy case on a regular basis. Ryan coached the Jets from 2009-’14. Then he led the Buffalo Bills in 2015 and ’16. I think Ryan could be a candidate for the Bears but probably not their first choice, just because he’s been out of the game for awhile. He’s currently working for ESPN and hasn’t coached in five years.
7. Pat Shurmur – Shurmur was one of my favorites to be hired in 2018 when the Bears chose Matt Nagy. Instead of getting the call from Pace, the New York Giants hired Shurmur away from his offensive coordinator job with the Minnesota Vikings. New York fired him after two lackluster years in which they finished 5-11 and 4-12. In 2020, he jumped back on the saddle as the OC with Denver. Even though he only lasted two years in the Meadowlands, Shurmur knows offense. He has been successful with the Eagles, Rams, Browns, Vikings, Giants, and now Broncos in a winding career that began in 1999 with Andy Reid’s Eagles. I still think Shurmur is worth a look, especially if you’re looking for an offensive minded head coach. Will the Bears go this same route again? Or will they look for a defensive minded coach or even a special teams coordinator?
6. Dan Quinn – The current Cowboys defensive coordinator used to be the head coach for the Atlanta Falcons. He led them all the way to the Super Bowl in 2016, where the Falcons blew a 28-3 lead over the Patriots before it all fell apart. His tenure in Atlanta lasted from 2015 to 2020. He finished with a 43-42 record and went to the playoffs twice, in 2016 and ’17. He’s the kind of guy that was obviously good but probably just needs a new opportunity. I bet he succeeds the next chance he gets. Will the Bears be the team to give him that chance?
5. Jack Del Rio – I’ve always been a huge fan of Del Rio. He seems tough, and he’s had a good career in the NFL. Del Rio is currently the Defensive Coordinator for the Washington Football Team, heading up the defense for Head Coach Ron Rivera (Like Mike Vrabel, Rivera is another Head Coach candidate who I would love the Bears to hire but I’m assuming he’s not leaving Washington right now). Del Rio was the Head Coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2003-’11 and the Oakland Raiders from 2015-’17. He was 93-94 with three playoff appearances (1-3 playoff record in ’05, ’07, and ’16). Del Rio is an experienced 58 year old who knows defense and he knows how to run an organization. To me, hiring a guy like Del Rio is preferable over a hot young coordinator who has no experience in being the head man, AKA Nagy.
4. Vic Fangio – It’s hard to explain how much Fangio inspired the Bears defense from 2015 to ’18 when he was Bears Defensive Coordinator. Ever since Fangio left after his four seasons to take the Broncos head coaching job, the Bears haven’t been the same. The sacks, the takeaways, the fear that the Bears put into opponents brains has all but disappeared over the last three seasons. Could Fangio re-inspire the Bears if he returned to Halas Hall, this time as head coach? Would Vic forgive Bears management for not promoting him from DC to HC at that critical moment in between ’17 and ’18 when they hired Matt Nagy instead? Of course, after Nagy won Coach of the Year honors after his “rookie” season, it would have been hard to fire him then, even though by that point it seemed obvious why the Bears had a great season in ’18. I’m sure everyone, including Fangio, can understand that. This is the Bears chance to make amends, their chance to get it all back.
3. Luke Fickell – The University of Cincinnati’s head coach has quite a resume. Could the Bears be interested in the Bearcats head coach and that’s why they hadn’t fired Matt Nagy prior to the College Football Playoff? It’s entirely possible they were in no rush because Fickell was in the middle of CFP Playoff Cotton Bowl prep. But Cincinnati lost to Alabama on New Year’s Eve and maybe Fickell is ready for a new challenge in the NFL. He just won National Coach of the Year with Cincinnati. He just finished his fifth season, going 48-15. The downside with Fickell is he has no NFL experience. That’s a red flag in this case but I believe Fickell is definitely a top candidate for any coaching job. His resume just screams too loudly.
2. Jim Harbaugh – Like Fickell above, Jimmy Harbaugh had his Wolverines in the CFP Semifinals against Georgia on New Year’s Eve. The difference between Fickell and Harbaugh is his Bears background, as well as his previous NFL experience. You might recall Jim was the Bears first round draft pick out of Michigan in 1987. He played seven years (’87-’93) for the Bears and did pretty well despite then coach Mike Ditka constantly ripping Harbaugh for audibling during games. Those two had a love/hate type of relationship, similar to Ditka/McMahon. Oh, the good ol’ days. Harbaugh has been successful at every stop, including his time with the San Francisco 49ers from 2011-’14. He went 44-19-1 with one Super Bowl appearance (2012). Could Virginia and the Bears leadership be enticed by Harbaugh? Could Harbaugh be enticed by going back to the NFL to compete against his brother John (Ravens HC) once again? There are rumors that he’s interested in a return to the NFL. Are they just rumors? Harbaugh would cost a lot. It would be worth every penny.
1. Mike Singletary – “Samurai Mike” was a Hall of Fame linebacker with Chicago from 1981-’92. After his wonderful career as the leader of the dominant 80’s Bears defenses, he got into coaching starting in 2003. His NFL head coaching experience was with the San Francisco 49ers from 2008-’10 (ironically just before Harbaugh took over). When you think about it, he probably set up San Francisco for their successful run under Harbaugh. So his record was probably underrated since they ended up becoming NFC Champions just two years later. Although the 49ers were just 18-22 in his short time there, Singletary has admitted that he learned quite a bit from his first go-round. You know who else learned a lot from his first try as an NFL head coach? Bill Belichick. I’m not saying that Singletary is the next Bill Belichick, who struggled with the Cleveland Browns (36-44 in 5 years) prior to becoming perhaps the greatest coach in pro football history with the New England Patriots. However, I’m not NOT saying it either. My point is, just because a guy underwhelms with a certain team at a certain time doesn’t mean he’ll always be a bad coach. In fact, it just means he learned from his mistakes and might make for a better head coach the next chance he gets. People learn more from losing than they do from winning. In life, people just need another chance. Singletary has waited a long time for that chance. Many remember that legendary Bears owner/founder/head coach George “Papa Bear” Halas hired Mike Ditka shortly before he passed away on Halloween 1983. Only two years later Coach Ditka led the Bears as the coach of the greatest team in the history of Chicago. Maybe it’s time for Papa Bear’s daughter Virginia to make a similar move. She should hire another former Bears Hall of Fame player to be the next head coach. It worked before. Why not again?
If the Bears want to be Super Bowl Champions again, they need to hire a coach with head coaching experience. It wouldn’t hurt to hire a guy who has a passion for the Chicago Bears organization. Virginia still has a chance to be just like her father. This is likely her last chance. Will she take it?