The first “to-do” on the Chicago Bears agenda isn’t to find a head coach. Instead, the Bears front office is reportedly interviewing candidates for its vacant general manager position. Then the first task for the newly anointed GM will be to find Marc Trestman’s successor.
The Bears parted ways with now-former GM Phil Emery on Dec. 29, the first day after the end of a regular season that saw them finish 5-11. It was Chicago’s worst finish in 10 years, and Trestman was also let go after failing to properly manage the locker room and revamp a talent-laden offense.
The search for a GM began Tuesday, with The Chicago Tribune reporting that the Titans' vice president of player personnel Lake Dawson interviewed for the position. On Wednesday, the Kansas City Chiefs director of player personnel Chris Ballard will also sit down with Bears’ officials, as will New Orleans Saints director of player personnel Ryan Pace, according to The Tribune.
If any of those three are tabbed as the next GM, they’ll have a plethora of talented and highly sought after head coaching candidates to sift through. And even more could be available as the postseason progresses this month. Two top candidates, Arizona’s Todd Bowles and Detroit’s Teryl Austin, just saw their teams eliminated from the playoffs and now they are free to explore any number of options.
One coach, with family ties to the Bears' only Super Bowl title, has already been ruled out. Chicago reportedly has no interest in former Jets head coach Rex Ryan, whose father Buddy Ryan guided the Bears to the Super Bowl in 1985.
Whoever is brought in as the next head coach will need to rebuild a defense that was No. 30 overall in the league this season, allowing 27.6 points and 377.1 yards per game. The new GM and head coach will also likely have to work the free-agent market and the upcoming draft to find replacements for veteran defensive stars like outside linebacker Lance Briggs and cornerback Charles Tillman.
Let’s take a look at several of the top candidates who either have an interview with Chicago lined up, or who could emerge once the new GM is chosen.
Todd Bowles, Arizona Cardinals
As the Cardinals' defensive coordinator, Bowles was one of the hottest candidates in the league after last season, but nothing materialized. This offseason should be different. According to ESPN, Bowles has a busy week ahead. He will meet with the New York Jets on Wednesday, the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday, the San Francisco 49ers on Friday and the Bears on Saturday.
Himself a former NFL safety, Bowles can relate to players with his previous experience playing in the league. He also completely turned the Cardinals defense around from the get go, starting with his arrival in 2013. If Arizona’s offense wasn’t so decimated by injuries at quarterback this season, Bowles could have led his Cardinals defense deep into the postseason.
And, unlike most candidates, he does have some NFL head coaching experience. In 2011, Bowles coached the last three games of the Miami Dolphins season and went 2-1.
Teryl Austin, Detroit Lions
In two victories this season, Austin’s defense held the Bears to 503 total yards and 31 total points, and generated five sacks and three turnovers. Clearly, Austin knows the Bears' weaknesses on offense, especially quarterback Jay Cutler’s. Coaching in the NFC North might give Austin an edge over the other candidates.
But as of now, no report has linked him to Chicago. The NFL Network reports that Austin will sit down with Atlanta on Wednesday and San Francisco on Thursday, and that the Buffalo Bills have also requested permission to speak with him.
Mike Shanahan, Washington Redskins (2010-2013)
Out of all of the candidates linked to jobs around the league, none can equal Shanahan’s accolades. He’s won two Super Bowls and taken two different teams to the postseason with a 170-138 overall record. However, Shanahan's struggles with the Redskins may be cause for concern. Washington had just one winning season with Shanahan at the helm from 2010 to 2013, and failed to win a playoff game.
His last year with the Redskins ended particularly poorly, with the Redskins finishing with a 3-13 record. Shanahan sat out the 2014 season, but seems determined on making a comeback. He’s already interviewed with San Francisco, Buffalo, and the Oakland Raiders, and NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweeted the Bears will be his fourth interview soon.
Shanahan has had success with quarterbacks, helping John Elway win two titles, and he tailored the Redskins offense to Robert Griffin III’s unique skill set. So the Bears might be intrigued by what ideas Shanahan has for Cutler, should the veteran quarterback stay with the club.
Dave Toub, Kansas City Chiefs
Due to his ties to the Bears and his lack of experience as an offensive or defensive coordinator, Toub is probably the most intriguing candidate on this list. He spent 12 years with the Bears, specifically alongside Ballard, and the two left to join Kansas City back in 2013. CSN Chicago points out that the last time a specials team’s coordinator jumped straight to head coach, it worked out pretty well. John Harbaugh was in Philadelphia for seven years as the special teams coach before joining Baltimore in 2007 and winning a Super Bowl two years ago.
Dan Quinn, Seattle Seahawks
Quinn has already met with the Bears, and his time under Pete Carroll speaks for itself. He’s already wrapped up one Super Bowl and could repeat this season. If the Bears plan to rebuild the defense with some young talent in the draft, Quinn could be the best candidate. He’s helped defensive backs Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman, and linebackers Malcolm Smith and Bobby Wagner develop into some of the best at their positions. Quinn is probably near the top of the Bears' wish list, but the 44-year-old should be a top contender for a number of teams.