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Dowell Who? OC Loggains has knack for getting job done

It’s not too often the 5-5, 165-pound holder gets the cheerleader in college football. But let that stand as a warning about Dowell Loggains: Don’t underestimate this guy.

The 35-year-old Loggains, named the Bears’ offensive coordinator in place of Adam Gase, rarely looks the part, but has a knack for getting where he’s going. For the first two months of his sophomore season at Arkansas, his own quarterbacks coach — former Bills quarterback Joe Ferguson — called him “Darryl” until a teammate corrected him. The diminutive Loggains often has been nearly a foot shorter than the quarterbacks he’s worked with. He was a walk-on at Arkansas who practiced almost exclusively as a holder but talked his way into the quarterback room with the intent of going into coaching. And then went further faster than maybe even he thought he would.

When Loggains was turned down for a graduate assistant’s job at Arkansas following his senior year in 2004, he ended up as a scouting assistant with the Dallas Cowboys — working for Bill Parcells, Sean Payton, Tony Sparano and Todd Haley. He’s been on the upswing ever since. In 2006, he was hired by Titans head coach Jeff Fisher as an administrative assistant. He married his wife Beth, a former Arkansas cheerleader. He was promoted to quality-control coach, then quarterbacks coach, then offensive coordinator.

When the Bears requested permission to interview Loggains for their vacant quarterbacks coach position in 2012, they were denied by head coach Mike Munchak. When Munchak was told to fire Loggains and five other assistants after the 2013 season, he refused and himself was fired.

Ken Whisenhunt didn’t hire Loggains when he replaced Munchak and went 3-20 and was fired seven games into his second season in 2015. When Munchak interviewed for the Lions head coaching job, he brought Loggains to the interview as his offensive coordinator.

The Bears probably would have preferred a more proven coordinator to replace Gase. But Loggains seems like a pretty safe Plan B (and if the Bears in fact chose him over pursuing Whisenhunt, how satisfying must that be for Loggains after getting bypassed by Whisenhunt in 2014?). In Loggains’ lone season as an NFL offensive coordinator, the Titans were 22nd in yards, 19th in points, 19th in rushing yards per attempt, 14th in passing yards per attempt and eighth in third-down efficiency. But that was in a new offense, with an overhauled playbook, six new starters and Jake Locker and Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback.

With the Bears, Loggains will have more going his way — the second year of the offensive system, Jay Cutler coming off a career-best passer rating (92.3) and presumably many other key pieces in place — including Kyle Long with a full offseason at right tackle and rookie wide receiver Kevin White, the No. 7 pick of the 2015 draft, ready to go.

The one known is that Loggains is in many ways an extension of Gase — a football geek who hustled his way into coaching, runs the offense the head coach wants to run and is very flexible when it comes accentuating his quarterbacks strengths, including playing up-tempo and utilizing roll-outs — two particular strengths of Cutler.

It remains to be seen what kind of play-caller Loggains will be, but like Gase he has a reputation as a guy who can think clearly under pressure. He’s been thinking like a coach for a long time — he provided scouting reports and signaled in plays in his final two seasons at Arkansas, a virtual player-coach as a senior. When Loggains was a sophomore, the Razorbacks drove 81 yards in 25 seconds in the final minute for a tying touchdown against Nick Saban and LSU in 2002. The euphoria resulted in an excessive celebration penalty, pushing the tie-breaking PAT to 35 yards. When Saban called time out to ice the kicker, Loggains pulled his kicker off the field to practice kicks into a net on the sideline. The longer PAT was good — barely— and Arkansas won 21-20 to win the SEC West title.

2. Loggains’ quarterbacks coaches at Arkansas were Ferguson and Roy Wittke, who developed Tony Romo as the offensive coordinator at Eastern Illinois. (Bears GM Ryan Pace was a defensive end for Eastern during Wittke’s time at Eastern as well.) Other mentors include Jeff Fisher, Sean Payton, Norm Chow, Mike Heimerdinger and Chris Palmer — all well-regarded quarterback tutors.

“You could see immediately that he had a really sharp football mind, and you could envision him being a coach,” said Wittke, how the director of player development at Syracuse. “I’ll never forget when I first came in [in 2003], I talked to all the quarterbacks individually about what we were missing; what needed to be done. Dowell and I talked for about an hour. He was detailed. He knew the kids. He had thoughts. He had ideas. He had the pulse of what was going on in the locker room. What the team was thinking. And he was right on the button. He was always right.

“He had a very acute awareness of how guys felt and how things were going in the locker room. You could see he was a young man who had a tremendous amount of knowledge.”

3. The ascension of Loggains could be yet another break for wide receiver Marc Mariani, who played for the Titans when Loggains was in Nashville in 2010-13. Mariani was a Pro Bowl kick returner for the Titans as a rookie in 2010 and had five receptions for 24 yards in 2011. But he made an impression on Loggains.

“He’s a guy that if I had my way, he’d be on the roster,” Loggains said at training camp in 2013, when Loggains was the offensive coordinator and Mariani was recovering from a broken leg. “He’s a guy I believe in, a guy I know can make plays as a receiver and as a return guy. I know the quarterbacks have great confidence in him. Every time he gets on the field, he just finds a way to make plays.”

Four days later, Mariani was put on injured reserve with a shoulder injury. But Mariani lived up to Loggains’ 2013 recommendations with the Bears in 2015 — 22 receptions for 300 yards (13.6 yards per catch). Nineteen of his 22 catches went for a first down (86.4 percent) — the second-highest percentage in the NFL last year among receivers with 20 or more receptions.

4. The Bears have obvious priorities in signing their own free agents this offseason: wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, cornerback Tracy Porter, running back Matt Forte, linebacker Shea McClellin and tight end Zach Miller— probably in that order. But they can’t ignore special teams. And their top four special-teams tacklers from last season are free agents: Sherrick McManis (17), Joshua Bellamy (10), Chris Prosinski (9) and Sam Acho (8). Their two main kick returners — Mariani and Deonte Thompson (29.2 yards per kickoff return) also are free agents.

A general upgrade of the roster figures to help special teams, but every team needs its dedicated special-teams players. The Bears still are recovering on special teams since dumping stalwarts Blake Costanzo, Craig Steltz and Eric Weems after the 2013 season.

5. ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper has the Bears taking Alabama inside linebacker Reggie Ragland with the No. 11 pick in the first round of his first mock draft.

“[He’s a] guy who can really, rally handle the run and be a great leader,” Kiper said. “He’s a run-stuffer. He’s got good range. Coverage ability is OK. It’s not great — you saw that exposed in the National Championship Game. Tremendous, tremendous intangibles. All the physical qualifications you want. Overall, he would fill a void there [and] can step right in.”

5a. Though Bears general manager Ryan Pace said he would draft a quarterback in the first round if he found one he liked, Kiper indicated it is unlikely there will be a quarterback at No. 11 who would tempt the Bears, given their other needs.

With California junior Jared Goff currently expected to be off the board at No. 11 (Kiper has Goff going to the Browns with the No. 2 pick), Kiper said the Bears’ best first-round options at this point of the process would be Paxton Lynch of Memphis or Carson Wentz of North Dakota State.

The more likely quarterback scenario for the Bears would be in the second round or lower, Kiper said: Dak Prescott of Mississippi State; Connor Cook of Michigan State; Christian Hackenberg of Penn State.

6. Kyle Long did not have a Pro Bowl season at right tackle, but his selection as a replacement for Eagles left tackle Jason Peters was well-deserved — as Long himself noted, a nod to the sacrifice Long, a two-time Pro Bowl pick at right guard, made in switching to right tackle prior to the first regular-season game.

Long is the Bears’ first offensive tackle to make the Pro Bowl since James “Big Cat” Williams in 2001 and only the second since Jimbo Covert in 1986.

7. The Bears and the Rams are the only two NFL teams that have beaten two of the final eight teams on the road this season. The Bears beat the Chiefs 18-17 at Arrowhead and the Packers 17-13 at Lambeau Field. The Rams were a little more impressive — beating the Cardinals 24-22 at University of Phoenix Stadium and the Seahawks 23-17 at CenturyLink Field.

7a. Fun Fact: Former Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase is the only head coach in the NFL who did not play college football. A wide receiver in high school in Marshall, Mich., Gase went to Michigan State as student and caught the attention of head coach Nick Saban, who made him a graduate assistant at LSU.

7b. Gase, whose offense ranked 21st in yards and 17th in scoring, is the first coordinator hired as a first-time NFL head coach whose offense/defense didn’t rank in the top 12 since Pat Shurmer was hired by the Browns in 2011. Shurmer’s offense with the Rams in 2010 was ranked 26th in yards and points. Like Gase, Shurmer is a Michigan native (Dearborn) who went to Michigan State and coached under Nick Saban. He went 9-23 in two seasons with the Browns. But that was the Browns, who have the worst record in the NFL (87-185, .320) since re-joining the league in 1999, with one playoff berth in 17 seasons. Gase’s prospects with the Dolphins are much better.

8. Still, it’s a daunting challenge for Gase, who never has been a head coach at any level. Not only do you have to be good, but so many things have to go right to succeed in the NFL. And unfortunately, patience — except in Cincinnati — is at an all-time low. Of the 30 head coaches hired from 2011-14, 18 already have been fired, including 14 after two full seasons or less.

In fact, only 11 of the NFL’s 32 head coaches have been with their current team for more than three seasons. Andy Reid, who was second on the seniority list when he was fired by the Eagles after the 2012 season, already is back up to 12th on the seniority list after just three seasons with the Chiefs.

9. It’s unfortunate that former Bears special-teams coordinator Dave Toub seems to have fallen off the head-coaching radar. Toub, doing another bang-up job with the Chiefs — returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown sparked their playoff shutout of the Texans in the wild-card game — and is no less qualified than John Harbaugh was when he became the head coach with the Ravens.

But Andy Reid made Harbaugh a secondary coach in 2007 to avoid the apparent special-teams stigma and was hired by the Ravens the following year. Even with Harbaugh sporting a Super Bowl ring, Reid might have to make the same move to give Toub his best chance to be an NFL head coach.

10. Rams owner Enos Stanley Kroenke — a native Missourian named after Cardinals baseball Hall of Famers Enos Slaughter and Stan Musial — is rightfully being vilified as a traitor to St. Louis after getting NFL approval to move the Rams to Los Angeles this week.

Kroenke — a minority owner from 1995-2009 and majority owner the past six seasons — can moan all he wants about the economic challenge of owning a football team in St. Louis, but he can’t ignore the fact that outside of the all-too-brief “Greatest Show on Turf” era, the Rams did little to build a football following in St. Louis. The Rams haven’t made the playoffs since 2004. They haven’t had a winning season since 2003.

In their 21 seasons in St. Louis the Rams made the playoffs four times and had the 27th worst winning percentage in the NFL. In fact, In 49 years of NFL football in St. Louis, the Cardinals and Rams have just nine playoff appearances and eight playoff victories. If any NFL team had a record that dismal from its inception, it would have gone the way of the Dayton Triangles and Columbus Tigers. The Packers still exist in Green Bay only because of the helping hand of George Halas in the mid-1950s that gave them time to hire Vince Lombardi and give their fans a product they can support.