SANTA CLARA, Calif. — As Dave Wannstedt once noted, getting fired in Chicago is not the end of the road, just a bend in the road.
And sure enough, most of the key figures in the Bears’ house-cleaning after the disastrous 2014 season have re-surfaced. General manager Phil Emery is a national scout with the Falcons. Head coach Marc Trestman is the offensive coordinator with the Ravens. Offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer is the offensive line coach with the Bills. Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker is the defensive coordinator at Georgia after winning a national championship as defensive backs coach. Secondary coach Jon Hoke is the secondary coach for the Buccaneers after a year as co-defensive coordinator at South Carolina.
But special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis and linebackers coach Reggie Herring top the list of Emery/Trestman era survivors. After landing on their feet with the same NFL jobs they had in Chicago, both are in the Super Bowl this week with the Denver Broncos.
“It’s awesome. Just a dream come true,” DeCamillis said. “I never lost confidence in myself. I knew that last year in Chicago was going to present some challenges right at the start. Unfortunately we didn’t do as well as we wanted to. But sometimes things work out the way they’re supposed to. Sometimes you’re in a good situation and guys play well and they have up to this point.”
DeCamillis had three job offers after leaving the Bears. He said it was a “pretty easy” decision after Kubiak replaced John Fox in Denver and offered him the special teams job. DeCamillis, who has coached special teams in the NFL for the past 28 years, was the Broncos’ special teams coach under his father-in-law, Dan Reeves, when Kubiak was John Elway’s backup in 1988-91.
“I have great respect for Joe as a coach. I think it was an easy fit,” Kubiak said. “I think Joe enjoyed the organization as much as we did the past time around there so for us to have the ability to get him to join our staff, I’d say was an easy one for me. He’s done a great job.”
Under DeCamillis, the Broncos ranked seventh in the NFL in the Dallas Morning News special-teams rankings after finishing 19th under Jeff Rodgers in 2014. (The Bears, who were 26th in 2014 under DeCamillis, somehow were 12th in 2015 under Rodgers despite allowing three kick-return touchdowns, a blocked punt, missing a game-winning field goal in a loss to the Redskins and getting snookered by a fake-punt on a loss to the Lions.)
In his final season with the Bears, DeCamillis was hamstrung a bit when Emery cut special-teams veterans Blake Costanzo, Craig Steltz, Eric Weems and did not re-sign Devin Hester.
“It was tough,” DeCamillis acknowledged. “But you have to go through adversity sometime to appreciate a great situation. I think sometimes when you get real young real quick, you’re hopeful you can overcome that and unfortunately we couldn’t. When you look at that first year , we were a play away from going to the playoffs, and I thought we played better in some phases than they did the year before [under Dave Toub]. That’s just the way it goes.”
Despite the difficult ending with the Bears, DeCamillis has fond memories of his time in Chicago. “Any time you’re in an organization like the Bears, there are always relationships you build with people. Robbie Gould came to my daughter’s wedding last summer. I have a ton of respect for him.
“There’s a lot of guys I have a lot of respect for. I got to coach Devin Hester for a year — I wish it would have been longer, to be honest with you. It was a really cool deal to be involved with that. Unfortunately we didn’t do as well as we should have from a team standpoint.”
Herring had worked for Kubiak in Houston and was grateful for the opportunity. After working with first-year linebackers Shea McClellin and Christian Jones with the Bears, he’s got veterans Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan in Denver.
“It’s a magical year … a coach’s dream,” Herring said. “There’s no doubt it’s very satisfying. I loved my guys [with the Bears] — are you kidding? Christian Jones, I played with his dad. I had to recruit his mom and dad to get him to come. He was on his way to Jacksonville.
“And Shea McClellin — I wish I’d have had the opportunity to see him through. But hey, you get certain curves in your life and you adjust and move on. I’m very fortunate right now.”