The Bears’ revolving door of position coaches continued to turn, with wide receivers coach Curtis Johnson leaving after his one-year contract expired, sources have confirmed.
Johnson was hired by John Fox last season to replace Mike Groh, who left to join the Bears after three seasons to become the Rams “passing-game coordinator” and wide receivers coach.
He was a popular position coach, especially with younger players. Johnson was credited with developing former undrafted free agent Cam Meredith into the team’s leading receiver in 2016 (after Alshon Jeffery missed four games because of a suspension and Kevin White played only four games because of a season-ending injury.
Meredith, who had 11 receptions for 120 yards and no touchdowns as a rookie under Groh in 2015, led the Bears with 66 receptions for 888 yards and four touchdowns under Johnson in 2016.
“I think he builds a good relationship with the players. They all respond well to him,” Fox said last week at the Senior Bowl. “He coaches them hard. But they want to be coached hard. Guys respond to coaches who can make them better. And I think C.J. makes them better.”
Johnson, whose only previous NFL experience was with the Saints from 2006-11, was an entertaining teacher who often could be heard on the sidelines during drills and preseason practices that were open to the media. “CJ tells us, if you can’t beat man-to-man, you’re going to be working at Popeye’s,” Meredith said after the Bears responded to 10 drops against the Titans with a solid game against the 49ers.
Johnson coached the Senior Bowl last week with the rest of the Bears’ staff. He impressed East Carolina’s Zay Jones, who was a standout in the game with six catches for 68 yards and a touchdown.
“It was great. He’s a funny guy,” Jones said. “When it’s football time, it’s football time. But when it’s away from football, he’s fun. He’s energetic. A great vibe. Positive man. A man of god. You can really see it all over him. A lot of faith. you just love to play for someone like that.”
With Johnson’s departure, the Bears have five assistant coaches who will not return in 2017. Previously, offensive line coach Dave Magazu and assistant secondary coach Sam Garnes were fired, running backs coach Stan Drayton left to become the assosciate head coach/run-game coordinator at Texas and outside linebackers coach Clint Hurtt signed with the Seattle Seahawks after his Bears contract expired.
The Bears hired Jeremiah Washburn to replace Magazu, Curtis Modkins to replace Drayton and Roy Anderson to replace Garnes. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and defensive quality control coach Sean Desai will handle outside linebackers until — if at all — the Bears hire a replacement for Hurtt.