Meet the Bears coordinators ahead of Bears-Packers game

SHARE Meet the Bears coordinators ahead of Bears-Packers game

Vic Fangio spent four years as the Bears’ defensive coordinator. | Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

Offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich

Age: 44

Resume: Oregon head coach, 2013-16; Oregon offensive coordinator, 2009-12; Colorado offensive coordinator, 2006-08; Arizona State passing game coordinator, 2003-05; Arizona State quarterbacks coach, 2001-02; Boise State quarterbacks coach, 1998-2000.

Why he’s here

Mark Helfrich is detailing his role as the Bears’ offensive coordinator — but not its play-caller — when he pauses.

“That’s part of our job, is to take something off coach [Matt] Nagy’s plate,” he said. “I’ve sat in that chair, and anything I can do to help him out I’m going to try to do.”

Helfrich, only two years removed from being the coach at college monster Oregon, was one of the NFL’s most surprising hires of the offseason.

He joined Nagy’s staff — and an NFL team for the first time in his career — in January even as his name was being considered for college jobs on the West Coast. The Bears liked his creativity and the additional intellectual firepower he’d share with quarterback Mitch Trubisky.

Gone is Helfrich’s independence — he called plays at Oregon — but it has been replaced with something altogether fascinating: how can he meld Oregon’s fast-paced, read-option, futuristic “Blur” offense with an NFL scheme?

Chip Kelly tried and failed. After being fired by the Eagles and 49ers, he returned to college. Helfrich, though, said his addition to the Bears is no referendum on those schemes. Rather, he’s adapting concepts — angles on quarterback runs, when to use tempo, and more — to Nagy’s system, which already blends spread and West Coast offense concepts.

The damage done by Oregon’s offense was cumulative. As the game wore on, defenses were worn out by the Ducks’ tempo. That won’t happen with the Bears.

“It’s not the same,” said Helfrich, who was Kelly’s coordinator for four years before four years as head coach. “You look at the college game, there’s 90 plays in a game, 100 plays. You look at the NFL, and that does not exist. It will not exist. That’s not how the game’s built.”

That won’t stop Helfrich from working his ideas into the mainstream.

The Bears will unleash them in the opener.

“I think you just surround your quarterback, who’s your most valuable asset, with a lot of good resources,” GM Ryan Pace said. “We feel like we’ve done that, definitely with the coaching staff.

“It’s cool to walk into the offensive meeting room and see them collaborating and bouncing ideas off each other. It’s definitely that kind of relationship. So it’ll be interesting to see that play out. It’s definitely a creative offense.”

Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio

Age: 60

Resume: Bears defensive coordinator, 2015-present; 49ers defensive coordinator, 2011-14; Stanford defensive coordinator, 2010; Ravens LBs coach, 2009; Ravens special assistant to the head coach, 2006-08; Texans defensive coordinator, 2002-05; Colts defensive coordinator, 1999-2001; Panthers defensive coordinator, 1995-98; Saints linebackers coach, 1986-94.

Why he’s back

Vic Fangio wanted to be the Bears’ head coach.

He had to settle for being head coach of the defense.

The steps that general manager Ryan Pace took during the first two weeks of January to ensure that fact might be the shrewdest of his career. Two days after Pace fired coach John Fox, he gave Fangio only his third-ever head coaching interview.

When Pace hired Matt Nagy as head coach five days later, he remained focused on keeping Fangio. He saw tremendous value in keeping continuity within the Bears defense, particularly with Nagy spending his time overhauling the other side of the ball.

The trick was to get Fangio to think the same way.

Before 2017, Fangio turned down a contract extension. He was a free agent in January and open to employment elsewhere.

Pace and Nagy recruited him to stay — and gave him a contract believed to be among the league’s richest for a coordinator. He was allowed to keep his defensive staff intact.

“It’s not a mathematical equation where you come up with the right answer,” Fangio said. “A lot of it turns out to be your gut feel, where you think the best place is, and not necessarily for the next 12 months but for the next five, six, seven, eight years.”

Now it’s Fangio’s turn to show the Bears what that next half-decade will look like. Ideally, it will be a more dangerous version of last year’s, which finished 10th in yards allowed and ninth in points allowed.

He’ll have as many as 10 returning starters on this year’s defense — and a staff that knows how each needs to be coached. With an offensive-minded head coach, Fangio will have the freedom to run his scheme the way he wants.

Short of Nagy, there’s no one more important to the Bears’ success.

“They were one of the top defenses in the league last year — we all know that — statistically,” former Bears coach Dave Wannstedt said. “And I give [chairman] George McCaskey or whoever made the decision a lot of credit. Because they got Vic locked up. They kept the staff intact. That’s going to help them this year. And it’s really going to give Mitch Trubisky and Matt Nagy a chance to get started without really worrying about the defense.”

Special teams coordinator Chris Tabor

Age: 47

Resume: Browns special teams coordinator, 2011-17; Bears assistant special teams coach, 2008-10; Western Michigan RBs/special teams coach, 2006-07; Utah State RBs/special teams coach, 2005; Utah State WRs coach, 2002-2004; Culver-Stockton (NAIA) head coach, 2001; Missouri RBs/special teams coach, 2000.

Why he’s here

No one associated with the Browns this decade boasts a more impressive achievement than Tabor.

The Bears’ former assistant special teams coach was hired away by Pat Shurmur to run the Browns’ special teams in 2011. Two years later, when Shurmur was fired, new head coach Rob Chudzinski kept Tabor in the same role. A year later, another new Browns head coach, Mike Pettine, did the same. When the Browns hired yet another new head coach in 2016, Hue Jackson decided he wanted Tabor to stay. He did.

When Tabor decided to leave the Browns in January — after tenures with an astonishing four different head coaches, a rarity in the itinerant NFL — it was of his own volition. It was easily explainable, too. The Browns had won one game in two years. Tabor connected to new head coach Matt Nagy through special teams guru Dave Toub, his old Bears boss who befriended Nagy when both were Chiefs staffers the past five years.

And then there was the lure of the league’s founding franchise.

“It’s the Bears,” Tabor said. “I mean, I don’t know if you need to say more. . . . It’s a great fan base. It’s a city that’s a great sports town that loves all their sports. You could be a Sox fan or you could be a Cubs fan, but you’re a Bears fan.

“I think that’s exciting. It’s fun when you go to a place where football’s important and people are passionate about it.”

From 2008-10, Tabor served as Toub’s deputy during one of the great special teams runs in NFL history. During those three seasons, the Bears led the NFL with 6,570 total return yards and ranked second with six return touchdowns. They allowed only one special teams score.

The Bears would be thrilled with anything approaching those numbers in 2018.

As a rookie, Tarik Cohen ranked 10th in the NFL with a 22.4-yard kick-return average and ninth with a 9.4-yard punt-return average. His 61-yard punt-return touchdown was perhaps the Bears’ most memorable play of 2017 — he ran 15 yards backward after catching the ball — but he wasn’t far from a few more. Cohen had a 90-yard kickoff return and a 67-yard punt return called back because of penalties.

Offensive assistants

Quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone

Age: 38

Resume: Bears QBs coach, 2016-present; Redskins offensive quality control coach, 2015; Titans QBs coach, 2013; Titans WRs coach, 2011-12.

Why he’s back

Because Ragone developed a strong rapport with quarterback Mitch Trubisky last season, the former Louisville quarterback was the only offensive coach kept by coach Matt Nagy in January.

“I think he knows me pretty much better than anyone in this building just because we’ve spent so much time together in the classroom last year,” Trubisky said.

Ragone can refer to Trubisky’s experience as a rookie in a way the other coaches can’t.

“It’s his huddle now,” Ragone said. “At this time last year I think he was running with the threes, and now he’s undoubtedly the starter. He takes that very seriously.”

Running backs coach Charles London

Age: 43

Resume: Texans RBs coach, 2014-17; Penn State RBs coach, 2012-13; Titans offensive quality control assistant, 2011; Bears offensive quality control assistant, 2007-09; Duke RBs coach, 2006.

Why he’s here

Texans coach Bill O’Brien, London’s boss since their Penn State days, thinks London pursued a new employer after last season because he wanted a fresh start.

“He and I had been together for a long time,” O’Brien said. “I have a great deal of respect for Charles. Smart guy, hard worker, communicator. A guy that really puts the time in, wants to learn, wants to be kind of like a sponge that learns a new system.”

London drew a good hand, inheriting dominant traditional back in Jordan Howard — with whom he has worked on pass catching — and a modern pass-catching chess piece in Tarik Cohen.

“He’s a very versatile player,” London said. “And we’re going to put him in as many spots as we can.”

Tight ends coach Kevin M. Gilbride

Age: 38

Resume: Giants TE coach, 2014-17; Giants WRs coach, 2012-13; Giants offensive quality control coach, 2010-11; Temple WRs coach, 2008-09.

Why he’s here

Gilbride has a famous name — his father, the former Chargers head coach, was the Giants’ coordinator from 2007-13. But he’s also coming off a season in which Giants rookie Evan Engram finished sixth among NFL tight ends with 64 catches and fifth with 722 yards.

He’ll be asked to develop last year’s second-round pick, Adam Shaheen, who had only 12 catches last year.

“That’s another big, big man who can move,” Gilbride said.” So it’s been impressive to see, with very solid hands and a huge target. So yes, I think he could develop into that down-the-field, pass-catching tight end as well to go along with the rest of his game.’’

Wide receivers coach Mike Furrey

Age: 41

Resume: Limestone (Div. II) head coach, 2016-17; Marshall WRs coach, 2013-15; Kentucky Christian (NAIA) head coach, 2011-12.

Why he’s here

He’s Nagy’s oldest friend among the position coaches. Before starting a seven-year NFL career as a wide receiver for the Rams, Lions and Browns, Furrey was Nagy’s roommate when they played for the Arena League’s New York Dragons in 2002.

In his first season as an NFL coach, Furrey will be tasked with assembling a receiver room with free-agent signees Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel, rookie Anthony Miller and oft-injured returning player Kevin White.

“I love a young, energetic coach,” Miller said. “He took me in well before I even got here. He sent me the plays. We were calling each other each and every day.”

Offensive line coach Harry Hiestand

Age: 59

Resume: Notre Dame OL coach, 2012-17; Tennessee OL coach, 2010-11; Bears OL coach, 2005-09; Illinois OL coach, 1997-2004; Missouri OL coach, 1994-96; Cincinnati offensive coordinator/OL coach, 1989-93; Toledo OL coach, 1988-89; USC graduate assistant, 1987-88; Penn TE coach, 1986-87; East Stroudsburg OL coach, 1983-85.

Why he’s here

One of the most-respected offensive line coaches at any level, Hiestand, who coached two Irish linemen who were drafted in the top nine this year, could have gone anywhere. He chose a familiar place — he coached five seasons at Halas Hall last decade — that he called “the greatest organization” in the NFL. He’ll have four returning starters and a second-round pick, James Daniels, to work with.

“The Chicago Bears — that’s an awesome place, a great franchise,” he said. “I always wanted to go back [to the NFL]. I’m very fortunate I just happen to be back at the same place I was before. Historically, this is where it all began.”

Defensive assistants

Defensive line coach Jay Rodgers

Age: 40

Resume: Bears DL coach, 2015-present; Broncos DL coach, 2012-14; Broncos defensive quality control coach, 2011; Broncos coaches assistant, 2009-10; Iowa State WRs coach, 2007-08; Stephen F. Austin QBs coach, 2005-06; Missouri State QBs coach, 2004; Dodge City (Kan.) Community College QBs coach, 2003; LSU defensive assistant, 2002; LSU offensive assistant, 2001.

Why he’s back

Two months into the best season of his career, Akiem Hicks knew whom to give credit to.

“I’ve taken leaps with the coaching staff — I’m talking about my guy first, with Jay Rodgers,” said Hicks, who had been unable to unlock his star potential in stints with the Saints and Patriots. “The leaps and bounds that I’ve been able to take having him as somebody that’s like giving me advice and putting me in the right position.”

The Bears agreed. Keeping Rodgers, who also helped develop nose tackle Eddie Goldman, was a coup.

“Coach Jay Rodgers is the man” fifth-round pick Bilal Nichols said. “The coaching that he’s given me, every day I got better and better.”

Inside linebackers coach Glenn Pires

Age: 59

Resume: Bears ILB coach, 2015-present; Falcons LB coach, 2008-14; Dolphins LB coach, 2003-07; Lions assistant LBs coach, 2001-02; Cardinals assistant LB coach, 1996-2000; Michigan State OLB coach, 1995; Syracuse OLB coach, 1991-94; Syracuse DL coach, 1989-90; Dartmouth DL/OLB coach, 1985-88.

Why he’s back

With 22 years of NFL coaching experience, Pires knows about calling upon recent examples to motivate his players; about how Dolphins’ linebacker Zach Thomas and Hall of Fame edge rusher Jason Taylor never stopped playing with a chip on their shoulders.

Pires, though, hesitates to compare his current crop of inside linebackers — Super Bowl champ Danny Trevathan and first-round pick Roquan Smith — to players he has had in the past.

“I don’t like to talk about that in the past,” he said. “I’m just more concerned with what’s going on now.”

He coached alongside Georgia boss Kirby Smart, Smith’s college coach, on the Dolphins. The first-round pick should fit in fine.

“He’s a confident guy, knowledgeable,” he said. “And there’s carryover. Meaning what we do is there is carryover to what he has been exposed to. I know what they run with that defense.”

Offensive linebackers coach Brandon Staley

Age: 35

Resume: Bears OLB coach, 2017-present; John Carroll (Div. III) defensive coordinator, 2015-16; James Madison (Div I-AA) defensive coordinator, 2014; John Carroll (Div. III) defensive coordinator, 2013; Tennessee graduate assistant, 2012; Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College defensive coordinator, 2010-11; St. Thomas (NAIA) LB/special teams coach, 2009; Northern Illinois graduate assistant, 2006-08.

Why he’s back

Staley took a risk last year in joining a coaching staff that was in danger of being broken up at the end of the season. The former college coach, though, wound up sticking around, along with the rest of the defensive coaches.

Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio specializes in outside linebackers, so Staley isn’t alone in trying to develop former first-round pick Leonard Floyd into his Pro Bowl potential. He’ll also be tasked with seeing if sixth-round pick Kylie Fitts can crack the rotation.

“Coach Staley has been really good with me,” Fitts said. “We’ve been working a lot together, watching a lot of film and then on the field, he’s just been working really good with me, teaching me a lot of technique on how to drop and different things like that. And also helping improve my pass rush. He’s been working all three phases of the game.”

Defensive backs coach Ed Donatell

Age: 61

Resume: Bears DBs coach, 2015-present; 49ers DBs coach, 2011-14; Broncos DBs coach, 2010; Washington defensive coordinator, 2008; Jets special assistant, 2007; Falcons defensive coordinator, 2004-06; Packers defensive coordinator, 2000-03; Broncos DBs coach, 1995-1999; Jets DBs coach, 1990-94; Fullerton DBs coach, 1989; Idaho DBs coach, 1986-88; Pacific DBs coach, 1983-85; Washington graduate assistant, 1981-82; Kent State graduate assistant, 1979-80.

Why he’s back

The Bears’ defensive backs room looks a whole lot better than it did a year ago — and not a single player has been added. Donatell coached Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara to the best seasons of their careers, helped Eddie Jackson shine as a rookie, and developed Adrian Amos from a backup to, per Pro Football Focus, one of the best safeties in the league.

That continuity — the Bears re-signed Fuller, Amukamara and Bryce Callahan, and didn’t draft anyone who plays their position — should be on display in 2018.

“It’s easier to start one side of the ball [from scratch] than everything,” Donatell said. “It just helps. There’s times when we can look to help our offense a little bit, because they’re in a new stage of developing. The continuity of players coming back, and coaches coming back, that’s definitely a plus.”

Other assistants: Assistant defensive backs coach Roy Anderson; Assistant special teams coach Brock Olivo; Assistant offensive line coach Donovan Raiola; Offensive quality control coaches Brian Ginn and Mike Snyder; Defensive quality control coaches Bill Shuey and Sean Desai; Head strength and conditioning coach Jason Loscalzo; Assistant strength and conditioning coach Casey Kramer; Strength and conditioning assistant Pierre Ngo.

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