Bears catch Bills fever, interview Joe Schoen, Brian Daboll; Leslie Frazier next
The Bills have gone 34-15 over the last three seasons after decades of misery and are fresh off throttling the Patriots in the playoffs. The Bears are considering three candidates from their organization.
It took less than five years for Bills general manager Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott to turn one of the NFL’s most star-crossed franchises into a Super Bowl contender. Any sputtering team will want some of that mojo.
Count the Bears among the covetous. While they can’t have Beane or McDermott, they’re looking for the next best thing. They interviewed assistant general manager Joe Schoen and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll on Sunday and have a request in for defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, who is expected to interview this week.
That trio got a compelling head start after laying out its collective case in the Bills’ 47-17 stomping of the Patriots in the first round of the playoffs Saturday night.
The Bills buried the Patriots with a 27-0 lead in the second quarter as Daboll’s offense averaged 9.1 yards per play and Frazier’s defense overwhelmed New England. McDermott is a defensive-minded head coach, but Frazier is in his third decade of coaching and is the Bills’ defensive play-caller.
“Let me just make sure I’m clear here: Leslie Frazier runs the defense,” McDermott said Saturday. “I want to give credit where credit is due. This is not Sean McDermott’s defense; this is Leslie’s defense.”
The Bills rolled to victory — their third playoff win in two years — with eight of their 10 first- and second-round picks under Beane and Schoen on the field. One of the two who didn’t play was two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Tre’Davious White, who is injured.
There’s still a lot to overcome, but the Bills are marching toward their first Super Bowl appearance since losing four in a row in the early 1990s.
The Bills bottomed out at the end of that decade and were much more of a mess than the current Bears when Beane and McDermott took over in 2017. From 2000 through ’16, the Bills averaged 6.6 wins, had the sixth-worst record in the NFL and were the only team that didn’t make the playoffs.
Schoen and Frazier have been with them throughout their upswing. Daboll joined in 2018, the same year they drafted quarterback Josh Allen with the seventh overall pick.
Daboll spent 11 seasons with the Patriots, which always stands out on a résumé. Interestingly, his first two years were on the defensive staff before shifting permanently to offense. He has eight seasons of NFL experience as a coordinator and another running the offense for Nick Saban at Alabama.
None of his NFL offenses was very good until he helped the Bills jump to No. 2 in scoring last season and No. 5 this season.
His work with Allen will be particularly interesting to the Bears. Allen was picked third among quarterbacks in 2018 after a wobbly career at Wyoming and had a rough first two seasons before blossoming into an MVP candidate last season.
The Bears will be looking for Daboll to repeat that success with Justin Fields, who endured various forms of dysfunction during his rookie season and produced a mixed bag that was unconvincing: a 73.2 passer rating, seven touchdown passes, 10 interceptions, two rushing touchdowns, 12 fumbles.
Fields and Allen are dual-threat quarterbacks, but they’re very different as runners. While Fields has the speed of a wide receiver, Allen runs with the thunder of a tight end.
But it’s Allen’s progress on throwing accuracy that is the envy of the league. Many doubted he’d ever correct it, which was a big reason Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold went ahead of him in the draft. He completed only 56% of his passes his last two seasons in college and was under 60% his first two pro seasons before finishing fourth in the league at 69.2% last season.
Allen typically raves about Daboll’s influence, and while quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey also has had an impact, Daboll is seen as the biggest factor in fixing a problem that many draft analysts thought was irreparable.
“Those two have a critical relationship,” McDermott told Yahoo! last year. “They spend probably more time together than any player or coach in our building. . . . Brian has done a real nice job of helping Josh develop on the field and off the field and see the game.”
Daboll will certainly have some thoughts on Fields.
But Frazier has similarly impressive credentials as a defensive guru. And he can flex something that no other candidate can: He has an ’85 Bears Super Bowl ring. Frazier can open the conversation with, “You’re welcome.” He’s too classy to do that, of course, but he did play cornerback for the Bears from 1981 through ’85 and was a starter on the title team.
Frazier’s Bears connection will surely impress chairman George McCaskey, but his coaching record will carry much more weight. In 16 seasons as an NFL defensive coordinator or head coach, his defenses were in the top half of the league seven times. He went 21-32-1 coaching the Vikings from 2010 through ’13, so the Bears will certainly want a full debriefing of what went wrong and what he learned.
Most recently, however, Frazier’s defense allowed the fewest points in the league and was third in takeaways this season.
Trying to re-create the Bills’ resurgence is enticing, but it’s never that easy. Most teams that have tried to replicate Bill Belichick’s model by hiring his assistants, for example, have failed.
There’s no guarantee that taking Schoen and one of the Bills’ coordinators will translate to a massive turnaround. But the Bears need to rebuild, and these guys seem pretty good at tackling that task.