NFL coaching searches: Predicting hires for Bears, 7 other teams

With eight teams looking for new coaches, here’s a projection of who fits where.

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Brian Flores went 24-25 in three seasons coaching the rebuilding Dolphins.

Brian Flores went 24-25 in three seasons coaching the rebuilding Dolphins.

Alastair Grant/AP

When Bears chairman George McCaskey described his ideal new coach, it was an old-school depiction that made it seem as though he wanted to find the modern Mike Ditka.

There was no mention of scheme or player development. It was much more of an artist’s rendering of a classic coaching persona.

‘‘Tough, gritty, smart, opportunistic — winning football,’’ McCaskey said, pausing for emphasis between terms.

Sounding as though he were casting for the role in a movie, McCaskey also said players ‘‘don’t have to like him, they don’t have to love him, but they respect him.’’

If that’s what he has been imagining, it would be no surprise to see the Bears fall in love with Brian Flores. And while a coach’s concrete plans for quarterback Justin Fields, the declining defense and an incredibly crucial hire at offensive coordinator are much more important than his demeanor, McCaskey might end up hiring exactly the guy he needs by following his heart.

As Chicago Sun-Times NFL writers Jason Lieser and Patrick Finley predict who will land in each of the eight head-coaching vacancies, the Bears are most likely to connect with Flores.

They probably will interview a dozen or so candidates by the end of this, but few are going to be as impressive. At 40, he is among the rising stars in his profession, came up with the prestigious Patriots and is fresh off overachieving in three seasons coaching the Dolphins.

Flores did better than expected with a stripped-down roster by going 5-11 in his first season, then followed that up by going 19-14 in the next two.

So why is this guy even available? That’s the key question the Bears must answer.

Flores appeared to have had friction with owner Stephen Ross, general manager Chris Grier and upstart quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

That alone doesn’t preclude him from getting the job. Doug Pederson and Jim Harbaugh carry similar baggage. In considering any of those options, the Bears fully need to understand what went wrong and determine how exactly Flores would work with whomever they bring in as their GM. It would be prudent to finalize that hire first.

That’s what McCaskey said he preferred to do anyway. And, in that case, the incoming GM’s opinion might diverge from McCaskey’s.

With Flores predicted for the Bears, here’s whom we project for the other seven teams:

Raiders: Jim Harbaugh

This is a classic move by both sides. Harbaugh is surely unsatisfied with how his run with the 49ers ended, despite going 44-19-1 in four seasons, and the Raiders always are looking to make a big splash. Luring Harbaugh from Michigan would be the boldest move of this hiring cycle.

It’s an interesting time to take over the Raiders, who overcame coach Jon Gruden’s scandalous exit to go 10-7 and make the playoffs under special-teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia. Harbaugh likely would join the Raiders with significant authority over personnel and will have to decide whether they are on their way to contending or need to rebuild.

That decision looms largest at quarterback. Derek Carr hasn’t made a Pro Bowl since 2017, and it’s clear after eight seasons that he’s not a game-changer. He has one season left on his contract, so now is the time to trade him if the Raiders want to start fresh at the position.

Jaguars: Doug Pederson

The Jags fired Urban Meyer on Dec. 16 and spoke with Pederson two weeks later. If he had blown them away, wouldn’t we know by now?

Nonetheless, hiring a Super Bowl-winning head coach feels like something the Jaguars would do to try to restore credibility after the Meyer debacle. Pederson’s offensive expertise — he groomed quarterback Carson Wentz into a presumptive NFL most valuable player before he tore up his knee in late 2017 — will appeal to a franchise building around rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus makes sense here, too, though the Jaguars might think twice about hiring someone who — like Meyer — never has been an NFL head coach.

Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich could work, as well. He was the Jags’ first-round pick in 2003.

Broncos: Dan Quinn

Quinn likely will have multiple offers, but the Broncos seem locked in on him as their top target, and he would be a good fit. He’ll inherit an excellent defense, which is his specialty, but he’ll have to solve the offensive woes that doomed former coach Vic Fangio.

The Seahawks had the No. 1 defense in Quinn’s two seasons as their coordinator, and he parlayed that success into landing the Falcons’ head-coaching job in 2015. He went 29-19 with a Super Bowl appearance — blowing a 28-3 lead to the Patriots — in his first three seasons, then crashed with a pair of 7-9 records and got fired after an 0-5 start in 2020.

Quinn quickly rebuilt his reputation as the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator this season. They jumped from 28th in points allowed in 2020 to seventh under Quinn. They led the NFL in takeaways, finished second in third-down defense and were third in opponent passer rating.

Giants: Brian Daboll

When ‘‘Big Blue’’ hired Bills assistant GM Joe Schoen to be their GM on Friday, Daboll immediately became a favorite for the job. Don’t discount Schoen’s familiarity with Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, either. The Bears had interest in all three men, interviewing Schoen and Daboll on Sunday and Frazier on Friday.

Daboll is the hottest offensive coordinator in the hiring cycle after the Bills’ 47-17 demolition of the Patriots in the first round of the playoffs. He comes from the Bill Belichick tree, with one year of Nick Saban thrown in. Pedestrian stints as the offensive coordinator of the Browns, Dolphins and Chiefs are less inspiring.

Daboll’s development of quarterback Josh Allen is enough for teams to dream on. His opinion of quarterback Daniel Jones will be key. The Giants must decide in May whether to pick up Jones’ option for 2023.

Vikings: Todd Bowles

Bowles, who interviewed with the Vikings on Friday, would mark the team’s third consecutive defensive-minded head coach since Brad Childress was fired in the middle of the 2010 season. Nonetheless, defense has been the Vikings’ biggest problem the last two seasons. In 2021, they finished 24th in the NFL in points allowed and 30th in yards. The year before, they ranked 29th and 27th, respectively.

Years before he drew up the defensive game plan to stymie Patrick Mahomes in the Super Bowl and help the Bucs win a championship, Bowles was a middling head coach, going 24-40 in four seasons with the Jets. During that span, four quarterbacks started for him: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bryce Petty, Josh McCown and rookie Sam Darnold.

With Kirk Cousins entering the last season of his deal — the Vikings could extend him or trade him, too — Bowles needs to present a clear, convincing plan at quarterback. Might it involve old friend Matt Nagy as offensive coordinator?

Dolphins: Leslie Frazier

The day after the Bills defeated the Patriots, the Dolphins’ brass interviewed Daboll and Frazier. The Bears have interest, too: They spoke with Frazier, a cornerback on their 1985 Super Bowl-winning team, on Friday.

As with Bowles, the fact that Frazier has been a head coach at all — he was 21-32-1 in 3½ seasons with the Vikings — is probably more important than his record.

No team allowed fewer yards or points in 2021 than the Bills. Frazier works for a defensive-minded head coach in Sean McDermott. It’s up to teams to figure out exactly which man is the reason for the team’s success.

Texans: Josh McCown

We know what you’re thinking: McCown must have done a helluva job as the quarterbacks coach at Myers Park High School in Charlotte, North Carolina.

McCown, who famously coached his son’s team while playing for the Eagles in 2019, interviewed with the Texans despite having no head-coaching experience. He interviewed with them last year, too.

The former Bears quarterback is universally beloved around the NFL and a Texas native.Surround him with veteran assistants, and McCown might be a compelling outside-the-box choice.

Unlike in other sports, however, ex-players don’t just slide into head-coaching roles in the NFL. The Texans probably lack the culture — and talent — to make it work.

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