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Bears’ coaching uncertainty hard on families, even if it’s part of the job

Bears coaches don’t seek sympathy at this time of year, but they do acknowledge what toll the uncertainty has on their families.

San Francisco 49ers v Chicago Bears
Bears coach Chris Tabor, second from left, stands on the sideline in October.
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Bears special-teams coordinator Chris Tabor was watching the end of the Browns game Monday night with his wife, Nikki, when, in a quiet moment, she mentioned how many coaching staffs he was a part of in Cleveland. From 2011 to 2017, Tabor kept his job despite the firings of three coaches: Pat Shurmur, Rob Chudzinski and Mike Pettine.

“That was the only time we really talked about it,” he said Thursday.

He likes it that way, even in stressful situations. Tabor leans into the coaching instinct to keep his head down and focus on the next week’s opponent when times get tough. When he’s around his wife and daughters, they talk about other things. It has always been like that.

Still, he knows the effect that job pressure has on his family members and calls them resilient for dealing with it. That pressure will only ratchet up after Sunday’s season finale, when the Bears figure to fire coach Matt Nagy. In most cases — though not all, as Tabor proved in Cleveland — firing a coach means dismissing all his assistants, too.

Coaches hear the rumors. So do their family members.

“The outside noise is the outside noise,” Tabor said. “And when you get into this profession, you know what you sign up for.”

Bears coaches don’t seek sympathy for themselves at this time of year, but they do acknowledge what toll the uncertainty has on their families. Being part of a vanquished coaching staff means scrambling for employment, selling a house and moving to a new city. It means kids saying goodbye to their school friends.

Perhaps the only thing worse is the weeks of speculation that lead up to it.

“To say that you don’t think about it or feel it, it’s a lie,” quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo said last month. “Because you do. It’s more so for other people than yourself.”

DeFilippo has been on both sides. His dad, Gene, was a football coach at Vanderbilt and the associate athletic director at Kentucky when he was a boy — and later, the athletic director at Villanova for four years and Boston College for 15 years.

DeFilippo has been fired — and has watched his dad do the firing. He said that, growing up, he was heckled during Little League and in high school. During his various NFL stops, he and his wife have had to have “frank conversations” with friends about how the job-speculation parlor game affects their lives.

“The people you worry about are actually the people that are outside in the noise: my wife and my daughter,” said DeFilippo, whom the Vikings fired in 2018. “Those are the people you worry about — my friends, my mom and dad. They read those things because they have time to — and they love me. . . .

“We’re so insulated here [at Halas Hall] for however many hours a day that it’s like our fortress. It really is. A lot of the noise gets kept out of the fortress, and we’re fortunate for that.”

Defensive coordinator Sean Desai survived the firings of the two previous Bears coaches: Marc Trestman and John Fox. He has learned how to compartmentalize his emotions, the way he’d ask his players to.

“If you enter coaching, it’s part of the business,” Desai said Thursday. “The only thing you control is what you do — your job and the job and role that you have. So that’s always been my mentality. It will always be my mentality.”

That doesn’t shield his loved ones from worry. He considers his wife, Ojus, a “saint” for helping him deal with the outside noise.

“If somebody kept asking about your job, I think your wife would ask you questions and say, ‘What’s going on?’ ” he said. “It’s normal. But it’s part of the profession.”