Vic Fangio's departure to be the head coach of the Denver Broncos, an overdue opportunity decades in the making, isn't ideal for the Chicago Bears. Losing out on a highly respected alternative also stings.
The NFL's best defense this past season was Fangio's baby, one he fostered over four seasons through tough love, attention to detail and a wealth of defensive expertise that's nearly unmatched across the NFL.
The timing of Fangio's hiring by John Elway, however, looked potentially fortuitous for the Bears. Todd Bowles was fired as the New York Jets' head coach just last week, and the former Assistant Coach of the Year quickly emerged as an option for the Bears to replace Fangio.
Reports initially indicated that Bowles would join new Tampa Bay Buccaneers head Bruce Arians' staff, as they have a long-rooted relationship. But before Bowles had signed a new contract, there was word that Bears head coach Matt Nagy's long relationship — Nagy's father once coached Bowles — and the chance to work with the Bears' more talented personnel could re-route him to Chicago.
That all changed when ESPN reported Bowles would indeed officially reunite with Arians in Tampa Bay. Arians' confidence in talking about Bowles being on his Tampa staff — when it still seemed up in the air — during a conversation with NFL Network's Rich Eisen on Wednesday seemed to indicate which way the wind was blowing.
The Bears still have a very attractive opening for their defensive coordinator. With it comes working with four Pro Bowlers (and three All-Pros) on their defense, and the Bears could enter 2019 as the favorites to repeat as NFC North champions.
Bowles might have been a good fit in theory, but now they must change gears. The question now becomes ... who?
Bears secondary coach Ed Donatell is one in-house possibility, and he has the kind of experience (eight years as a defensive coordinator in the NFL) to be an obvious candidate. But Fangio is reportedly considering bringing Donatell, whose contract is expired, with him to Denver. The Bears would not be able to block such a move, although joining the Broncos likely would not come with defensive play-calling duties.
The Bucs, however, have to be thrilled with adding Bowles. They have a defense that has under-performed for years now, and he has a patterned history of turning units around.
Prior to Bowles arriving in Arizona, the Cardinals were ranked 17th in scoring 'D' in 2011. In 2012 they improved to No. 7 in Bowles' first season and No. 5 in his last year in Arizona, when he was named the NFL's top assistant prior to taking the head-coach position in New York.
Bowles' New York tenure started tremendously with a surprising 10-6 season, but things deteriorated over his final three years. Bowles might not be head-coach material, but there aren't many defensive minds that are more respected in the league. Sure, Fangio might be one of the few who are at that level, and the continuity of retaining him last offseason along with a starting 'D' returning almost entirely intact was a huge reason behind the Bears' breakthrough.
But Bowles might have been among the best available options out there. He loves to blitz and also loves man coverage, and it remains to be seen how that will work with the Bucs, who must remake their secondary. But Bowles also has inherited other defenses before and done good work with them.
Score this as a win for the Bucs — and a short-term concern for the Bears