Bears

Hoge’s Offseason Notebook No. 2: Why Tucker Wasn’t Fired

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Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

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By Adam Hoge-

(CBS) – The angst from fans is understandable.

In a simplistic sense, the idea that a defensive coordinator could keep his job after the worst defensive year in Chicago Bears franchise history — and it was the worst — is hard to fathom.

The Bears allowed 6,502 yards from scrimmage in 2013, 526 more yards than the previous single-season high set in 1989.

The Bears also allowed 6,313 total net yards in 2013, 584 more yards than the previous single-season high set in 1989.

Those are epically bad numbers.

And someone had to take the fall, right?

Well, two people did, as the Bears fired defensive line coach Mike Phair and linebackers coach Tim Tibesar Sunday.

Based on the reaction by fans over the last 24 hours, those names were not satisfying enough. It seems the majority wanted defensive coordinator Mel Tucker fired.

But anytime you fire a coach, you have to think about who you are going to replace that coach with.

The reality is that Tucker is still widely respected around the league and general manager Phil Emery and head coach Marc Trestman still believe he is the right guy to coach a defense that will be healthier and younger in 2014.

Admittedly, Tucker was far from perfect in 2013. There were times when the Bears appeared to be in the wrong defense or overloaded to the wrong side. Late in the season, specific deficiencies were making the Bears predictable and opponents schemed to exploit those weaknesses (more on that below).

Undoubtedly, there was a talent problem in 2013. Emery took the blame for that at the end of the season, taking responsibility for putting McClellin at defensive end and not creating enough competition at linebacker. It wasn’t all Emery’s fault, however, as he had no control over the rash of injuries that wiped out defensive tackle Henry Melton, defensive tackle Nate Collins, middle linebacker D.J. Williams, linebacker Lance Briggs, cornerback Charles Tillman, and even defensive end Turk McBride and cornerback Kelvin Hayden in the preseason.

Younger, inexperienced players filled in and had problems knowing where to be and what to do. The coaching staff was transparent about players being in the wrong gap and failing to do their specific job.

Problems like that occur on every defense, every season. But usually they get corrected. When those problems persist, either the players aren’t good enough or the coaches are good enough.

For the Bears in 2013, the final verdict that it was a little bit of both — after all, Phair and Tibesar were let go Sunday.

So why did they take the fall?

One of the most important jobs of position coaches is to develop young talent and, despite all the injuries, there didn’t appear to be much ascension among the young linebackers and defensive linemen.

To be honest, Tibesar’s firing isn’t all that surprising. After previously coaching for Trestman in Montreal, Tibesar failed miserably in his jump to defensive coordinator with Purdue in 2012 and he didn’t exactly seem qualified for the job he got with the Bears.

As for Phair, it wouldn’t be fair to pin him with the blame for McClellin’s shortcomings — not with Emery accepting responsibility for playing the former 3-4 linebacker out of position. Meanwhile, the decrease in production of a 33-year-old defensive end (Julius Peppers) can’t be pinned on a position coach either. Otherwise, we’re talking about guys like Landon Cohen, David Bass, Cheta Ozougwu, Christian Tupou and Zach Minter. Only three of those guys were drafted — Cohen, Bass and Ozougwu — and both were seventh rounders.

If anything, Phair should get credit for Corey Wootton playing admirably out of position for most of the season and Jeremiah Ratliff providing noticeable contributions after joining the team mid-season after a major groin injury a year ago.

To be frank, it’s hard to view Phair’s firing as anything other than a Lovie Smith hold-over acting as the scapegoat.

That said, coaching changes are always more about the future than the past and that is usually forgotten. It would only be speculation to say that either Phair or Tibesar didn’t do enough to develop players like McClellin and rookie linebackers Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene. That may or may not be true, but either way, it has been determined that they won’t be the guys to continue to develop those players going forward.

Two new position coaches will found. And they will both coach under Mel Tucker, who Emery and Trestman have decided is the right guy to lead the future Bears defense, no matter what happened in the past.

A Look Back

Before the 2013 season, 16 contributors from 670 The Score voted for the 10 most important Bears players — in other words, the 10 players that would have the greatest impact on the success or failure of the season.

Maybe this will put the Bears’ injury problems in perspective for you: Of those 10 most important players, three of them landed on season-ending injured reserve (No. 7 D.J. Williams, No. 9 Henry Melton and No. 10 Charles Tillman), while two others (No. 1 Jay Cutler and No. 4 Lance Briggs) missed 12 games combined.

Obviously four of those players are key defensive contributors, while the other is the starting quarterback. Thinking about it like that, the Bears are fortunate they finished 8-8.

My All-NFL Ballot

The Pro Football Writers Association announced their All-NFL, All-AFC and All-NFC teams Monday. Here’s how I voted:

All-NFL

QB: Peyton Manning, Broncos
RB: LeSean McCoy, Eagles and Jamaal Charles, Chiefs
WR: Demaryius Thomas, Broncos and Brandon Marshall, Bears
TE: Jimmy Graham, Saints
C: Alex Mack, Browns
OG: Evan Mathis, Eagles and Josh Sitton, Packers
OT: Joe Thomas, Browns and Trent Williams, Redskins

DE: J.J. Watt, Texans and Robert Quinn, Rams
DT: Gerald McCoy, Buccaneers and Ndamukong Suh, Lions
OLB: Robert Mathis, Colts and Lavonte David, Buccaneers
ILB: Luke Kuechly, Panthers
CB: Richard Sherman, Seahawks and Brent Grimes, Dolphins
S: Earl Thomas, Seahawks and Eric Berry, Chiefs

K: Justin Tucker, Ravens
P: Johnny Hekker, Rams
KR: Cordarrelle Patterson, Vikings
PR: Dexter McCluster, Chiefs
ST: Justin Bethel, Cardinals

All-AFC

QB: Peyton Manning, Broncos
RB: Jamaal Charles, Chiefs and Knowshon Moreno, Broncos
WR: Demaryius Thomas, Broncos and Antonio Brown, Steelers
TE: Jordan Cameron, Browns
C: Alex Mack, Browns
OG: Louis Vasquez, Broncos and Marshal Yanda, Ravens
OT: Joe Thomas, Browns and Nate Solder, Patriots

DE: J.J. Watt, Texans and Kyle Williams, Bills
DT: Jurrell Casey, Titans and Dontari Poe, Chiefs
OLB: Robert Mathis, Colts and Justin Houston, Chiefs
ILB: Vontaze Burfict, Bengals
CB: Brent Grimes, Dolphins and Joe Haden, Browns
S: Eric Berry, Chiefs and Devin McCourty, Patriots

K: Justin Tucker, Ravens
P: Brandon Fields, Dolphins
KR: Quintin Demps, Chiefs
PR: Dexter McCluster, Chiefs
ST: Robert Golden, Steelers

All-NFC

QB: Drew Brees, Saints
RB: LeSean McCoy, Eagles and Matt Forte, Bears
WR: Brandon Marshall, Bears and Jordy Nelson, Packers
TE: Jimmy Graham, Saints
C: Ryan Kalil, Panthers
OG: Evan Mathis, Eagles and Josh Sitton, Packers
OT: Trent Williams, Redskins and Joe Staley, 49ers

DE: Robert Quinn, Rams and Greg Hardy, Panthers
DT: Gerald McCoy, Buccaneers and Ndamukong Suh, Lions
OLB: Lavonte David, Buccaneers and Thomas Davis, Panthers
ILB: Luke Kuechly, Panthers
CB: Richard Sherman, Seahawks and Patrick Peterson, Cardinals
S: Earl Thomas, Seahawks and Kam Chancellor, Seahawks

K: Robbie Gould, Bears
P: Johnny Hekker, Rams
KR: Cordarrelle Patterson, Vikings
PR: Golden Tate, Seahawks
ST: Justin Bethel, Cardinals

College Prospect Of The Week

CB Ricardo Allen – Purdue

Allen is someone to watch closely at this week’s East-West Shrine Game. At 5-9, 186, he’s not necessarily an ideal corner for the Bears, as they need more size at the position if they lose Charles Tillman. That will take a early-round pick, however, and Allen could provide some value later in the draft.

Allen exploded onto the college scene in 2010 as a second-team All-American. Since then, however, he hasn’t received as much national attention, mainly because he has played on horrible defenses on a bad team for the last three years. That said, he still stands out on tape and is a playmaker. His size will keep him from moving up into the early rounds, but he’s a quick, physical corner who can jam at the line and break on the ball. Scouts will want to see how he handles bigger receivers, but I expect him to impress during pre-draft workouts and get drafted somewhere around the fifth round.

Film Session

Earlier I mentioned how the Bears were becoming predictable on defense late in the season. This was particularly evident against the 7-9 Rams. That game seemed to be the point where personnel deficiencies started to reflect poorly on the coaching staff. It’s one thing for one or two players to struggle at something, but it’s another to let your opponent repeatedly exploit that.

Here’s the film breakdown I did after the Rams game. So, player problem or coaching problem? That’s the question Emery and Trestman spent the last two weeks answering.

Extra Point

While the attention the last two weeks has been on the defensive coaching staff, the Bears managed to retain a key offensive coach. Wide receivers coach Mike Groh was linked to the Alabama offensive coordinator job, but it ultimately went to Lane Kiffin. Groh was previously Alabama’s recruiting coordinator before joining the Bears and he did great work in 2013. Not only did Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery make the Pro Bowl, but both were among the league’s top blocking wide receivers, along with Earl Bennett. Groh was a good fit with Jeffery and the Bears are also happy with the progress of Marquess Wilson, who figures to play a bigger role next season.

Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.

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