Potential Frontrunner Emerges in Bears Search for Defensive Coordinator

James Bettcher Bears DC

Getty GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 11: Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher of the Arizona Cardinals walks out onto the field before the NFL game against the New England Patriots at the University of Phoenix Stadium on September 11, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

A new name emerged Tuesday as a potential frontrunner for the Chicago Bears defensive coordinator position. Chicago has interviewed James Bettcher, who last worked as the defensive coordinator for the New York Giants from 2018-2019, per NFL insider Ian Rapoport.

The Bears are also reported to be interviewing Indianapolis Colts defensive backs coach Jonathan Gannon, Dallas Cowboys senior defensive assistant George Edwards and two internal candidates: defensive line coach Jay Rodgers and safeties coach Sean Desai. Bettcher has a strong friendship with Bears head coach Matt Nagy, however, which could make him the candidate to beat for Chicago’s now-vacant DC position.

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Where Has Bettcher Coached Before?

Bettcher has been coaching since 2004, when he worked as the special teams coordinator and defensive line coach for the University of Saint Francis. He entered the NFL in 2012, when the Colts hired him as their outside linebackers coach. He is best known for his work with the Arizona Cardinals, where he put together some of the league’s best defenses from 2015-17.

Here’s a look at Bettcher’s resumé:

  • Saint Francis (IN) (2004–2005)
    Special teams coordinator & defensive line coach
  • Bowling Green (2006)
    Graduate assistant
  • North Carolina (2007–2009)
    Defensive assistant–graduate assistant
  • Ball State (2010)
    Special teams coach & defensive ends coach
  • New Hampshire (2011)
    Linebackers coach & special teams coach
  • Indianapolis Colts (2012)
    Outside linebackers coach
  • Arizona Cardinals (2013–2014)
    Outside linebackers coach
  • Arizona Cardinals (2015–2017)
    Defensive coordinator
  • New York Giants (2018–2019)
    Defensive coordinator

During his tenure as the Cardinals DC, his defenses finished 5th in the league in total defense in 2015 (321.7 yards per game), 2nd in 2016 (305.2 ypg) and 6th in 2017 (310.9). He didn’t have as much success with the Giants in 2018-19, but he also didn’t have near as much talent on defense.

If he caught on in Chicago, Bettcher would have the likes of Khalil Mack, Roquan Smith and Eddie Jackson, among others, to work with.

What Bettcher is Saying About His Style — & What Others Are Saying About Him

If he heads to the Windy City, Bears fans can expect a ton of blitzes. “Lives and dies by the blitz,” a personnel executive familiar with Bettcher told ESPN: “You need to have good personnel, especially in the back end.”

Bettcher sat out the 2020 season, but says he’s ready to get back to work this year. Does he have what it take to be counted among the league’s best? “Absolutely, yes. Especially if he can get his style of football players. His style of [defensive backs] specifically or his style of pass-rushers to go along with his coaches that can explain exactly what he is trying to do,” Texans safety Michael Thomas, who spent two seasons with Bettcher in New York, said, per ESPN. “I think Bettch can definitely be a top DC in this league.”

The defensive coordinator also told ESPN this about his style earlier this month: “No. 1, it’s a fast-playing, relentless, tough, smart [unit]. That is all it has ever been about for me. … Schematically that can look like whatever it needs to look like because we’re multiple. That’s what we have to be to defend ever-changing offenses,” he said, adding:

“It’s certainly my identity. Some people say I’m not defined by what I do, but I’m a little bit different from that standpoint,” he said. “I want my kids to know their dreams, chase them. What I do is highly important to me. It matters that my kids see that … whatever you decide to do in life, I hope it matters to you. I miss it. Miss it a ton.”

Nagy’s friendship with Bettcher seems key here — only Desai and Rodgers have relationships with the Bears head coach, and that’s because they’re the internal candidates. It’s also worth noting Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune reported that should the Bears hire Bettcher, it’s possible he would want to bring a few new position coaches with him.

Stay tuned, Bears fans. Things are starting to get interesting.

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