Ex-Packers Defensive Coordinator Lands New Job With Bears

Bears Hire Mike Pettine

Getty Head coach Mike Pettine of the Cleveland Browns watches from the sidelines during the first half against the Cincinnati Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium on December 6, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio.

Mike Pettine will not be leaving the NFC North after all.

The Chicago Bears announced Wednesday night they had hired the former Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator as a senior defensive assistant on their 2021 coaching staff. Pettine spent the past three seasons in charge of the Packers’ defense but was not retained when his contract expired after the 2020 season.

Pettine’s hiring comes after The Chicago Tribune reported at the end of January that Bears head coach Matt Nagy was considering creating a senior assistant position on his staff to help newly-promoted defensive coordinator Sean Desai adjust to the job. They could certainly do a lot worse than the 54-year-old Pettine, who has eight years of experience as a defensive coordinator and two as a head coach.

Under Pettine’s guidance in 2020, the Packers finished ninth in total defense (334 yards allowed per game) and tied the Bears as the 13th-best scoring defense (23.1 points allowed per game), but they also experienced some breakdowns at key defensive moments, including in the NFC title game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Ultimately, Packers head coach Matt LaFleur decided it was time for a change and moved on from Pettine in favor of Joe Barry — a longer-tenured defensive assistant who spent the past four seasons with Sean McVay and the Los Angeles Rams.

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Will Pettine’s Experience Aid Desai in New Role?

The Bears made a bold decision when they promoted Desai, their 37-year-old safeties coach, to become Chuck Pagano’s successor for the 2021 season. In essence, they are trusting someone with just two years of experience as a position coach to take over their top defensive job, hence their desire to hire a senior assistant that can lend a hand.

Pettine can certainly draw upon his wealth of experience when advising Desai. He got his NFL start as a coaching assistant for the Baltimore Ravens from 2002-03 and worked his way up to assistant defensive line coach (2004) and outside linebackers coach (2005-08) before finally taking a top defensive job with the New York Jets.

Pettine found immediate success in New York with the Jets championing the NFL’s best defense during the 2009 season. He spent a total of four seasons as Rex Ryan’s most trusted assistant before eventually moving on to the same position in Buffalo, but he was poached after only a single year with the Bills for a head-coaching opportunity with the Cleveland Browns.

While Pettine went 10-22 in his two seasons leading the Browns, he has since spent all of his time working with championship-caliber teams, including as a consultant for the Seattle Seahawks in 2017 and the past three seasons with the Packers. Even if Desai gains nothing more than what not to do from Pettine in their time together, it could still help keep the Bears’ defense from losing its high standard.

Revenge Games for Pettine?

To his credit, LaFleur never spoke poorly of Pettine during their two seasons together in Green Bay. He opted to keep him on as the most notable holdover from Mike McCarthy’s final coaching staff. He stuck with him after an embarrassing rout in the 2019 NFC championship game. Packers fans, however, rarely showed him such loyalty.

It is possible Pettine will have revenge on the mind when the Bears meet the Packers for the first time next season. He won’t be directly in charge of a unit that can prove its superiority over the Packers, but his expertise on both the Packers’ defense and their team as a whole could come in handy for Chicago. The Bears only won one of its six matchups against Pettine’s Packers defenses, and he surely picked up on a few ways to exploit LaFleur’s offense over the past two seasons.

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