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5 Chicago Bears coaching candidates to replace Matt Eberflus in 2024

The Chicago Bears have been one of the worst teams in the NFL since hiring Matt Eberflus as head coach, but they have shown signs of life late in the 2023 season. However, expectations in Chicago are high and with a new quarterback potentially coming in, it’s time to evaluate Bears coaching candidates.

Chicago could theoretically keep Eberflus, buying into his impressive work in turning around the defense as a reason to buy him another year. However, the Bears’ offense is still a mess and if the team is going to find a top offensive play-caller, they might as well make him the next head coach in Chicago.

Let’s dive into our Chicago Bears coaching candidates in 2023.

Chicago Bears coaching candidates

Ben Johnson, Detroit Lions offensive coordinator

Syndication: Detroit Free Press

Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson was one of our favorite NFL coaching candidates for 2023. While he ultimately turned down an opportunity to become the Carolina Panthers head coach, everything we’ve seen from him as Detroit’s play-caller in recent years proves why he’s who you want to be partnered with a young quarterback.

Related: NFL coaching hot seat

There are a variety of ways to highlight Johnson’s prowess as a play-caller and offensive architect. In Jared Goff’s best seasons with Sean McVay (2017-’18), he posted a 100.8 QB rating with a 63.6% completion rate, 60-19 TD-INT split, 8.2 yards per attempt and averaged 273.9 passing yards per game. In Goff’s last two seasons with Johnson, he boasts a 99.2 QB rating with a 65.9% completion rate, 35-10 TD-INT line, 7.6 yards per attempt and averaged 260.3 passing yards per game.

“The way he’s explaining the plays, the way he’s detailed with how we’ve got to run these routes in the red zone, I just knew the way he was talking to us, it just felt different. I told one of my teammates, I forgot who it was, I was like, ‘Bro, when Ben gets up there, he knows exactly what he’s talking about, he’s telling us what he sees in this play, what he wants us to do. There’s no gray area. It’s super detailed.'”

Amon-Ra St. Brown on Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson (H/T ESPN)

As far as the Lions’ offensive efficiency, they are among the best in the NFL. Detroit averaged the fourth-highest yards per play (5.9) and placed fourth for red-zone touchdown rate (66.2%), Johnson maximizes his players’ strengths and does a phenomenal job of confusing defenses. Plus, he excels at explaining why things work and what he does to his players. That is exactly the type of coach you want working with Caleb Williams or Drake Maye.

Bobby Slowik, Houston Texans offensive coordinator

NFL: Houston Texans Head Coach DeMeco Ryans Introductory Press Conference
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There would certainly be some risk in hiring Houston Texans offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik. He’s only a few games into his first season as a play-caller, which means evaluations are made based on a small sample size. However, the work he is doing with quarterback C.J. Stroud is phenomenal.

Related: 2023 NFL power rankings

While Stroud was viewed as the most pro-ready quarterback entering the 2023 NFL Draft, he lacked elite physical traits. To make matters worse, the Texans’ situation deteriorated even further before the regular season with multiple starters on the offensive line missing. It seemed like a situation that would’ve led to disastrous results for Stroud and this offense.

Instead, thanks to Slowik, Stroud is enjoying a historic rookie season. He became just the sixth player in NFL history to average 300-plus passing yards per game with zero interceptions through the first four games of a season. He also has the second-most passing yards by a quarterback through four starts in NFL history.

YearPPGYards per Play3rd Down RateRed Zone TD Rate
Houston Texans offensive comparison before and after the hiring of Bobby Slowik

Houston’s quick-hitting offense keeps everything in rhythm and it is also doing wonders for this offensive line. Despite missing three starters, including both offensive tackles, Houston has allowed the 11th-fewest sacks (three) and pressures (26) from Weeks 2-4. A play-caller who can make things easy for a rookie quarterback and mask problems with an offensive line is exactly the type of coach who should be partnered with a young signal-caller on a rebuilding team. Plus, we know NFL teams love diving into the Kyle Shanahan pool and Slowik’s time with the San Francisco 49ers was instrumental in shaping how he coaches today.

Frank Smith, Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator

NFL: AFC Wild Card Round-Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills
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Miami Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa get a majority of the credit for the team’s success publicly. However, there’s a reason Jeff Howe of The Athletic profiled Frank Smith as one of the best-kept secrets in the NFL.

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“He has a thorough understanding of the game and is a great teacher, which is really what coaching is all about.He also has a unique ability to anticipate problems before they arise, be that on the field or in administrative-type things related to schedules, questions that will come up with players or coaches, etc. 

Miami Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel on offensive coordinator Frank Smith

Smith, who turns 43 in February, has been coaching in the NFL since 2010 with the New Orleans Saints. It all started as an offensive line coach, a path that had been very successful for many before him. By 2021, Smith was the Los Angeles Chargers run-game coordinator and offensive line coach. When McDaniel took over in Miami, one of the first moves he made was hiring Smith as offensive coordinator.

Not only has Smith learned from McDaniel in the past two years, he’s also served on coaching staffs for Sean Payton and John Fox. He’s also credited with helping Pro Bowl tight end Darren Waller with his sobriety and is renowned for being one of the best assistant coaches in the NFL at being able to connect with players and coach them up in ways tailored to what works for them.

Just look at the Arizona Cardinals as an example of what happens when an entire locker room is bought in on the head coach. Smith’s also an ideal fit for young teams that need their incoming talent and developing players to be mentored. As for his offensive mind, his instrumental role in Miami’s success since the 2022 season should speak for itself.

Brian Johnson, Philadelphiaa Eagles offensive coordinator

NFL: Washington Commanders at Philadelphia Eagles
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If Shane Steichen hadn’t become the Indianapolis Colts head coach in 2023, the Philadelphia Eagles wouldn’t have Brian Johnson. He was highly sought after this past offseason, with multiple teams wanting to bring him in to interview for offensive coordinator vacancies. Instead, he filled the void left by Steichen.

Related: NFL insider reveals Justin Fields’ trade value for Chicago Bears

Before landing in Philadelphia in 2021 as the Eagles’ quarterbacks coach, where he worked one-on-one with Jalen Hurts, Johnson worked with the Florida Gators. As the Gators’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2020, he helped design one of the best offenses in college football. Then, working alongside Hurts in 2022, he helped Philadephia finish with one of the best passing offenses in the NFL.

  • Florida Gators offense (2020): 378.6 pass ypg (1st in FBS), 26.3 first downs per game (8th), 7.3 yards per play (9th), 39.8 ppg (13th)
  • Philadelphia Eagles passing offense (2022): 65.5% completion rate 11th in NFL), 7.9 yards per attempt (2nd), 98.7 QB rating (6th)

Hurts has raved about Johnson, crediting Johnson for so much of the success in his career. For a team like Chicago, which will almost certainly draft one of the top quarterbacks in the 2024 NFL Draft, Johnson’s track record of working with quarterbacks like Hurts, Anthony Richardson and Dak Prescott is important.

The Bears opted to go with a defensive-minded head coach during their last search and it backfired. Now, Chicago can’t afford to whiff on its upcoming decision in 2024. Whether it’s Johnson, Smith, Slowik or another bright offensive mind, the next Bears’ head coach needs to be someone who can get the most out of the No. 1 pick and create an offensive system that will last for years.

Jim Harbaugh, Michigan Wolverines

Syndication: Detroit Free Press
Credit: Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

If Chicago is going to swing for the fences, they might as well go big with Jim Harbaugh. Luring him away from Michigan will be expensive, as in making Harbaugh one of the highest-paid coaches in pro football, but there’s little doubt regarding his ability to deliver results.

As an NFL head coach, Harbaugh went 44-19-1 with a San Francisco 49ers team that was a complete disaster before he took over. He turned Colin Kaepernick into a breakout star and by his second year, Harbaugh’s 49ers were in the Super Bowl. Before front-office drama derailed things in 2014, Harbaugh went 36-11 in his first three seasons with San Francisco.

He has been just as successful in college, wildly exceeding expectations at Stanford and San Diego before turning the Wolverines back into a national championship contender. Most importantly, Harbaugh’s track record with quarterbacks is nearly unmatched. That’s why he’s one of our favorite Bears coaching candidates for 2024.

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