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Does a Bears Reunion with Lovie Smith or Rod Marinelli Make Sense?

If the Bears are still in search of a defensive coordinator or defensive line coach, does a reunion with Lovie Smith or Rod Marinelli make sense?
Lovie Smith Bears

Photo: Norm Hall/Getty Images

Matt Eberflus wasn't my first choice to become the next Chicago Bears' head coach. However, there's a lot to like about him, and it's encouraging the more I look into his profile.

Eberflus is known as a defensive coach. Like Lovie Smith, Eberflus started his college coaching career as a linebackers coach. He got his start in the NFL with the Cleveland Browns, working as a linebackers coach under Eric Mangini from 2009-2010. He then went to the Dallas Cowboys to coach their linebackers and eventually became the defensive passing game coordinator as well. After spending seven seasons there, he became the Indianapolis Colts' defensive coordinator in 2018, which is where he's been until now.

While most fans and media are asking what this will mean for Justin Fields and the Bears' offense, there remain questions regarding the defense. Who will Eberflus choose to be his defensive coordinator? That remains to be seen, but a couple of familiar names come to mind -- Lovie Smith and Rod Marinelli. Not all reunions turn out well. Is this a rare occasion where it makes sense?

Each Coach's Availability

Lovie Smith

After five seasons as head coach at Illinois (2016-2020), Lovie Smith returned to the NFL this past season as a defensive coordinator. While Lovie's return to the NFL wasn't exactly triumphant, he helped the Houston Texans' defense improve dramatically.

Smith always preached takeaways during his time with the Bears. During the Lovie Smith era, the Bears led the NFL with 310 takeaways. His message got through in Houston as well. The Texans finished as a top-10 unit this past season with 25 takeaways, a massive improvement from only nine takeaways in 2020 before Smith arrived.

As Texans GM Nick Caserio continues to turn over the roster, he decided to move on from David Culley after only one season as head coach. With that said, Lovie Smith's job security is uncertain. Whoever takes over as Houston's head coach could decide to keep Lovie around. However, if the next coach's defensive philosophies don't align with Smith's, or he has another coach in mind, Lovie could be looking for a new place of work. That's where the Bears could come into play.

Furthermore, the Texans are not as talented as the Bears on that side of the ball. If asked to stay, he most likely will. However, a lateral move to the Bears in job title isn't unimaginable. Former Bears quarterback Josh McCown recently emerged as a head coaching candidate finalist. McCown played under Lovie Smith in 2011. If he gets the job, Lovie might stick around.

Rod Marinelli

Rod Marinelli never left the NFL as far as jobs go. He got his start in 1996 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Since then, he's coached for four teams, including a four-year stint with the Bears from 2009-2012. As you might recall, he started in 2009 as the assistant head coach and defensive line coach. Marinelli kept the assistant head coach title the following season but received a promotion to defensive coordinator.

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Following the 2012 season, Marinelli joined the Dallas Cowboys staff as a defensive line coach. After finishing 28th in takeaways and 24th in points allowed in 2013, the Cowboys let go of Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator. Marinelli took over the role, spending the next six seasons as their defensive line coach and coordinator. The Cowboys' defense immediately improved to second in takeaways and 15th in points allowed in 2014.

In 2020, Marinelli joined the Raiders coaching staff as a defensive line coach. He moved up to interim defensive coordinator when the team fired Paul Guenther after a Week 14 loss to the Colts. Before the 2021 season, the Raiders hired former Jaguars' head coach Gus Bradley as defensive coordinator. Las Vegas retained Marinelli as defensive line coach. However, much like Lovie Smith's situation, the Raiders' search for a new head coach continues. That means nothing is guaranteed for Marinelli. It appears former Bears players like the idea of him becoming the team's next DC.

Potential Fits in Chicago

Stylistically, both Smith and Marinelli fit. Both coaches were part of the Tampa 2 inception under head coach Tony Dungy. Dungy and Monte Kiffin are always credited for creating the Tampa 2 defense. However, as Dungy says, he basically modified Chuck Noll and Bud Carson's 1975 Steel Curtain defense. As for the revised version, Smith and Marinelli were in on it from the beginning. Both coaches got their starts in the NFL with the Bucs in 1996. Smith was a linebackers coach, while Marinelli was a defensive line coach.

Colts GM Chris Ballard worked as a scout for the Bears during Lovie's tenure. He was familiar with Eberflus' scheme, and it was part of the reason Ballard hired him to be the Colts' defensive coordinator. When Eberflus was defensive coordinator under Gary Pinkel at Missouri, he began using the Tampa 2 defense and often compared notes about the system with Lovie Smith.

Before Eberflus landed the defensive coordinator position with the Colts, he and Marinelli worked together in Dallas from 2013-2017. One would imagine there's already continuity between the two. Eberflus also adopted Marinelli's term "loaf," which was used during Lovie's tenure with the Bears. The term is basic, but it simply implies when a player isn't doing his job or hustling. As fellow On Tap Sports Net contributor Quinten Krzysko points out in his profile on the Bears' new head coach, Eberflus is a big proponent of H.I.T.S: Hustle, Intensity, Taking the Ball Away, and Smarts.

Players like Robert Quinn, Khalil Mack, and Trevis Gipson come to mind when thinking about Marinelli's potential impact on the defensive line. Part of the reason Quinn received a five-year, $70 million deal from the Bears ahead of the 2020 season was his success in Dallas under Marinelli. Quinn registered 11.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss in 14 games for Dallas in 2019. Coming off a franchise-record-breaking 18.5-sack season, Quinn should fit well in this 4-3 scheme, and Marinelli would be a familiar voice.

The Verdict

Eberflus' 4-3 base isn't strictly Cover 2, but that's the central concept he uses. As the game evolves, so does the effectiveness of certain schemes. Teams have been able to find more success against the Tampa 2 recently. Nonetheless, Eberflus implements different styles and adjusts to offenses, making it more of a modified Tampa 2 with blitz packages, single-high safety, and Cover 3 mixed in. Getting home to the quarterback with the front four linemen remains paramount in Eberflus' system, which Smith and Marinelli both well understand.

Rod Marinelli speaks highly of Eberflus. Recently on the GN Sports: Unedited podcast, Marinelli described the best attributes of Eberflus' coaching profile: "highly intelligent and really organized." When asked if he had any interest in coming back to the Bears, Marinelli said, "I'm still with the Raiders right now, but I'll say this, it was my favorite place I've ever coached."

In conclusion, it makes sense to bring one of these two coaches to Chicago if either becomes available. Frankly, as friends of mine pointed out, it makes too much sense. Whoever Eberflus chooses for this role will ultimately be someone like-minded who can implement his philosophies. I wouldn't rule a reunion out.

Eberflus has already brought his linebackers coach, Dave Borgonzi, and cornerbacks coach, James Rowe, to the Bears. I haven't seen specifications on whether Borgonzi will be a linebackers coach or not. Regardless, the Bears would be wise to explore Lovie Smith and Rod Marinelli as options, even if they wind up going another route.