Up next in the series of Bears head coaching candidates is Todd Bowles. Previous reviews include:
Todd Bowles was born and raised in Elizabeth, NJ. Growing up in the now-demolished Pioneer Homes housing projects, he was able to ignore pitfalls and distractions that have taken down so many in the past. Bowles and his four siblings were raised by their mother and their parents divorced. She juggled two jobs as a librarian and a pharmaceutical lab assistant to support her children. Bowles played defensive back and served as team captain at Temple for coach Bruce Arians.
Todd Bowles’s Defensive Scheme
Bowles entered the NFL as a UDFA in 1986 and went on to play for Washington and San Francisco. He won one Super Bowl as a player (XXII) and one as an executive in Green Bay (XXXI). After serving in a player personnel role for two years with the Packers, he moved into the coaching side of the game. He became defensive coordinator for former teammate Doug Williams at Morehouse College and Grambling State before entering the NFL coaching world with the Jets. After stints in Cleveland and Dallas as a DB coach, he followed Tony Sporano to Miami as assistant head coach and DB coach.
Bowles spent one year with Andy Reid in Philadelphia before joining Bruce Arians in Arizona. He quickly became a head coaching candidate after boosting the Arizona defense to the top of the league, eventually accepting the Jets head coaching position in 2015.
In four seasons with the Jets, Bowles struggled. His first season was largely a success as New York narrowly missed the playoffs despite touting a top-10 defensive unit. But it was all downhill from there, and the Jets went 14-34 over the next three seasons. After being fired in 2018, he rejoined Arians in Tampa and molded that unit into one of the top defenses in the NFL.
Building a Coaching Staff:
In the graphic above, notable active coaches that Bowles has either coached or coached with are listed. I broke this down into offense and defense, and only included coaches you might expect to be attainable. Because of Bowles' massive coaching network, the graphic would have been too large had I included coaches that are unlikely to be willing to change their current role.
When Bowles was hired as head coach of the Jets in 2015, he was only able to take one assistant with him from Arizona. That was Mike Caldwell, who Bowles made assistant head coach. Caldwell is currently the inside linebackers coach for Tampa Bay.
Hiring an Offensive Coordinator
As detailed in the previous section, Bowles has a deep network to pull from for hiring his offensive coordinator. When he assumed the lead role for the Jets, he brought in Chan Gailey as OC. Bowles fired Gailey two years into his tenure with the Jets and replaced him with John Morton. But Morton only lasted one season, replaced by QB coach Jeremy Bates in 2018. Bates is a familiar face in Chicago, where he served as the Bears' QB coach in 2012.
Looking at these three coordinators, we will start with Chan Gailey. Gailey’s attack is a spread offense at its core. It includes many three- and four-WR sets in a pass-heavy scheme. In the run game, he primarily uses zone blocking concepts, although he does like to pull athletic guards into space. The offense used a lot of motion to uncover defenders’ intentions and moved the pocket often. However, it did not feature much play-action usage.
Similarly, John Morton ran a pass-heavy attack. He and Bates had coached together at USC and shared some core principles. This West Coast-leaning offense relied on QB decision-making and timing to play off mismatches. This offense demanded precision from route runners, including WRs, TEs, and RBs.
Based on Bowles’ previous offensive coordinator hires, one might expect him to target a spread or West Coast-leaning coordinator. A pass-heavy attack seems to be the style that Bowles prefers, which seems rare for a defensive-oriented head coach. He could also look to previous Arians' disciples who value more of a downfield attack.
Todd Bowles runs a fun defense. It is fun because they sit at the top of the league in blitz rate. In other words, this is a hyper-aggressive front. As a defensive coordinator, Bowles' defenses have consistently played with discipline and confidence. His players know what to do and where to be. The players in this defense are often “positionless”, meaning they could do anything on any given play.
Starting with the Buccaneers front seven, they boast an immensely talented group. They have had a top-ranked run defense every year since Bowles arrived. The defensive line is centered around speed and athleticism. Bowles' defenses rely on interior pressure from quicker linemen who maintain good size (Leonard Williams, Muhammed Wilkerson, Calais Campbell). Bowles will move the DL around with odd fronts and a focus on A-gap pressure. Moreover, players on the DL are not asked to two-gap, as Bowles runs a one-gap scheme.
At LB, Bowles likes to mask intentions heavily. He will simulate and fake pressure pre-snap to create confusion along the OL. As previously mentioned, linebackers are responsible for one gap in this defense. The responsibility might change play-to-play, but they are rarely asked to cover multiple spaces. The linebackers work off the DL to stunt and confuse the OL. Bowles sends his linebackers into any and every gap, drops them back in hook zone coverage, and demands them to take on blocks to stuff the run. They often serve in an agent-of-chaos-type role, meaning they must be able to excel in multiple roles. Bears' LB Roquan Smith could be extremely fun to watch in Bowles’ defense.
On the back end, the Buccaneers prefer to play Cover 3 (MOFC) with Cover 1 press man curveballs sprinkled in. Above all else, they aim to limit big plays and yards after the catch. Bowles wants to combine strong coverage with his aggressive front. When you are bringing additional heat at the QB, you need to have the coverage players to keep a cap on the offense. He needs big, fast guys who can cover 1v1. It all starts on the back end for his defenses.
Todd Bowles' Player Development History
Bowles brings a strong history of developing defensive backs and defensive players in general into good NFL players. He worked closely with Tyrann Mathieu, Devin White, Jamal Adams, Antoine Winfield Jr., Marcus Maye, and Leonard Williams, to name a few.
The chart shows a breakdown of the players drafted when Bowles served as DB coach, defensive coordinator, or head coach. When he was DB coach, I only included DBs. For when he was coordinator, I included all defensive players. And when he was head coach, I included all players drafted. Percentiles are based on AV share for every player drafted from 2001-2020.
Todd Bowles Summary
- Defensive player development track record, especially at DB.
- History of defensive success at multiple stops with results in run defense at every stop.
- A diverse defensive scheme that is consistently on the cutting edge.
- An extensive coaching network gives Bowles the ability to put together a strong coaching staff.
- Known for scheming around the talent available to him, with a strong reputation among players.
- Time with the NYJ is a massive black eye on his resume, especially for player development and offensive staffing decisions.
- Historical success rates of second-time head coaches who largely failed in their first attempt.
- Hiring a defensive mind in an offensive league.
- Lack of ability to find a quality offensive coordinator with the Jets.
Final Words on Todd Bowles
I love Todd Bowles’ defense. It is one of the most interesting defenses to watch in the NFL and has been that way for years. This man knows how to develop defensive talent and cater his unit to it. But is that enough? I have a serious pause from his time with the Jets, especially because of the musical chairs at the offensive coordinator spot when he was head coach. His massive coaching network suggests that he should be able to draw a quality OC with him, but why couldn’t he do that with the Jets?
If the time with the Jets was not on his resume, Bowles would be a very clear-cut candidate. And maybe I am putting too much emphasis on his time in a dysfunctional organization that did not have stability at the QB position. For now, that is enough to make me pause when considering Todd Bowles as the next Bears' head coach. However, I would be very excited about what he would do with the Bears’ defense.