The diligence and energy that the 59-year old Bates brought to the Packers' defense this year was evident each week and those qualities are transferable to becoming a head coach. With nearly the same personnel on defense as in 2004, the Packers implemented Bates' schemes with much success and the unit played harder as a whole. Finishing seventh overall in the league (and No. 1 against the pass), it jumped up 18 spots in the rankings from a year ago.
In practice, Bates was tough on his players and stressed the fundamentals. They got the message because they played like Bates coached. Missed assignments and missed tackles were few and far between. The consistency that was displayed had not been seen since 1998, the last time the Packers' defense had a ranking as high as this past season.
Furthermore, the defense had no true standout players. Sure, cornerback Al Harris and Nick Barnett had good seasons, but neither reached the Pro Bowl and no one else in the starting lineup can be reasonably argued to be among the top five at their position in the league. This is a sign that Bates is more than a just an average coach and can get players to play above their potential.
Bates has 38 years of coaching experience at the collegiate and professional levels and that makes him not only unique, but also more qualified than anyone else. Four times in his career he has been promoted and twice he has been a head coach (once in the USFL). He was also an assistant head coach with the Cowboys from 1998-99.
While as the interim head coach with the Dolphins in 2004, Bates gained perhaps his most notoriety around the league. Taking over a declining Dolphins team after Dave Wannstedt resigned, Bates would not let his team quit. They were 1-8 at the time, the worst team in the NFL, but rebounded over the final seven games under Bates to finish the year 4-12. Among the victories over that final stretch was a 29-28 decision over the eventual Super Bowl Champion Patriots on Monday Night Football.
Maybe the most important reason that Bates is the man for the Packers is that he is an unquestioned leader. He is not just a defensive mind, but can lead an entire team as evident by his short stint with the Dolphins.
Though general manager Ted Thompson did not say anything too revealing on Monday when talking of his search for a new coach for the Packers, he did say that the current Packers' assistant coaches had not all been released from their jobs. Typically, when a head coach is fired, his staff is let go as well. What that says for Bates' chances is that he is probably the leading candidate for the job and will have every opportunity to win it. Thompson likely realizes that he cannot lose Bates, and with another coach coming in, he may. That is a chance he cannot take.
Defense wins championships and always will. The Packers have been on the offensive-minded, West Coast wagon for too long. Sure, they have done well with it, but it is time for a change to the defensive side of the ball. This season was an indication of that. There is no better man at this time to get the job done, with the candidates that are available, than Bates.
Editor's note: Matt Tevsh is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.