Bob Sanders has been fired as defensive coordinator of the Green Bay Packers.
The National Football Post was the first to report the news on Sunday night. The National Football Post is run in part by Andrew Brandt, the Packers' former salary-cap guru and contract negotiator. A source confirmed the news to Packer Report.
The source said former San Francisco 49ers coach Mike Nolan is a top candidate to replace Sanders. Packers coach Mike McCarthy was Nolan's offensive coordinator in 2005. Another source said if Nolan gets the job, the Packers likely will change to a 3-4 defense.
With Sanders' dismissal and special-teams coordinator Mike Stock's retirement, McCarthy will have replaced two-thirds of his coordinators this offseason.
"All of our schemes are under evaluation right now," McCarthy said in his season-ending news conference last week. "That's what you do right now. That's what this time is for. We'll look at the run defense, we'll look at all those things. We'll look at the base concepts in normal (down and distances) all the way through. That's what you spend the time for. That's why you make educated decisions. It will be no different when I sit down with the offense and special teams."
Nolan had success with his 3-4 scheme in Baltimore, and on the surface, a switch to that scheme makes since in Green Bay. The Packers have three above-average defensive linemen in ends Aaron Kampman and Cullen Jenkins and tackle Ryan Pickett, and they have five quality linebackers in Nick Barnett, A.J. Hawk, Brady Poppinga, Desmond Bishop and Brandon Chillar.
An end in a 4-3, however, doesn't equate to an end in a 3-4. An end in a 3-4 scheme is more akin to a defensive tackle, so Jenkins and Kampman likely are too light to be effective. Plus, the outside linebackers in a 3-4 scheme must be good pass-rushers, and if this season proved anything, the Packers don't have pass-rushing linebackers.
There is practically an unprecedented number of proven defensive coordinators on the market. Like Nolan, who was fired at midseason by San Francisco, three head coaches who were fired last week — the Jets' Eric Mangini, the Browns' Romeo Crennel and the Lions' Rod Marinelli — have defensive backgrounds. Mangini, however, is the favorite to replace Crennel in Cleveland. Mangini and Crennel run 3-4 schemes while Marinelli is a 4-3 coach.
Assuming interim Rams head coach Jim Haslett doesn't get the full-time gig, he would be available, too. Like Nolan, Haslett has ties to McCarthy. McCarthy was Haslett's offensive coordinator in New Orleans from 2000 to 2004. Haslett runs a 4-3 scheme that is heavy on blitzes. The Packers' blitzing mostly failed this season, but successful blitz schemes are something that's developed over time. While Sanders dabbled with pressure packages, it never was made a priority, so perhaps the right coach can get more out of the linebackers or aggressive safeties Atari Bigby and Aaron Rouse.
Also, the Jaguars didn't renew the contract of coordinator Gregg Williams, who also runs a 4-3 scheme.
Another option would be moving linebackers coach/assistant head coach Winston Moss into the job. Moss, however, has interviewed for St. Louis' head job. Moss, who would be a popular choice in the locker room, has said he's not married to Sanders' scheme.
And finally, another possibility could be former New York Giants linebacker Pepper Johnson. Johnson is New England's linebackers coach and has worked with defensive mastermind Bill Belichick. He'd likely bring the 3-4 scheme run by the Patriots.
Most likely, McCarthy has his man in mind, since it makes little sense to make a move without a replacement ready to roll. Time is of the essence if the new coordinator is going to make major changes in scheme that would require new personnel.
While there was plenty of blame to go around for the Packers' fall from 13-3 to 6-10, Sanders' defense was the biggest culprit.
The defense's problems were especially evident late in games. The Packers yielded a whopping 135 points in the fourth quarter, with many of those coming in key junctures of the Packers' seven losses by four points or less.
In the final tally, the Packers' defense ranked 22nd in the league in points allowed and 20th in yards. Last season, the Packers tied for sixth in points allowed and were 11th in yards.
Injuries were a major issue, though, with four stalwarts — Jenkins, Barnett, Bigby and cornerback Al Harris — missing a combined 32 starts. Plus, defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila never recovered from offseason knee injury and was released at midseason because he wasn't providing any pass rush.
Sanders never found an answer to the lack of a pass rush. More damning, though, were the so-called communication breakdowns. As a third-year coordinator with mostly the same personnel, those breakdowns should have been practically nonexistent.
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: Sanders out as coordinator
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