Around the NFC North

The Bears still don't seem to have a clear-cut plan at QB, the Lions are considering numerous candidates as their next head coach, and the Packers were busy shaking up their coaching staff under Mike McCarthy. Just because the season is over doesn't mean the Vikings' NFC North rivals weren't busy.

CHICAGO BEARS

Despite Jerry Angelo's less-than-overwhelming comments on Kyle Orton and the Bears' quarterback situation, it's still a mystery how the Bears plan to address the position in the off-season.

Angelo did not rule out the possibility that Orton has a chance to be the guy the Bears are looking for, but the Bears' G.M. said he won't be convinced until he sees Orton perform at a high level for a full season.

Then Angelo assigned an unprecedented - for him — level of importance to the Bears' QB position, hinting strongly that more competition was needed.

"It starts with the quarterback," Angelo said. "It's all about the quarterback. You don't win because of wide receivers. You don't win because of running backs. You win because of the quarterback. We've got to get the quarterback position stabilized. We're fixated on that."

Which could mean that the Bears could do more than bringing in a quarterback to compete with Orton. It's possible they could target an established veteran to play ahead of him for a season or two. And, if the Bears really believe that the quarterback position is that important, they need to bring in someone better than Orton. More specifically, better than Orton is right now, which doesn't prevent them from keeping him for the one year he has left on his contract and using an older player to mentor him.

Kurt Warner anyone? His name has been bandied about, and it makes some sense, more than most of the other names that have been put forward.

If he and the Cardinals are as far apart as it seems on a new contract, Warner could be the ideal caretaker of the Bears' QB position and might provide the biggest upgrade possible for an offense that is missing a lot of pieces.

Chris Simms doesn't make any sense. Nothing against Phil's baby boy, but he's started three games in the past three years with a passer rating of 46.3. In five years, he's started 15 games. He's played less than Orton and accomplished less.

The Bills' J.P. Losman? Really? He's had more TD passes than interceptions in just one of his five seasons and seems to have regressed since 2006, his only decent season.

Angelo mentioned the success this season of the over-the-hill gang of Gus Frerotte, Kerry Collins, Jeff Garcia and Warner.

All except Frerotte are scheduled to become free agents in March.
Warner will be 38 before next season starts. But he didn't appear over the hill for most of the 2008 season, although there has to be concern about his survival behind a mediocre offensive line. The greater concern is that Warner's current receivers — Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston - are all better than anyone on the Bears' roster.

But Warner still makes more sense than the others with the possible exception of Garcia.

Collins' passer rating was less than a point better than Orton's, and he's 36. That's not even a lateral move because Collins threw just 12 TD passes this season and, in a 14-year career, has never been more than an average quarterback, and he's usually been closer to mediocre. He's not a guy who makes those around him better.

Garcia actually makes sense, but only if the Bears are also going to start drafting and developing quarterbacks, which they should continue to do until they're convinced Orton or some other veteran is the long-term answer. Garcia will be 39 in February, so he's obviously a quick and short-term fix. But he plays much younger than his age and has excellent mobility. His passer rating has been over 90 in each of the past three seasons, with a TD-interception ratio of 35-12.

Garcia has been a starter and a backup, so even if Orton steps up his game and wins the job, the Bears have greatly improved their depth at a position Angelo says is of utmost importance.

COACHING CAROUSEL: The Bears fired linebackers coach Lloyd Lee Tuesday, leaving coach Lovie Smith with three defensive coaching positions to fill.

Fired Lions coach Rod Marinelli, who interviewed at Halas Hall last week, is still considered a strong candidate to land on Smith's staff after his Monday interview with the Seahawks did not result in a job.

Defensive line coach Brick Haley, who was not going to be back next season anyway, is expected to be announced as LSU's defensive line coach soon. Last week, defensive backs coach Steven Wilks was fired.

Lee originally joined the Bears in 2004 and spent two years as a defensive quality control coach, before becoming a defensive assistant working with the linebackers (2006) and nickel backs (2007). Last season was his first as linebackers coach. Haley spent two seasons as the Bears' defensive line coach.

The Bears finished 21st in total yards allowed, 29th in sacks and 30th in passing yards allowed.

Defensive coordinator Bob Babich is still on the hot seat, but the feeling is that Smith won't fire his long-time friend, although a demotion would not surprise anyone.

The Bears are making a strong push for Marinelli, who they were interested in when Smith got the top job in 2004 and again in 2006 before he took the Lions job. He could be given the defensive line position, with an "assistant head coach," title thrown in.

DETROIT LIONS

What kind of coach do the Lions want to hire?

Based on their list of candidates and the background of general manager Martin Mayhew, it's likely an up-and-coming assistant who can fix their historically horrible defense.

But you never know. The Lions might want an offensive mind who could nurture a new franchise quarterback.

Most of the Lions' candidates are defensive assistants. Three are former NFL defensive backs. Two were NFL teammates of Mayhew, a former cornerback himself.

The Lions' candidates include five defensive coordinators: the Giants' Steve Spagnuolo, the Titans' Jim Schwartz, the Ravens' Rex Ryan, the Vikings' Leslie Frazier and the Chargers' Ron Rivera.

Spagnuolo and Schwartz have interviewed. Frazier is interviewed Friday. Ryan could interview Sunday. Rivera has said he will not consider any jobs until the Chargers' season ends.

Two secondary coaches also are candidates: the Redskins' Jerry Gray and the Dolphins' Todd Bowles. Both have interviewed.

Frazier, Gray and Bowles were NFL defensive backs. Frazier coached under Tony Dungy, for whom Mayhew played. Gray played with Mayhew for a season in Tampa Bay. Bowles played with him for a season in Washington.

The past two seasons, the Lions ranked last in average yards and points allowed. This season, they allowed 517 points, second-most in NFL history. They had only four interceptions, an NFL record-low for a 16-game schedule, and only one was by a defensive back.

The Lions have not forgotten about offense, however. They hold the No. 1 pick in the draft and could take a quarterback for the future, and they have three candidates who could help in that scenario.

Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett has interviewed. Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey is a candidate. And the Lions have shown interest in Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh, though Harbaugh is finalizing a contract extension at the school.

Harbaugh played quarterback at the University of Michigan, went to Chicago in the first round and spent time with the Lions before the 2001 season. Lions president Tom Lewand, who served as a student manager for the Wolverines, knows Harbaugh.

COACHING CAROUSEL: Assistant offensive line coach Mike Barry and secondary coach Jimmy Lake were fired. Defensive line coach Joe Cullen's contract will not be renewed.

Offensive coordinator Jim Colletto was reassigned to offensive line coach. The assistant coaches remaining must wait and see if the new head coach wants to retain them or replace them.

GREEN BAY PACKERS

Just days after suggesting that he would keep an open mind to retooling the defense, head coach Mike McCarthy orchestrated a series of bold moves that could lead to a new defensive look next season.

What is believed to be the most substantial coaching shakeup for the Packers in an off-season when there wasn't a change made with the head coach went down Monday. Five of the team's seven defensive coaches, including coordinator Bob Sanders, as well as strength and conditioning coordinator Rock Gullickson, had their jobs terminated.

The massive shakeup came after special teams coordinator Mike Stock, who was on the hot seat along with Sanders at season's end, retired Jan. 2.

"These are difficult decisions," McCarthy said. "I hold each of these men in high regard on a personal level, and I want to thank them for their service to the Green Bay Packers."

Also fired were defensive ends coach Carl Hairston, defensive tackles coach Robert Nunn, secondary coach Kurt Schottenheimer and cornerbacks coach Lionel Washington, who was the longest-tenured Green Bay assistant on the staff with 10 years of service.

Team president Mark Murphy endorsed the massive coaching purge made by general manager Ted Thompson and McCarthy in the wake of the Packers' 6-10 record - an unprecedented seven-game free fall from the previous season, when Green Bay came within an overtime field goal of playing in Super Bowl XLII.

"I think part of it is we can't accept losing seasons," Murphy told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "We fully supported both Mike and Ted that this was a decision we needed to make for football reasons.

"The way I viewed it, it's a pretty strong message that we want to win here," Murphy added. "That's the priority."

At the top of McCarthy's agenda in the off-season is to clean up the mess that was the Packers' defense for most of the past season. McCarthy had proclaimed at the start of the preseason that the defense would be the "starting point" for the 2008 team, which was moving forward without legendary quarterback Brett Favre.

Instead, a unit that was gashed heavily by the run, failed to mount an effective pass rush and was burned repeatedly for big pass plays in crucial situations was held - at least judging by the fallout on the coaching staff - mostly responsible for Green Bay's horrendous finish to the season. The Packers lost seven of their final nine games and were done in by going 0-7 in games decided by no more than four points.
After finishing 11th and 12th the previous two seasons with Sanders as coordinator, Green Bay ranked 20th in the league for total defense, allowing an average of 334.3 yards per game. Its run defense, which yielded an average of 131.6 yards per contest, was 26th - the team's worst ranking in the last 25 years.

The Packers surrendered 380 points, tied for the second-highest total by the opposition in the last 25 years. All but seven of those points were at the expense of the defense.

Before the dismissal of Sanders came to light Sunday night, McCarthy acknowledged last week that a change in the defensive system could be in the works.

"All of our schemes are under evaluation right now," McCarthy said. "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 of those things. We'll look at the base concepts in normal (down and distance), all the way through. That's what you spend the time for. That's why you make educated decisions."

McCarthy likely would be acting fast to appoint a replacement for Sanders and begin filling out the rest of the defensive staff, for which assistant head coach/linebackers coach Winston Moss and quality control coach Joe Whitt Jr. were the only assistants retained.

The speculated front-runner for the coordinator post is Mike Nolan, who was fired as San Francisco 49ers head coach before the midway point of last season. Nolan previously was an NFL defensive coordinator for 11 years and has ties to McCarthy, who was Nolan's offensive coordinator with the 49ers in 2005.

Nolan has expertise in running a 3-4 scheme, as well as a 4-3, which has been the perpetual foundation of the Packers defense. A change to the 3-4 would take some doing in Green Bay but makes sense for a unit heavy on playmaking linebackers.

COACHING CAROUSEL: The biggest one-year collapse in the team's 90-year history - from 13-3 in 2007 to 6-10 this season - resulted in a significant purge of the coaching staff. Special teams coordinator Mike Stock retired, then head coach Mike McCarthy dismissed all but two of his seven assistant coaches on defense.

The pink-slip casualties included defensive coordinator Bob Sanders, defensive line coaches Carl Hairston and Robert Nunn and defensive backs coaches Kurt Schottenheimer and Lionel Washington. Strength and conditioning coordinator Rock Gullickson also was let go.

Spared the ax on defense were assistant head coach/linebackers coach Winston Moss and quality control coach Joe Whitt Jr.

Moss would be worthy of consideration for defensive coordinator, but speculation this week points to the hiring of former San Francisco 49ers head coach Mike Nolan for the position. Nolan has an extensive background as a defensive coordinator in the NFL, and he has ties with McCarthy, who was the 49ers' offensive coordinator under Nolan in 2005.


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