GREEN BAY, Wis. – Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur has assembled a diverse group of candidates to replace Mike Pettine as defensive coordinator.
Of his eight known candidates, as reported by ESPN.com’s Rob Demovsky, four are 40 and younger while two are 50 or older. Three enjoyed extensive playing careers. Three have been nfl defensive coordinators. Four have backgrounds in the secondary. There’s a near-split in 3-4 and 4-3 schemes.
What’s he looking for?
“I don’t want to give the answers to the test, so to speak,” LaFleur said on Monday. “There’s certainly some characteristics that are non-negotiable. I’ve talked to a lot of guys, not only candidates, but also just getting some counsel from other coaches that I’ve got a lot of respect for, be that head coaches and/or D-coordinators. We have a pretty clear process of and a clear vision of what we’re looking for.”
Here is a look at the candidates.
Packers defensive backs coach Jerry Gray. Gray had a strong first season as Green Bay’s defensive backs coach. Third-year cornerback Jaire Alexander took the next step on his way to becoming an elite defender and second-year safety Darnell Savage blossomed during the second half of the season. Green Bay ranked fourth with 39 passing plays of 20-plus yards allowed, a vast improvement after tying for 22nd with 56 last year. The 58-year-old Gray was a four-time Pro Bowl cornerback with the Los Angeles Rams in the 1980s. He’s closing in on a quarter-century of coaching at the nfl level, including as defensive coordinator with the Buffalo Bills from 2001 through 2005 and the Tennessee Titans from 2011 through 2013. During those eight seasons, his units finished in the top eight in points allowed three times but the bottom nine four times. His background is the 4-3.
Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard. The 38-year-old Leonhard spent most of his NFL career playing in Pettine’s defenses. In a 10-year playing career, he started 73 games and intercepted 14 passes. Without a bunch of four- and five-star recruits, he has assembled one of the best defenses in college football. His background is the 3-4.
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Cleveland Browns defensive line coach Chris Kiffin. A pass-rush specialist for the San Francisco 49ers the prior two seasons, Kiffin, 39, got his first shot running a position group last year as the Browns’ defensive line coach. The Browns went from No. 30 in yards allowed per carry to No. 12. If the last name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s the son of esteemed former nfl defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and the brother of Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin. Kiffin played collegiately at Colorado State. His background is the 4-3.
New Orleans Saints defensive line coach/assistant head coach Ryan Nielsen. Nielson, 41, just completed his fourth season as the Saints’ defensive line coach. He appeared headed down the road to LSU to take over as defensive coordinator but the Saints blocked the interview and gave him a new title. The Saints had a streak of 55 consecutive games without allowing a 100-yard rusher until losing at Philadelphia in December. Nonetheless, they finished fourth in rushing yards allowed per carry and per game and sixth in sack percentage in 2020. He played collegiately at USC. His background is the 4-3.
Philadelphia Eagles defensive line coach/run game coordinator Matt Burke. Burke is only 44 but has a considerable amount of experience. Starting as a quality-control coach for the Tennessee Titans in 2006, he was linebackers coach for the Detroit Lions, Cincinnati Bengals and Miami Dolphins and defensive coordinator of the Dolphins in 2017 and 2018. A special assistant for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2019, he was elevated to run-game coordinator/defensive line coach in 2020. His Miami defenses were terrible, ranking 29th in points in 2017 and 27th in 2018, but the Dolphins were terrible as a whole. In 2020, the Eagles were 10th in yards allowed per carry. He played collegiately at Dartmouth. His background is the 4-3.
Los Angeles Chargers defensive passing game coordinator Joe Barry. Including the 2017 season, when LaFleur was offensive coordinator, Barry spent the past four seasons as the Rams’ assistant head coach/linebackers coach. As of last week, he was expected to follow new Chargers coach Brandon Staley in a crosstown move. With Staley running the defense, the Rams led the nfl in scoring defense in 2020. Barry, 50, was defensive coordinator for the Detroit Lions in 2007 and 2008 and the Washington football Team in 2015 and 2016. His defenses were mediocre in Washington and the worst in the nfl in Detroit. He played collegiately at USC. His background is the 3-4.
Washington football Team defensive backs coach Chris Harris: Harris, 38, played in the nfl for eight seasons. He intercepted 16 passes in his career. Playing for Chicago, he picked off Peyton Manning in the 2006 Super Bowl. With Carolina in 2007, he forced a whopping eight fumbles. Back with Chicago in 2010, he was a second-team All-Pro. Harris got his start in coaching with the Bears in 2013 and ran his first position group last season for Washington. With neither of Washington’s Day 1 starting corners from 2019 returning, it finished third in the nfl in opponent passer rating in 2020. His background is the 4-3.
Los Angeles Rams safeties coach Ejiro Evero: Evero, who turned 40 last month, just completed his fourth season as the Rams’ safeties coach. He was a quality control coach with the Packers in 2016. In 2017, he along with LaFleur joined Sean McVay’s new coaching staff. In 2020, the Rams led the nfl in scoring and were second in opponent passer rating, with the underrated safety tandem of John Johnson and rookie Jordan Fuller playing key roles. Working under Dom Capers in 2016, Evero “was responsible for breaking down opponent game film and analyzing their offensive tendencies, playbook development, compiling team and player reports, and coordinating the opponent scout teams the starting defense will face at practice,” reads his Rams bio. His background is the 3-4.