By Adam Roberts – 2/2/2021
Fans got their wish over the weekend, with the firing of defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. While the firing likely goes deeper than the failures exhibited in the NFC Championship Game, certainly back-to-back awful performances and at times schemes in the conference’s biggest game were certainly a factor.
Whomever takes over the position next will be told off the bat that the team is 100% in win-now mode, given the volatility of things last week concerning quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the reality that father time is undefeated.
ESPN’s Rob Demovsky has compiled a list of candidates for the DC position, a list that features some notable names in the on-deck circle to be interviewed today and tomorrow. Here are some of the highlights:
- Jim Leonhard (Defensive Coordinator, Wisconsin) – Leonhard would probably be a top candidate for the job even without his Badger State connection. Leonhard has consistently had a top FBS defense without the flashy recruits of places like Ohio State, Alabama, Clemson, and others. According to the Badgers’ website, over his first four seasons, the Badgers ranked third in scoring defense (17.2 points per game), fourth in total yards allowed (297.9 yards per game), fifth in rushing defense (112.3 ypg) and fifth in pass efficiency defense (109.0). Wisconsin also forced the second-most turnovers of any FBS team during that span, with 104, and the Badgers’ 68 interceptions also ranked No. 2 nationally. The big question is whether or not Leonhard wants to stay at his current spot, pursue a college head coaching opportunity, or make the leap to the NFL.
- Chris Kiffin (Cleveland Browns Defensive Line coach) – Kiffin began his full-time NFL coaching career in 2018 as a pass rush specialist with the San Francisco 49ers, but last year he made the move to Cleveland and helped the Browns finish 4th in the NFL in rush yards allowed and forced 17 fumbles.
- Ryan Nielsen (New Orleans Saints Defensive Line coach) – While the points per game would indicate the Saints defense has looked suspect recently, the defensive line has been a highlight on that side of the ball. In Nielsen’s four years at t he position, six different defensive linemen have produced multi-sack games and the New Orleans defense has gone the last 43 regular season and postseason games without allowing a 100-yard rusher.
- Jerry Gray (Packers Secondary coach) – The only candidate from within being considered, Gray joined LaFleur’s staff a year ago and has eight years’ experience as a coordinator with Buffalo and Tennessee.
Among candidates already interviewed include Chargers defensive passing game coordinator Joe Barry, Washington Football Team defensive backs coach Chris Harris, Rams safeties coach Ejiro Evero, and Falcons senior assistant Bob Sutton.