Retaining Phair, Hoke smart move by Bears

Jon Hoke

New Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman has chosen to keep defensive line coach Mike Phair and defensive back coach Jon Hoke on staff, a move that could pay dividends.

During his first day on the job Wednesday, brand new Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman swung a mighty axe, dismissing every member of the former coaching staff but three: defensive backs coach Jon Hoke, assistant DB coach Gill Byrd and defensive line coach Mike Phair.

For two days, the future of the three coaches was unclear. The wait has finally ended with the team announcing that Hoke and Phair will be retained, while Byrd will be released.

Hoke has worked as defensive backs coach in Chicago since 2009. He worked in the same role for the Houston Texans the previous seven years (2002-2008). He spent 20 years before that coaching defensive backs at the collegiate level.

Phair has been the defensive line coach for the Bears since 2011. He spent the previous six years with the Seattle Seahawks, holding positions of defensive assistant (201)), assistant defensive line coach (2009) and assistant linebackers coach (2008), after three years as an area scout. From 2002-2004 he was a college scout for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, after three years as a coach at the collegiate level.

Trestman is building his coaching staff with a mix of coaches from both the NFL and CFL making lateral moves to come to Chicago. There are question marks surrounding a few members of the new staff and no one knows how any of these new coaches will mesh with the players currently on the roster.

Lovie Smith and his staff were beloved by the players. To a man, the reaction to his firing by Chicago's players was overwhelmingly negative. The release of Smith even caused Devin Hester to question whether or not he wants to continue playing football.

It's anyone's guess how the new staff, and the new systems they'll soon install, will sit with the players on the roster - 18 of whom are set to become unrestricted free agents.


DT Henry Melton
David Banks/Getty

Of those soon-to-be free agents, defensive tackle Henry Melton is the priority. This season, his second as the starting 3-technique tackle, Melton finished with 6.0 sacks, giving him 13.0 the past two years combined - second most amongst defensive tackles during that time, - earning him his first trip to the Pro Bowl.

The Bears will likely slap the franchise tag on him if a long-term agreement can't be reached, as Melton will play a crucial role in helping the team avoid a significant drop off in defensive production. He's the 26-year-old engine that ignites Chicago's defense and he's only getting better.

The loss of former defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, who also the de facto defensive line coach, likely hurts the organization's chances of re-signing Melton to a multi-year contract. Yet by keeping Phair, who has played a large role in Melton's development as a defensive tackle, the Bears keep an important piece on defense. Phair will not only ease the defensive line's transition to the new regime under coordinator Mel Tucker, but could also persuade Melton to sign on the dotted line.

Hoke also will play a large role in easing the move to Tucker's scheme, which will employ a lot of the same principles the Bears used under Smith and Marinelli.

In addition to Hoke's familiarity with the Bears' secondary, he's also a very good defensive backs coach. Under Hoke, cornerback Charles Tillman has been named to two Pro Bowls and was an All Pro for the first time in his career this year. Cornerback Tim Jennings led the league with nine interceptions in 2012. His previous single-season high in picks was two. Jennings also was named a Pro Bowler and All Pro for the first time in his career. In 2002, Hoke coached Houston CB Aaron Glenn to the Pro Bowl.

GM Phil Emery hired Trestman to improve the offense. Considering his record as an offensive coach, the offense should take significant steps forward from the very start. But, with an offensive-minded head coach, will the defense fall by the wayside, similar to what happened to the offense under Smith?

The first step toward preventing a significant and immediate drop off in production on defense was keeping Hoke and Phair on staff. With those two, the Bears have solidified the front and back of the defense from a coaching perspective. And let's not kid ourselves, positional coaches are as important, if not more important, than the coordinators and head coach.

At the very least, retaining Phair and Hoke shows that Trestman recognizes the importance of a good defense and the value of a strong coaching staff on that side of the ball. If the defense can keep its status quo, coupled with a vastly improved offense, the Bears could quickly turn into Super Bowl contenders.


Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.

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