The Bears announced Sunday afternoon that two defensive assistant coaches will not return for the 2014, while confirming that Mel Tucker will remain in his role as defensive coordinator.
"We believe Mel is the right person to lead our defensive unit," head coach Marc Trestman said in a statement. "He fully understands where we need to improve, has the skill set and leadership to oversee the changes that need to be made, and to execute our plan to get the results we know are necessary."
Those who won't be back to assist Tucker are defensive line coach Mike Phair, who'd been with the team three years and could reunite in Tampa Bay with Lovie Smith, and linebackers coach Tim Tibesar, who was at the NFL level for the first time in his career and was to oversee the development of draft picks Jonathan Bostic and Khaseem Greene. Tibesar came to Chicago after a year at Purdue, following three seasons as Trestman's linebackers coach with the Montreal Alouettes.
"We want to thank Mike and Tim for their effort and dedication," Trestman said. "They are men of high character and integrity. These are not easy decisions and we do not attribute our lack of success on defense to two individuals. We need to improve in all areas defensively and that will be the focal point for us this offseason. The process starts with me as the head coach. Our search for a defensive line and linebackers coach has begun and we will be looking for the best candidates whose experience can bring the most of our veteran and young players in both areas."
Michael Sinclair followed Trestman from Montreal to Chicago and served as Phair's assistant defensive line coach. The Bears posted a league-low 31 sacks (21 by the defensive linemen) as they worked through injuries to Henry Melton, Nate Collins, and Stephen Paea, while losing projected backup Turk McBride in training camp.
As they attempted to work through those injuries, plus those to Pro Bowlers Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman, the defense set several low-water marks in the league this season, as well as franchise history. They allowed an NFL-worst 161.4 rushing yards per game (25.6 more than 31st-ranked Atlanta). The unit ranked 30th overall and points allowed. The 478 points, 6,313 yards, and 2,583 rushing yards were the worst single-season totals in club annals.
Retaining Tucker is also another indication that the defense will remain in a "4-3" setup. He did run a "3-4" in his first season as an NFL defensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns in 2008. But in his four years in Jacksonville, he used a system with four down linemen.
With the Bears appearing to be ready to try Shea McClellin at linebacker, Julius Peppers, Stephen Paea, and David Bass are currently the only defensive linemen under contract with regular NFL playing time. Landon Cohen, Collins, Melton, Jeremiah Ratliff and Corey Wootton are all free agents. Veteran linebackers James Anderson, Blake Costanzo and D.J. Williams are not signed for next season. in the secondary, Charles Tillman, Major Wright, Zackary Bowman, Sherrick McManus, Craig Steltz, Anthony Walters and Kelvin Hayden (who missed all of 2013 with a torn hamstring) are on the market if not re-signed by the start of free agency March 11th.
General manager Phil Emery, Trestman, Tucker, and several other members of the coaching staff will spend a good part of the next two weeks on the road, evaluating college talent taking part in the upcoming East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl.