(670 The Score) The most significant change the Bears will have to start this 2021 offseason will be at defensive coordinator, where they have an opening after Chuck Pagano announced his retirement Wednesday.
Though there was speculation about the 60-year-old Pagano's job security after the Bears' defense regressed in 2020, he said he's leaving on his own terms after 36 years coaching football.
“As much as I love coaching, it takes a lot of time away from your family and loved ones," Pagano said in a statement. "I’m excited to start this new chapter of my life and can’t wait to be able to spend more time with my family. This has been an amazing ride and I have made countless relationships that I will cherish forever.”
Unlike two years ago when the Bears' defensive coordinator vacancy was highly coveted after Vic Fangio departed to become Denver's head coach, there will be challenges filling the void this time around.
The Bears have been on a downward trajectory since their NFC North-winning 12-4 campaign in 2018. General manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy have been retained for the 2021 season, but it appears they'll be on thin ice. And given that there are six vacant head coaching positions in the NFL, there will be defensive coordinator jobs that will be more attractive than what the Bears are offering.
"This is going to be a very important hire," Nagy said Wednesday. "We have a lot of great guys internally on staff and obviously there will be people outside as well."
Before Nagy looks outside the organization, he needs to consider whom the Bears currently have on their coaching staff.
After all, Nagy made a mistake in letting former outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley leave the Bears after the 2018 season. He wasn't even considered to replace Fangio. Staley has now has become one of the NFL's best defensive coordinators, leading a Rams unit that ranked first in total defense in 2020.
Additionally, by turning to an internal hire, Nagy could ensure some semblance of continuity instead of being forced to reshape the entire staff in what could turn into a lame-duck season.
With that in mind, here are the internal candidates.
Ted Monachino -- Bears outside linebackers coach
The first and most logical candidate would be Monachino, who also carried the title of senior defensive assistant under Pagano. The coaching veteran Monachino was the Colts' defensive coordinator in 2016-'17. Having coached outside linebackers, he could bring the Bears new ideas to generate pressure, which was lacking in 2020.
Jay Rodgers -- Bears defensive line coach
One could argue that no coach on the Bears' staff has done a better job than Rodgers, who has been in his current position since 2015. He has led a talented defensive line over the last six years and also been instrumental in identifying and developing those players.
Mark DeLeone -- Bears inside linebackers coach
The Andy Reid coaching tree is the best in football, so former Reid assistant DeLeone should receive consideration. Though the 33-year-old DeLeone is ripe in coaching, he's done strong work for Chicago.
Deshea Townsend -- Bears secondary coach
Townsend, 45, has what nobody else on the Bears' coaching staff can offer -- a wealth of fairly recent playing experience that formed the foundation for his coaching career. With a decade of experience under his belt, Townsend is a rising coaching candidate.
Sean Desai -- Bears safeties coach
The longest-tenured member of the Bears' coaching staff, Desai's time in Chicago dates back to Marc Trestman's first season as head coach in 2013. Desai has previous experience as a special teams coordinator at Temple as well.
Though Nagy has a tough task in recruiting in a new defensive coordinator to the Bears, he shouldn't shy away from the top of his wish list.
Nagy remains a respected coach in his peers' eyes, and there's still appeal in leading a defense that has stars like edge rusher Khalil Mack, defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, safety Eddie Jackson and inside linebacker Roquan Smith.
Here are some external candidates to consider.
Kris Richard -- former Seahawks, Cowboys defensive coordinator
As the Seahawks' defensive backs coach from 2012-'14 and defensive coordinator from 2015-'17, Richard was a pivotal leader of Seattle's “Legion of Boom” defense. He remains a respected mind after sitting out the 2020 season. Richard is 42 and will likely be considered for a number of other opportunities.
Raheem Morris -- former Falcons defensive coordinator/interim head coach
Morris' initial focus is on his opportunities to become a head coach for the second time. He's being considered for several openings, including in Atlanta, where he recently interviewed for the permanent job after serving as the interim head coach this past season. If Morris gets passed up in this head coaching cycle, he should be in play for the Bears.
Matt Burke -- former Dolphins defensive coordinator, Eagles defensive line coach
Burke could bring the Bears experience at the defensive coordinator position, having filled the role for the Dolphins in 2016 and 2017. His present availability is due to the firing of coach Doug Pederson in Philadelphia, leaving that staff's future in limbo.
George Edwards -- former Vikings defensive coordinator
When the Bears were seeking a head coach in January 2018, they considered two candidates with defensive backgrounds. One was Fangio, then Chicago's defensive coordinator. The other was Edwards, who served as Vikings defensive coordinator for six seasons and had a top-five unit from 2016-'18. He was a senior defensive assistant with the Cowboys this past season.
Will Muschamp -- former Florida, South Carolina head coach
If Nagy is seeking candidate with a different background, Muschamp is an option. He could benefit from a change of scenery in the NFL game after twice being fired in the SEC, most recently by South Carolina in November. Muschamp has had success as a college defensive coordinator and could bring a fresh perspective to Chicago.
Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.