The Atlanta Falcons will be looking for a new defensive coordinator.
With news that veteran defensive mind Dean Pees is retiring, it puts the Falcons in the position to find his successor. As you’d guess, there are plenty of candidates out there that not only entice, but make sense given the connections in the building.
Looking at the guys that will be available, and the need to get this hire done sooner than later with offseason evaluations set to begin, let’s look at the possible coaches for the post.
Falcons linebackers coach Frank Bush
If the team promotes internally, Frank Bush will have to be at the front of the line. He’s got the ties with Falcons head coach Arthur Smith that the latter seems to covet in his hires. He’s also the one the team went to when Pees went down with an injury scare at New Orleans last month. Bush was promoted to the role of interim defensive coordinator with the New York Jets in 2020, and he held the role of defensive coordinator with the Texans from 2009-10.
He might not be as ballyhooed an option as one might clamor for, but if Pees has been preparing him for the role over the last two years, he might have the best odds. His experience in a variety of roles, including defensive coordinator, makes him a logical choice.
Eagles defensive line coach Tracy Rocker
When Smith joined the Falcons in 2021, he showed that he’s got an allegiance to the guys he’s worked with in the past. He, Bush, offensive coordinator Dave Ragone and quarterbacks coach Charles London were all on the same Titans staff under Mike Munchak. Smith also tried to hire another member of that staff, now-Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon.
Eagles defensive line coach Tracy Rocker is another guy who coached with everyone mentioned above, which is probably why he’s on Gannon’s staff in Philly. Boasting one of the best, deepest defensive lines in football, Rocker is at least partially responsible for the big-time pass rushing numbers of guys like Javon Hargrave, Brandon Graham and Josh Sweat. If Smith wants to dig back to his coaching roots, hiring an old pal like Rocker makes a lot of sense. Plus, maybe Rocker could coax some of the Eagles free agent defensive linemen to Atlanta.
Titans defensive line coach Terrell Williams
The Falcons could look to a former assistant on Pees’ staff in Tennessee that Smith would also have obvious ties to. The Titans defensive front is as ferocious as Philly’s and Terrell Williams has been at the helm of it since 2018. He has overseen the development of superstar defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons, which is a huge feather in his cap.
It’s not just Simmons, though. Veteran rusher Denico Autry has thrived under Williams, and 2020 undrafted free agent Teair Tart has emerged as a darn good nose tackle. Free agents DeMarcus Walker and Mario Edwards Jr. performed admirably for Tennessee this past fall, too. Williams has the organizational connections, and quite a résumé to boot.
Jaguars passing game coordinator/CBs coach Deshea Townsend
Deshea Townsend is another guy with plenty of connections to Atlanta, and it helps that he’s on one of the hottest defensive staffs in football. Jaguars defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell has received a lot of praise for his work to revamp the Jacksonville defense, and Townsend has played a vital role in that as the team’s passing game coordinator and cornerbacks coach. Cornerback Tyson Campbell has blossomed under Townsend’s watch.
Smith and Townsend overlapped in Tennessee under head coach Mike Mularkey, and Townsend also worked with Ragone, London, running backs coach Michael Pitre and outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino in Chicago under Matt Nagy in various seasons. Townsend will certainly get attention as a member of Jacksonville’s staff, and he’s got a ton of connections to guys in Atlanta.
Seahawks associate head coach/defensive assistant Sean Desai
While Sean Desai doesn’t have the critical Smith connection, he does have connections to the former Bears contingent of Ragone, London and Monachino. Desai coached the safeties in Chicago starting in 2019 after working as an assistant, but he actually took over the entire defense in Nagy’s last season in 2021. It shows Chicago thought highly of him before Nagy’s firing.
He quickly found a role in Seattle with Pete Carroll, helping the Seahawks overachieve to the point of making the NFC playoffs this past season. Desai will likely garner some attention as a young and rising coach in the NFL, and he has the Chicago connections to show for it as a potential candidate for the Falcons.
Eagles defensive consultant Vic Fangio
Vic Fangio is one of the best defensive coordinators of his generation, but he was recently tied to former Saints head coach Sean Payton if the latter got a head coaching gig. However, Fangio has some connections to that Chicago group with the Falcons. Fangio and Ragone coached together for some time in the Windy City before the former took the head coaching job in Denver.
Fangio would be the most marquee hire the team could make in some respects, but the Payton link makes you think that’s already in the works. He’s worth mentioning regardless, just in case he doesn’t land with Payton. There are few candidates who would elicit more excitement than Fangio.
Titans senior defensive assistant Jim Schwartz
Like Fangio, Jim Schwartz is one of the best defensive minds of recent memory. He stepped away from coaching after a stellar run with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2021, but quickly joined the Tennessee Titans staff as a senior defensive assistant.
Titans head coach Mike Vrabel would likely vouch for Schwartz with his old buddy Smith, and the Falcons would certainly enjoy having a coach of Schwartz’s caliber leading the team. It probably depends, for Schwartz, if he even wants to be a defensive coordinator again. If he does, he’s probably going to be a candidate for the job.
Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero
Ejiro Evero isn’t a guy with connections to the Falcons staff, but he is going to be a hot name for any defensive coordinator vacancy in the NFL. His work in Denver this season has been phenomenal, and he’s basically on an interim staff now with Nathaniel Hackett getting fired.
Evero’s Broncos defense was really one of the only reasons Denver could be competitive this past season. He was also a key defensive assistant on the 2021-22 Los Angeles Rams Super Bowl team. With Evero likely to go on the job hunt with Denver fielding lots of head coaching interviews outside the building, Atlanta may want to check him out. He’s got maybe the best recent list of accomplishments of anyone on this list.
Former Texans head coach Lovie Smith
If we’re throwing out enticing names here, Smith’s is bound to pop up. He kept a fierce Texans team feisty and competitive in games that they just had no business in. He’s also a former NFC Championship-winning coach with the Chicago Bears, although that has been quite a while, and has a ton of experience as both a head coach and defensive coordinator.
Smith got a raw deal in Houston after just one season at the helm, and it’d make sense that he’d get some interest from other NFL teams as a defensive coordinator.
Steelers senior defensive assistant/linebackers coach Brian Flores
Flores, like Smith, was controversially fired from his head coaching role with the Miami Dolphins, and should be a top defensive coordinator candidate for anyone looking. While he’s not got those connections Smith seems to like, he does come from the ballyhooed Bill Belichick head coaching tree.
If Flores wants a bigger role with an NFL team, the Falcons might be interested. His work in Miami was commendable, even though it ended on a sour note. The Cleveland Browns just sent in an interview request for him.
Patriots linebackers coach Jerod Mayo
Mayo is a rising star in the NFL coaching world, and Cleveland just requested an interview with him for their defensive coordinating role like they did with Flores.
While he may want to stick around in New England and see if a head coaching role could become available down the line, perhaps a defensive coordinator job would be first. If the Falcons’ rising tide entices him, anything is possible.
49ers defensive line coach Kris Kocurek
49ers defensive passing game coordinator/secondary Cory Undlin
We’ll close this exhaustive list with two assistants from the NFL’s best defensive staff. 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans might try to pry one of these guys away if he gets hired for a head coaching role, and San Francisco could promote from within if Ryans gets another job. However, Kocurek and Undlin are NFL coaching veterans who have latched themselves onto the league’s best defense. Interest could abound for any looking team.
Are there guys we left off you’d be curious about? Let us know in the comments.