Richard Hightower

Bears Hire Richard Hightower As ST Coordinator

New Bears head coach Matt Eberflus continues to fill out his first staff. Chicago has hired Richard Hightower as its special teams coordinator, the team announced.

This move qualifies as something of a surprise. Hightower had served as the 49ers’ ST coordinator since 2017, joining the Niners when Kyle Shanahan accepted the team’s head coaching post. The two men were college teammates at the University of Texas, and they also worked together on coaching staffs in Houston, Washington, and Cleveland, so it may have been difficult for Eberflus to prise Hightower away from San Francisco.

On the other hand, the 49ers’ special teams units generally struggled over the past several years and ranked 26th in the league in terms of DVOA in 2021, so Shanahan may have been more willing to let his longtime colleague depart than he might have been in years past. Still, Hightower remains a respected coach, and from 2017-19, San Francisco’s kicking unit ranked first in the NFL in made field goals (102) and fourth in field goal percentage (89.5). The club’s punt coverage ranked second in the league over that three-year span (h/t Of course, Hightower’s charges also played a pivotal role in the Niners’ upset of the Packers in this year’s divisional round matchup, blocking a field goal on the final play of the first half and returning a blocked punt for the team’s only touchdown.

Rich Bisaccia was recently considered the favorite for the Bears’ ST coordinator post, and as Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune tweets, Bisaccia was indeed the first choice. It sounds as if Eberflus would have been willing to let Chris Tabor, who worked as Chicago’s special teams coordinator from 2018-21, to continue in his role, but Tabor jumped ship to the Panthers.

Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, among others, believes this move means that Bisaccia will be heading to Green Bay (Twitter link). We heard just yesterday that the Packers are in talks with Bisaccia about their own ST coordinator vacancy.

Hightower, 41, worked as Chicago’s assistant special teams coordinator in 2016. He has 15 years of coaching experience in the NFL.

Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network first reported that the Bears were hiring Hightower (via Twitter).

NFC Notes: Palmer, 49ers, Saints, Bears

The Cardinals don’t know if quarterback Carson Palmer will return in 2017 for what would be his age-37 season, but one new rumbling on the three-time Pro Bowler could be cause for pessimism. Palmer has put his Arizona home up for sale, pulled his kids out of school and relocated to another state, Mike Jurecki of FOX Sports 910 hears (Twitter link via one of Jurecki’s colleagues, Jody Oehler). But Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic has radically different information, tweeting that Palmer has not put his house up for sale. For now, Palmer is under contract through 2018 and set to rake in a $15MM base salary next season.

More from the NFC:

  • The 49ers are suing one of their former stars, Raiders pass rusher Aldon Smith, for $341,630.18 in signing bonus money, per Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle. That figure represents the amount of money Smith hasn’t repaid the team since the NFL hit him with a nine-game suspension in 2014, when he was docked $1,186,027 for serving the ban. Despite an arbitrator’s order to repay the 49ers within 30 days, Smith hasn’t done so, thus leading to the lawsuit. The 27-year-old is currently serving another suspension and didn’t play at all this season as a result.
  • The Saints have added Curtis Johnson (wide receivers) and Brad Banta (special teams) to their coaching staff, relays Mike Triplett of The hiring of Johnson is no surprise, as there was informed speculation Monday that he’d return to New Orleans after rejecting a contract offer to stay in Chicago. Johnson coached the Saints’ receivers from 2006-11, and newly hired Jets offensive coordinator John Morton‘s exit opened to the door for Johnson to rejoin the club. Banta, who was with the Redskins, will take over a Saints special teams unit that ranked 27th in the league in DVOA this season.
  • Bears director of player development Jerry Butler has retired, writes Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune. The former wide receiver took the job in 2015, and he focused on helping the Bears’ young players adjust to the NFL during his two-year stint. Butler was a popular figure among the Bears’ youngsters – including standout rookie Leonard Floyd – per Biggs.
  • In what will be yet another Bears departure, assistant special teams coach Richard Hightower is set to leave Chicago to become the 49ers’ ST coach under soon-to-be head coach Kyle Shanahan, tweets Sporting News’ Alex Marvez. Shanahan and Hightower were college teammates at the University of Texas, and they have since worked together on coaching staffs in Houston, Washington and Cleveland. Hightower’s tenure in San Francisco will be his second – he was its assistant ST coach in 2015.

Extra Points: 49ers, Gruden, OBJ

Kyle Shanahan is widely expected to become the 49ers‘ next head coach, and now some are beginning to wonder how he will go about filling out his staff. As Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee writes, it is unlikely that Shanahan will be able to bring many of his Atlanta assistants with him given that most of those assistants are under contract with the Falcons or are loyal to Falcons head coach Dan Quinn. However, Barrows posits that Shanahan could bring current Atlanta quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur to the Bay Area and install him as the 49ers’ offensive coordinator. LaFleur — who would also be a candidate to replace Shanahan as the Falcons’ OC — has worked with Shanahan for eight seasons in Atlanta, Washington, and Houston.

Barrows’ sources also suggest that Bears’ assistant special-teams coach Richard Hightower could become the 49ers’ special teams coordinator. Hightower worked under Shanahan in 2014 as an offensive quality control coach for the Browns.

Now let’s take a look at a few more notes from around the league as we anxiously await next week’s Super Bowl:

  • Rich Tandler of does not believe that Redskins head coach Jay Gruden is on the hot seat, as some have speculated. Tandler is unsure if Gruden could survive a 6-10 or worse showing in 2017, but he does not believe it’s playoffs or bust for Gruden, who will be entering his fourth year as Washington’s head coach.
  • There is no rush for the Giants to pursue an extension for Odell Beckham, Jr., as James Kratch of writes. Between his current rookie deal, the fifth-year option, and the franchise tag, OBJ is locked into the Giants’ roster until at least 2021, so while his future with the team is certainly not in question, New York can afford to wait while they work through their concerns with Beckham.
  • Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, one of the top three quarterback prospects in this year’s draft class, will not participate in the Senior Bowl despite the Browns‘ specifically requesting that he do so. Although the Browns were reportedly not planning to use their No. 1 overall selection on Watson, Mary Kat Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer suggests that Watson’s decision not only denied him the chance to change the team’s mind in that regard, it may make it tougher for Cleveland to select him with their No. 12 overall choice.
  • Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin sat down with Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer to discuss a number of issues, including the 2017 draft and backup quarterback A.J. McCarron. Tobin also mentioned that, although the club re-signed kicker Randy Bullock, Bullock will have an open competition with rookie kickers and/or veteran free agents.
  • David Culley, who worked as Andy Reid‘s wide receivers coach with the Eagles and Chiefs, agreed to become the Bills‘ new quarterbacks coach last week. Per Reid, the 60-year-old Culley still harbors aspirations of becoming a head coach, so he did not want to block his longtime assistant from moving up the coaching ladder (article via Terez A. Paylor of the Kansas City Star).
  • The current collective bargaining agreement runs through 2020, but commissioner Roger Goodell and team owners owners have expressed an interest in extending the CBA, as Mark Maske of the Washington Post writes. However, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith says that the union will not agree to an extension without renegotiation of certain key issues, though he did not specify what those issues are.

NFC Coaching Notes: 49ers, Seahawks, Rams, Bears, Vikings

Gus Bradley‘s hesitancy surrounding the Chargers’ DC job was believed to have been connected to an opportunity with the 49ers under Tom Cable. But now that Cable withdrew his name from consideration, the Bolts still don’t have a decision from Bradley. However, buzz around league circles points to a Kyle Shanahan-Bradley setup in San Francisco making sense, Alex Marvez of the Sporting News tweets.

This comes after a report indicating Bradley “spurned” the 49ers when asked if he would team with Shanahan. It would help explain Bradley remaining without a job after being coveted by Anthony Lynn in Los Angeles. The 49ers have shown a willingness to target DCs, with the Bears blocking their request for a potential Vic Fangio reunion, due to having a coach in line to accept the job in Shanahan, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk writes.

Here’s more from the 49ers and the rest of the league during the postseason hiring period.

  • Shanahan will not put up a fight for control over the 49ers’ 53-man roster if hired, Matt Maiocco of reports. The would-be first-time HC would be fine working alongside a GM regarding the draft and prospective trades, Maiocco writes, and could meet with GM candidates on second interviews on Tuesday. The Falcons’ OC is expected to meet with the 49ers again on Tuesday.
  • The Seahawks hired Clint Hurtt as their defensive line coach, Adam Caplan of tweets. This wraps up an interesting odyssey for the former Bears’ outside linebackers coach. A previous report linked Hurtt to the Jets as their OLBs coach, with that coming after the position instructor turned down an extension with the Bears. Hurtt coached Chicago’s defensive line in 2014.
  • Broncos assistant defensive backs coach Samson Brown will follow Wade Phillips to and become part of the Rams‘ defensive staff, Marvez tweets. The Broncos are bringing Johnnie Lynn aboard to replace him, per Marvez. Lynn worked with new Denver DBs coach Marcus Robertson with the Raiders.
  • Speaking of the Bears, they hired three new assistants: Jeremiah Washburn (offensive line), Curtis Modkins (running backs) and Roy Anderson (assistant secondary). Washburn worked as the Dolphins’ O-line coach in 2016 and oversaw the Lions’ offensive front for the previous three seasons. Modkins served as the 49ers’ OC under Chip Kelly last season and previously as the Bills’ OC.
  • The Bears might lose assistant special teams coach Richard Hightower to the 49ers, Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune notes (on Twitter). He previously worked with Shanahan, doing so in Washington from 2010-13 and in Cleveland in ’14.
  • Vikings assistant Kevin Stefanski will slide from running backs coach to quarterbacks coach, Caplan reports (on Twitter). Although the Vikings promoted Pat Shurmur to full-time OC, they fired QBs coach Scott Turner earlier this month. Stefanski has coached the running backs and tight ends the past three seasons but served as Minnesota’s assistant QBs coach from 2009-13. He’s been with the organization since 2006.

Extra Points: Texans, Broncos, Cowboys, Bills

It sounds like Texans head coach Bill O’Brien will return to the organization next season, but will he opt for the same starting quarterback? O’Brien wouldn’t commit when asked if he was going to stick with quarterback Brock Osweiler in 2017.

“Before I talk about those types of things, I have to evaluate it myself,” O’Brien told’s Sarah Barshop. “I’ve got to talk to our coaching staff, get their input, personnel people, get their input. So I wouldn’t be a good head coach if I stood up here and said, this is what I’m planning to do. The game is less than 48 hours ago. We’re going to evaluate everything.”

Osweiler finished his first season in Houston with 2,957 yards, 15 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. It seems like offensive coordinator George Godsey may have earned the brunt of the blame for the team’s offensive woes, as the coach and the organization parted ways earlier today.

Let’s take a look at some more notes from around the NFL…

  • Mike Klis of 9News in Denver reports (via Twitter) that the Broncos are set to interview two coaches for their special teams coordinator vacancy: Richard Hightower and Greg McMahon. Hightower joined the Bears last offseason as their assistant special teams coach, and he previously spent time coaching the 49ers, Browns, and Redskins. McMahon served as the Saints special teams coordinator from 2008 through 2017. The longtime coach was let go by the organization in early January.
  • The Raiders have promoted midwest scout Trey Scott to the position of Assistant Director of Player Personnel, reports Mike Florio of Scott has spent the past four seasons with the organization, and he previously spent time working with the Redskins.
  • The Cowboys announced the signing of 12 players today, but the team isn’t done making moves.’s Todd Archer tweets that the team is still trying to finalize deals with practice squad players Rico Gathers and Andy Jones. Gathers, a tight end, was a sixth-round pick in this past year’s draft. Jones, a former undrafted free agent, spent much of the season on the Cowboys practice squad.
  • Bills safety Aaron Williams has dealt with mulitple neck injuries, but his dad told John Wawrow of the Associated Press that the former second-rounder intends to keep playing. “He’s leaning toward coming back,” Anthony Williams said. “We’ll take it slow and go from there.” The 26-year-old has been productive when he’s been on the field, but he’s been limited to only 10 games over the past two seasons.

North Notes: Megatron, Packers, Haslam

There’s no decision yet, and no exact timetable, for Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson as he considers whether or not to continue his playing career, agent Bus Cook tells Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. Shortly after the regular season ended, Megatron issued a statement indicating he was considering retirement, but Lions fans will have to wait at least a little longer before finding out what the wideout’s future plans are.

“Nothing to report,” said Cook, who is currently in Mobile, Alabam for the Senior Bowl. “Have to wait and see. He has to think about what he’s going to do and then go from there.”

As we wait to find out what Johnson decides, let’s check out a few more items from out of the NFL’s North divisions….

  • After a weekend report suggested that Packers head coach Mike McCarthy was frustrated by the team’s lack of free agent spending, general manager Ted Thompson said on Monday that there’s no problem between him and McCarthy, according to Jason Cole of Bleacher Report (video link). However, Cole suggests there may be “growing tension” in Green Bay after McCarthy’s latest postseason loss.
  • Cole also has an update on the Browns (video link), reporting that team owner Jimmy Haslam is in Mobile for Senior Bowl practices, in an effort to take on a more “hands-on approach” as the head of the franchise. Mary Kay Cabot of (Twitter link) confirms Haslam’s attendance, but says the Browns owner plans to leave today after having dinner with scouts on Monday night.
  • The Browns have added Ken Delgado to their coaching staff as an assistant defensive line coach and former Titans assistant Cannon Matthews as an assistant defensive backs coach, reports Adam Caplan of (Twitter links).
  • The Bears announced today (via Twitter) that they’ve named Richard Hightower their new assistant special teams coach. Hightower replaces Derius Swinton, who joined the 49ers last week.
  • Justin Tucker‘s impressive track record when it comes to clutch kicks should give him some leverage when he and the Ravens discuss a new contract this winter, writes Clifton Brown of

Coach Rumors: Jaguars, 49ers, Eagles, Bucs

After showing interest in Jim Schwartz before he was named the Eagles’ new defensive coordinator, the Jaguars have turned their attention in another direction as they search for a defensive play-caller. Jacksonville is today interviewing Cowboys secondary coach Jerome Henderson for their DC vacancy, reports Albert Breer of (Twitter link).

Longtime NFL defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin is “involved in [the Jaguars’] process” of finding a defensive coordinator to replace the fired Bob Babich, but he is not in line for a formal coaching position with the club, according to Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union (Twitter links).

Henderson, 46, has been in high demand this offseason, and even interviewed for a head coaching position (Browns) earlier this month. Dallas’ defensive backs coach since 2012, Henderson, who also has a background in player development, was also linked to jobs on Miami’s new staff.

Let’s look at some news from the coaching front:

  • New 49ers head coach Chip Kelly is likely to keep one offensive coach, as Matt Maiocco of reports (via Twitter) that running backs coach Tom Rathman is expected to remain on staff. Meanwhile, both incumbent special teams coach Thomas McGaughey and assistant Richard Hightower are in contention for San Francisco’s ST coordinator position, per Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee (Twitter link).
  • Eagles head coach Doug Pederson announced during his introductory press conference that running backs coach Duce Staley — who interviewed for Philadelphia’s top job — will be retained, Neil Hartman of tweets.
  • The Packers have shuffled their offensive staff, firing both running backs coach Sam Gash (per Michael Cohen of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Twitter) and tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot (per Tom Silverstein of MJS on Twitter).
  • Confirming four previously-reported hires, the Buccaneers announced that special teams coordinator Nate Kaczor, secondary coach Jon Hoke, defensive line coach Jay Hayes, and linebackers coach Mark Duffner have been added to the club’s staff.