Ryan Nielsen

Jim Leonhard, Others In Contention For Packers’ DC Job

The Packers are conducting an expansive search to replace Mike Pettine as defensive coordinator. Several more names joined the early wave of candidates.

Former Chiefs DC Bob Sutton interviewed for the position recently, according to Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com, who adds five other new candidates emerged on Green Bay’s radar as well. This comes after news of the Packers interviewing former Seahawks DC Kris Richard, Chargers passing-game coordinator Joe Barry, Washington secondary coach Chris Harris and Rams safeties coach Ejiro Evero. Richard and Sutton have since lined up positions with the Saints and Jaguars, respectively. Perhaps a sign about the direction the Packers’ search has taken.

Ten-year NFL safety-turned-Wisconsin DC Jim Leonhard, former Dolphins DC Matt Burke, Browns defensive line coach Chris Kiffin, Saints D-line coach Ryan Nielsen and Packers secondary coach Jerry Gray either have interviewed for the position or will do so by Wednesday, per Demovsky.

Leonhard, whose NFL playing career wrapped up after the 2014 season, has not coached at the NFL level. But he has been the Badgers’ DC since 2017. Three times in the past four seasons, Wisconsin has deployed a top-10 scoring defense in Division I-FBS. Although Leonhard’s nomadic career did not include a Packers stop, the 38-year-old is a Wisconsin native.

Gray served as the Titans’ DC from 2011-13, spent the next six seasons as Vikings secondary coach and signed on as Packers secondary coach last season. The former NFL cornerback has been an assistant in the league since the late 1990s. Kiffin spent 2020 with the Browns but worked with Matt LaFleur‘s brother Mike with the 49ers previously. Burke oversaw the Dolphins’ defense from 2017-18 and was with the Eagles during the past two seasons, while Nielsen has spent the past four seasons as New Orleans’ D-line coach.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Coaching Notes: O’Connell, Raiders, Saints

The Rams just lost their DC Brandon Staley when he took the Chargers’ head coaching job, but it doesn’t sound like they’re about to let their OC follow him out the door. We heard yesterday that Staley was interested in bringing Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell with him, but Sean McVay has other ideas. The Rams have blocked him from interviewing with the Chargers, sources told Albert Breer of SI.com (Twitter link), which they can do since it’s a lateral move.

O’Connell doesn’t call the plays with the Rams, McVay does, and he presumably would’ve been able to with the Chargers. McVay had previously let his former OC Matt LaFleur leave to go become the Titans’ OC when it came with play-calling responsibilities, but it sounds like he’s tired of getting his assistants poached. Breer adds the Rams “really value” O’Connell. Breer does note that things could change, but that’s the Rams’ current position. O’Connell was the OC for Washington in 2019 before he was swept out with the rest of Jay Gruden’s staff.

Here’s more from the coaching ranks:

  • Speaking of the Chargers, Staley is at least getting who he wants for one position. Los Angeles is hiring Raiders tight ends coach Frank Smith away to be their new offensive line coach and run game coordinator, Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com tweets. Smith and Staley previously served on Vic Fangio’s Bears staff together, so there’s a connection there. As Gutierrez points out, Smith did a great job in helping Darren Waller blossom into one of the league’s best tight ends.
  • Smith isn’t the only assistant coach shuffling the Raiders are doing. New DC Gus Bradley is starting to flesh out his staff, and he’s hired Richard Smith and Ron Milus as his linebackers and defensive backs coaches respectively, Vincent Bonsignore of the Las Vegas Review-Journal tweets. Smith and Milus held those same roles under Bradley with the Chargers previously.
  • The Lions are by all accounts planning on hiring Saints assistant Dan Campbell to be their new head coach, although notably no deal has been announced even though it’s been a couple of days now since New Orleans was bounced from the playoffs. Interim coach Darrell Bevell “earned serious consideration for the position,” and it’s possible he could get the job if talks with Campbell fell through, according to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports. Bevell was Detroit’s OC before taking over for a fired Matt Patricia. Bevell was 1-4 as interim coach, and was the Seahawks’ OC from 2011-17.
  • LSU was finalizing a deal to make Saints defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen their new defensive coordinator, Jane Slater of NFL Network tweets. However, that hit a snag as it was reported New Orleans was blocking him from getting out of his contract. Things were resolved this morning with Nielsen being given a new three-year contract and the added title of assistant head coach to stay with the Saints, a source told Mike Triplett of ESPN.com (Twitter link). With Dennis Allen getting a head coaching interview with the Eagles, Nielsen could be a candidate to eventually take over as DC as he’s apparently very highly regarded within the building.

Coaching Notes: 49ers, Browns, Bills, Saints

New 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan could look to pilfer one of his Atlanta subordinates, as running backs coach Bobby Turner could be leaving the Falcons for San Francisco, reports D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Turner has long been associated with Shanahan and his father, Mike, having coached with the family in Denver and Washington before joining the Falcons in 2015. A previous report indicated Atlanta was unlikely to allow Turner to follow Shanahan to the West Coast.

Here’s more from the 2017 hiring cycle:

  • The Browns have agreed to hire former Bills quarterbacks coach David Lee for the same role, tweets Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. Lee, 63, has coached offenses and QBs since the mid-1970s, and most recently had two separate stints with the Buffalo interrupted by a run with the Jets. In Cleveland, he’ll work with Cody Kessler, Kevin Hogan, and — if he’s retained — Robert Griffin III. Previously reported staff changes that included moving tight ends coach Greg Seamon to QBs coach were only in place for the Senior Bowl, adds Cabot (Twitter link).
  • The Bills have hired former NFL wide receiver Chad Hall as an offensive coaching assistant, according to Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com (Twitter link). Hall, who played for the Eagles in 2010 while new Buffalo head coach Sean McDermott served as the club’s defensive coordinator, will work with the Bills’ wideouts, tweets Adam Caplan of ESPN.com. The Buffalo gig will mark the first coaching job for Hall, who last played in 2014 with Jacksonville.
  • Hall wasn’t the only coach hired by the Bills this week, as Buffalo also announced that its hired Bobby Babich as assistant defensive backs coach. Babich, the son of longtime NFL defensive coordinator Bob Babich, will serve under newly-installed DBs coach Gill Byrd. Babich, who spent the 2016 campaign with Florida International, has also spent NFL time with the Browns and Panthers.
  • The Chargers have hired D’Anton Lynn as a defensive assistant and Dan Shamash as an offensive quality control coach, per Caplan (Twitter link). Lynn, the son of new Los Angeles head coach Anthony Lynn, coached with the Bills last year, while Shamash spent the 2016 season with Jacksonville.
  • Former North Carolina State defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen has been hired in the same role by the Saints, reports Bruce Feldman of FOX Sports (Twitter link). New Orleans originally pursued former 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula for the position, but will instead roll with Nielsen, who’s coached with the Wolfpack since 2014.
  • The Bears could have interest in hiring Bob Bicknell as their new wide receivers coach, tweets Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune. Bicknell has coached wideouts at the NFL level since 2012, spending time with Buffalo, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, and isn’t expected to retained by the 49ers.
  • Cedric Smith is returning to the Broncos as an assistant strength and conditioning coach after seven years in Houston and Kansas City, per Mike Klis of 9NEWS (Twitter link). Smith previously worked for Denver from 2001-06.