Bears pick Eric Washington as defensive coordinator

Eric Washington was the Panthers’ defensive coordinator in 2019.

Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Fourteen years after he coached the Bears’ defensive line, Eric Washington is returning as the team’s defensive coordinator.

The Bears chose Washington, who had been the Bills’ defensive line coach since 2020 and had the added title of assistant head coach this year, on Saturday. The 54-year-old will join an intact defensive coaching staff. Head coach Matt Eberflus has expressed a preference to continue to call defensive plays in 2024.

Washington will nonetheless be an important defensive leader for the Bears, who been without a coordinator since the Bears and Alan Williams parted ways in Week 3. Sources confirmed the departure was related to his conduct. 

Eberflus took over play-calling duties for the rest of the season, eventually hiring Phil Snow to serve as a defensive analyst and handle advanced scouting. The Bears’ defense thrived under Eberflus’ play-calling, allowing the fifth-fewest points in the league over the second half of the season.

In a statement, Eberflus called Washington a “great communicator with elite leadership skills,” and praised his work as both a coordinator and a defensive line coach. Washington was the Panthers’ defensive coordinator from 2018-19 after coaching their defensive line from 2011-17. 

Washington broke into the NFL as a defensive assistant with Lovie Smith’s Bears from 2008-09 before being put in charge of the defensive line in 2010. The Bears gave up the fourth-fewest points and ninth-fewest yards, losing in the NFC title game to the Packers. He then joined Ron Rivera, another former Bears assistant, when he was named Panthers head coach.

Like Washington, Eberflus plugs into the Smith coaching tree. Many of the concepts that contributed to his H.I.T.S. system were fostered by Rod Marinelli, with whom he worked in Dallas and considers a mentor. Washington replaced Marinelli as the Bears’ defensive line coach when the latter was promoted to coordinator in 2010.

At stops in Chicago, Carolina and Buffalo, Washington coached the 4-3, Cover 2-heavy scheme that Eberflus prefers.

Washington said in a statement he was “beyond excited” to return to Chicago. His experience in the area goes beyond the Bears, too — he was Northwestern’s defensive line coach from 2004-07. 

The Bears figure to rely on his defensive line expertise; he helped develop defensive tackle Ed Oliver, a former first-round pick, to his best season in 2023. He finished with 9 ½ sacks.

Bears tackles Gervon Dexter and Zacch Pickens are coming off solid rookie seasons. Be it via the draft or free agency, the Bears figure to add an edge rusher — or two — to complement standout Montez Sweat, who led the Bears in sacks despite being acquired Oct. 31. 

Eberflus said earlier this month he was looking for a coordinator who could run meetings and motivate players.

“It’s important that we find the right person that has great character, great motivator, that can be in front of the room when I’m not in there — when I’m with the offense or preparing for something else, working in other levels of the building,” he said.

The Bears chose Washington after being linked to the Titans’ Terrell Williams and Chris Harris and former Packers coordinator Joe Barry.

Washington will join new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron, who replaced Luke Getsy, and quarterbacks coach Kerry Joseph, who was hired Friday. Getsy interviewed with the Raiders last week and is expected to meet with the Patriots for their vacant coordinator job.

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