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Weighing the pros and cons for every Packers defensive coordinator candidate

Need a quick primer on the candidates the Packers are considering for their defensive coordinator position? We’ve got you covered.

NFL: Los Angeles Rams-OTA Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Pettine is gone, but who will replace him as defensive coordinator? That’s the question the Green Bay Packers are trying to answer this week, and they have identified at least nine possible answers so far.

Head coach Matt LaFleur has already interviewed several candidates for his vacant defensive coordinator position and has conversations scheduled with several more. In all, he’s been in touch with no fewer than nine potential candidates.

Confused about the talking points related to each of them? Here’s a quick rundown on the pros and cons of each candidate.

Joe Barry

What to like: Experience as a defensive coordinator

If you’re hoping for a defensive coordinator who’s done the job before, Barry might be your man. He helmed the defense for the Lions in 2007 and 2008 and for the Washington Football Team in 2015 and 2016. Concerns about inexperience need not apply here.

What not to like: Not very good as a defensive coordinator

The rub with Barry is that none of the defenses he’s coordinated have been particularly good. Advanced numbers may tell a slightly different story, but the bare facts are a lot to overcome: in four years as a defensive coordinator with two different teams, Barry has never led a defense that finished better than 28th in yards allowed or higher than 17th in scoring.

Chris Harris

What to like: Playing experience

Harris has played at a high level in the NFL, so he at least knows what it takes to get the job done on the field. Translating that experience into viable practices for an entire defense may be a different story, but you can at least take solace in knowing that he’s seen firsthand what it takes to be successful.

What not to like: Coaching experience

Experience can be overrated, but Harris doesn’t have much of it. 2020 was just his fifth year as an actual position coach, though he spent several seasons as a defensive quality control coach prior to that.

Ejiro Evero

What to like: Reputation

There’s no shortage of people with good things to say about Ejiro Evero. It’s possible that’s because Ejiro Evero (eh-JEE-row EV-uh-row) is fun to say and satisfying to type, but it’s more likely that it’s because he’s done an excellent job with his defensive backs everywhere he’s been.

What not to like: Coaching experience

Like Harris, Evero doesn’t have just tons of experience. He’s been good as a position coach over the short run, but that’s no guarantee he can perform on a bigger stage.

Bob Sutton

What to like: High-level experience

Sutton might be the poor man’s Wade Phillips, who appears to be out of the running for the Packers’ available job. The 70-year-old Sutton has been a defensive coordinator in the NFL for a long time, and his defenses have frequently been pretty good.

What not to like: Not clear how his experience will translate

As a best-selling author and organizational psychologist, Sutton certainly has a long list of bona fides, but it’s not immediately apparent what that sort of background would offer for the Packers.

What else not to like: Age and recent results

Plenty of people have voiced concern about Wade Phillips’ name even being mentioned, due to his age. At 70, Sutton presents some of the same concerns.

But more to the point, his most recent stint as a DC ended in quite ignominious fashion. An embarrassing screw up against the Patriots in the 2018 playoffs ended his tenure in Kansas City. And with a new coordinator calling the shots, the Chiefs improved on that side of the ball and won the Super Bowl the next year. How does your reputation come back from that?

Jim Leonhard

What to like: College success

Leonhard’s teams at Wisconsin have been excellent, and his track record there is a good reason he’s gotten NFL defensive coordinator interviews two offseasons in a row. He’s also (more or less) a Rex Ryan/Mike Pettine disciple, having played for one or both of them throughout most his career as a safety, so there shouldn’t be too much of a schematic overhaul needed if he takes the reins in Green Bay.

What not to like: College success

If you were so inclined, you could easily brush aside Leonhard’s results as being “only” at the college level. That’s fair, but with more and more offenses in the NFL looking more and more like their Saturday counterparts, it should be less a concern than it once was.

Chris Kiffin

What to like: Pass rush results

Kiffin’s last two stops have been as a pass rush specialist with the 49ers and a defensive line coach with the Browns. Both his stints produced good results, though Kiffin admittedly did not have a leading role in either one.

What not to like: Coaching experience

Kiffin’s NFL resume is a short one, though he does have fairly extensive college experience. But others on this list have been dinged for being short on NFL experience, and Kiffin falls into roughly the same boat.

Ryan Nielsen

What to like: Results and reputation

A long-time defensive assistant with the Saints, Nielsen has been part of the sea change in New Orleans. The Saints were consistently underwhelming at best on defense, but they now regularly perform well on that side of the ball. Nielsen’s had a hand in that, and he’s well-regarded around the league for it.

What not to like: Scheme background

A minor concern, at best, given how little functional difference there is from one scheme to the next any more. But coming out of Mike Pettine’s largely 3-4-driven defense might be made more challenging by a candidate like Nielsen.

Matt Burke

What to like: Run game focus

If the Packers aim to fix their run defense, going with a guy whose primary job responsibilities lately have included a run game focus might not be a bad idea. Burke currently is the run game coordinator and defensive line coach for the Philadelphia Eagles.

What not to like: History

Burke served as Miami’s defensive coordinator for two years and his defenses ranked 27th and 26th by DVOA in his first and second years, respectively.

Jerry Gray

What to like: In-house candidate

Maybe what the Packers need on defense is just a slightly different perspective. If so, Gray might be the ideal fit. He’s been in the building, helped Jaire Alexander take his game to another level in 2020, and perhaps could do the same for the rest of the defense.

What not to like: In-house candidate

If you’re of the mindset that the Packers need to fully clean house on the defensive side of the ball, Gray just isn’t going to be it for you. Pedigree notwithstanding, he was still present for a couple of high-profile bad plays down the stretch, particularly in the NFC Championship game.