Sean Desai’s defense held Pete Carroll’s offense to 3 of 10 on third-down attempts during a Bears victory Dec. 26. It caught Carroll’s attention, apparently.
The Seahawks have requested an interview with Desai, according to a report from The Athletic, for their vacant defensive coordinator position. The Seahawks fired defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. earlier this week. Norton had been in the position since 2018.
With eight head coaching jobs open, the NFL coaching carousel is well underway. Most of those eight teams are focused on finding their head coach. That gives teams like the Seahawks and the Carolina Panthers, who are in need of an defensive coordinator, a leg up in finding coordinators.
Desai, 38, replaced Chuck Pagano as the Bears’ defensive coordinator last year. He has worked for the Bears since 2013, working his way up from defensive quality control coach. All his NFL coaching experience is in Chicago, although he previously worked at the college level. Desai is the rare assistant coach who has stuck under three head coaches: Marc Trestman, John Fox and Matt Nagy.
Desai studied under his predecessors Vic Fangio and Pagano before taking over the team’s top defensive job. With a background in teaching – he is literally a professor – and a calm, yet commanding presence in any room, Desai has all the right tools to be a good coach.
He lacks only experience at the top levels of NFL coaching.
“I’ve grown in a lot of ways,” Desai said when asked in December what he has learned during his first year as defensive coordinator. “I think one thing you always want to do is you always want to stay within the game and advance your knowledge of the game in the moment. When you’re in this role, you’ve got to be able to do that at a fast pace, obviously, from game-to-game, week-to-week, but within a game. And I think we’ve grown that way. The staff has done a great job in terms of supporting me and sharing their ideas.”
Desai’s Bears defense was sixth-best among 32 NFL teams in yards against per game. It ranked third against the pass and had the No. 1 sack rate. The Bears produced only 16 takeaways [tied for 26th in the league], and ranked 22nd in points against per game.
With so much time invested in Desai’s development as a coach, the Bears might want to find a way to keep him around. That happens only if they find a head coach who wants to work with Desai.
And Desai has no obligation to wait around and see.
Under Carroll, the Seahawks were initially known for their defensive prowess through the first half-decade of his tenure. The “Legion of Boom,” as the Seahawks’ defense with defensive backs Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas came to be known, ran a hybrid 4-3 scheme. But those players are long gone, and the Seahawks defense needs a facelift.
It’s unclear how a marriage with Desai, who has spent years studying the 3-4 scheme of his predecessors, might fit into such a puzzle. The Seahawks have also reportedly requested an interview with Ed Donatell, the Broncos defensive coordinator who served as defensive backs coach in Chicago from 2015-18.
If the Seahawks are interested in Desai, other teams might be as well.
Seattle is the only team currently looking for only a defensive coordinator. There are eight open head coaching jobs: the Bears, Broncos, Texans, Jaguars, Dolphins, Vikings, Raiders and Giants. The potential interest in Desai will take better shape in the coming weeks as more head coaches fill those vacancies.
With Fangio fired in Denver, Desai’s two closest head coach connections – the Chargers’ Brandon Staley and the Panthers’ Matt Rhule – are not currently in need of defensive coordinators. Staley coached with Desai in Chicago from 2017-18, while Rhule served on the same staff with Desai at Temple from 2006-10.
But the NFL coaching world is a small circle. Friends usually hire friends, or people their friends recommend. Desai has become a known commodity, with powerful friends and mentors to vouch for him.