The final – and most critical – piece of Chip Kelly’s coaching staff is in place.
The 49ers will hire former Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil, 37, to run the team’s defense. Kelly’s first choice, Houston Texans linebackers coach Mike Vrabel, decided to stay put.
Kelly reportedly also considered 49ers linebackers coach Jason Tarver, a former Raiders defensive coordinator, and Baltimore Ravens linebackers coach Don Martindale, a former Denver Broncos defensive coordinator.
Tarver presumably will continue to coach the 49ers’ outside linebackers. Hardy Nickerson is expected to coach the inside linebackers.
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I’ve also never met a defense player that says, ‘Coach, I want you to possess the ball for the entire game so I don’t have to play.’
49ers coach Chip Kelly
O’Neil’s first year as a defensive coordinator was 2014, when the Browns were last against the run but were solid in defending the pass, finishing eighth. Safeties Donte Whitner and Tashaun Gipson and cornerback Joe Haden made the Pro Bowl that season.
The defense wasn’t as good in 2015, finishing 27th in yards allowed and 29th in points allowed. The 49ers, whose defense was led by Eric Mangini, finished 29th in yards allowed and 18th in scoring. Mangini and the team’s other coordinators were fired last week.
O’Neil has been described as a high-energy coach who often seems ready to bolt onto the field and play a few snaps. He is a former nose tackle who played at Towson outside Baltimore. He worked under former Browns coach Mike Pettine for several years, first as an assistant defensive-backs coach with the New York Jets from 2010 to 2012 and as a linebackers coach with the Buffalo Bills in 2013. O’Neil and Pettine ran a 3-4 defense, the style Kelly said he wants to run with the 49ers.
Kelly’s defenses with the Philadelphia Eagles never finished better than 28th in yards allowed, and his offenses often were blamed for the low ranking. Kelly’s fast-paced system didn’t allow the defense much time to recover on the sideline, and the Eagles finished with the worst time-of-possession ratio all three seasons he was their coach.
29thRanking in points allowed by Jim O’Neil’s Cleveland defense in 2015
Asked whether his offenses negatively affected his defenses, Kelly last week said everyone wants to paint the situation with “one brush.”
“I’ve also never met a defense player that says, ‘Coach, I want you to possess the ball for the entire game so I don’t have to play,’ ” he said. “I want guys that on the defensive side of the football of the San Francisco 49ers can’t wait to get on the field and embrace the opportunity to get out there and play. And when you have a bunch of guys like that, it doesn’t matter.”
The 49ers haven’t announced Kelly’s staff, but assistant coaches have been at the team’s facility since last week.
Building his staff
How new 49ers coach Chip Kelly’s staff is lining up (with previous team):
- Coordinator: Curtis Modkins (Lions)
- Quarterbacks: Ryan Day (Eagles)
- Offensive line: Pat Flaherty (Giants), assistant Eric Wolford (49ers)
- Receivers: Bob Bicknell (Eagles)
- Running backs: Tom Rathman (49ers)
- Tight ends: Jeff Nixon (Dolphins)
- Coordinator: Jim O’Neil (Browns)
- Defensive line: Jerry Azzinaro (Eagles)
- Inside linebackers: Hardy Nickerson (Buccaneers)
- Outside linebackers: Jason Tarver (49ers)
- Secondary: Jeff Hafley (Browns)
- Coordinator: Derius Swinton (Bears)