Chicago Bears hire Eric Washington — ‘a great communicator with elite leadership skills’ — as defensive coordinator

For the first time since September, Chicago Bears coach Matt Eberflus will have a separate defensive coordinator on his staff.

The Bears announced Saturday that they hired Buffalo Bills assistant head coach and defensive line coach Eric Washington to be their new DC. Washington previously coached with the Bears from 2008-10 under Lovie Smith and served as the defensive line coach in 2010 with defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, an Eberflus mentor.

Washington coached the Bills defensive line since 2020 and was promoted to senior defensive assistant in 2022 and assistant head coach in 2023. He has two years of defensive coordinator experience with the Carolina Panthers in 2018-19 under Ron Rivera. Before that, he coached the Panthers defensive line for seven seasons.

The Bills defense ranked in the top 10 in multiple categories in 2023, including total yards and passing yards allowed per game, sack rate, interception rate and points allowed per game.

Washington is considered a strong teacher and leader who is detailed in his focus on fundamentals and will be able to help the coaching staff schematically, a source said.

“He is a great communicator with elite leadership skills and he will enhance our current defensive staff,” Eberflus said in a statement Saturday. “His track record speaks for itself with coordinator experience as well as expertise in the area of defensive line.”

Eberflus did not fill the defensive coordinator position in September when Alan Williams resigned for what sources told the Tribune was conduct-related reasons, though Eberflus did add senior defensive analyst Phil Snow to help scout opponents. Eberflus took over play calling, and with the help of the addition of defensive end Montez Sweat, helped the defense turn around from a rough start.

Eberflus said this month that he still was determining whether he would continue to call plays after bringing in a coordinator, but NFL Network reported Saturday that the expectation is Eberflus will remain in that role.

“It’s something I’ve stated I love to do,” Eberflus said this month. “But as we talk to these candidates, we’re going to keep everything open right now.”

Washington will help ease the load for Eberflus, who noted during the season he was working later nights to fill both roles. Eberflus said he was looking for a coordinator with high character who was a strong motivator. He wanted someone who could lead the defensive room while Eberflus addresses other areas of the team.

“My family and I are beyond excited to be returning to the Chicago Bears,” Washington said in a statement. “It is humbling to have the opportunity to contribute to one of the most esteemed sports organizations in the world.”

While the Bears fired five offensive coaches — including coordinator Luke Getsy — when their 7-10 season ended, Eberflus opted to keep the defensive staff intact. Washington joins a group that includes cornerbacks coach/defensive passing game coordinator Jon Hoke, defensive line coach Travis Smith, linebackers coach Dave Borgonzi and safeties coach Andre Curtis.

The Bears finished 12th with 324.2 yards allowed per game and had the top-ranked rushing defense, allowing just 86.4 yards per game on the ground. They also finished with a league-best 3.57% interception rate after totaling 22 interceptions to go with six fumble-recovery takeaways.

Their passing defense, ranked 25th with 237.8 yards allowed per game, and their league-worst 4.86% sack rate need improvement.

Washington joins what the Bears hope is an ascending group. He played tight end at Grambling State and also coached defensive line at Northwestern (2004-07) and Ohio (2001-03).

The Bears reportedly interviewed at least three other coaches to join their defensive staff: former Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Joe Barry, Tennessee Titans assistant head coach/defensive line Terrell Williams and Titans defensive pass game coordinator Chris Harris.

Washington will be the Bears’ third major hire since the season ended. They have announced the additions of offensive coordinator Shane Waldron and quarterbacks coach Kerry Joseph. They still need to hire running backs and wide receivers coaches.