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Path is clear for Emery in Bears’ search

(MCT) — ATLANTA — All but one of the 13 known candidates for the Bears’ head coaching job are in play for general manager Phil Emery this week.

Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians interviewed for the job Sunday and it is believed he concludes an expansive initial list of prospects that Emery has met during travel across the country the last two weeks.

The Bears are expected to begin bringing finalists to Halas Hall for a second round of interviews this week, and the only candidate not available is Falcons special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong, whose team advanced to the NFC championship game. While Emery talked about being with his head coach during college all-star games, it’s more important the Bears get a jump on filling out a staff for the new coach because with other openings closing, there is going to be a race to hire the best assistants.

Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, who interviewed with Emery in Atlanta on Saturday, is in the mix after his team was eliminated despite another remarkable game by rookie quarterback Russell Wilson. Wilson engineered a 20-point comeback in the fourth quarter, only to leave the Falcons with time for a winning field goal.

Three other offensive coordinators were made immediately available with divisional-round playoff losses this weekend — the Broncos’ Mike McCoy, the Packers’ Tom Clements and the Texans’ Rick Dennison. McCoy is becoming a hot target as he reportedly will interview with the Chargers and a source said he could be the top choice of Cardinals President Michael Bidwill.

In a season highlighted by the play of rookie quarterbacks, Wilson in many ways stood out above the top two picks, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. The 75th overall pick won six straight games, beginning with an overtime victory at Soldier Field on Dec. 2 before losing Sunday despite 385 yards passing, 60 yards rushing and three combined touchdowns.

“It improved me as a coach and as an offensive coordinator (because) we had to figure out what is best for our players,” Bevell said after the loss. “Obviously, a quarterback is much more involved in the offense and we had to understand his skill set, what his strengths are, what his weaknesses are, how much we can put on his plate, what we can expect him to do and still be successful.

“You grow (as a coach) in all kinds of ways. Obviously Russell kind of broke the mold in terms of what everyone thinks a quarterback can be and should be. So you kind of say, ‘OK, let’s just not count it out because of that number (height).’ So, you learn lots of things in that situation.”

Bevell, 43, was an offensive assistant with the Packers and then quarterbacks coach with Brett Favre before becoming the Vikings offensive coordinator in 2006, eventually working with Favre again and getting to an NFC title game. So he has done what Emery said a successful coach must in working with what he has on the roster.

“(Wilson and Favre) are kind of polar opposites, aren’t they?” Bevell said. “I was fortunate to be working with a guy that had many, many years of experience when I started to coach Brett. So there was some learning I took from him in how to work with him, how to coach him and then when you get a rookie, you’re learning exactly how to handle that situation as well.”

Seahawks wide receiver Sidney Rice, who enjoyed the finest season of his career in Minnesota when Bevell was calling plays, said Bevell he is prepared for a bigger role after directing Seattle’s offense the last two seasons.

“He’s proven throughout his career as an offensive coordinator that his teams can make plays,” Rice said. “He’s been to an NFC championship game. He did well in Green Bay and now here. The offense is clicking and an opportunity is there for him. Why not give him a shot?”

A possible negative is that Bevell isn’t the most vocal coach, but that might make him a fit for Emery.

“He doesn’t talk a lot and most of the time he doesn’t have to,” Rice said. “Look at what he did. He had a hell of a year. All of those plays (for Wilson) were designed by Bev to get him going, and that is exactly what happened.”

It will be interesting to see what direction Emery heads next. Eight of the 13 candidates have offensive backgrounds. In the divisional round of the playoffs, the NFC teams scored 45, 31, 30 and 28 points. The offense the new coach inherits is going to need some work to compete with the league’s best.

Bevell cannot be sure if his time is coming. His father, Jim, was a high school coach in Arizona for decades and he always has aspired to become a head coach.

“The important thing for me is really ... I always want to do my job well, the job that I have,” Bevell said. “That is one thing my dad taught me. I haven’t been one of those guys always looking over the horizon, finding a better place to go, finding a better situation. Coach (Pete) Carroll, going back to Coach (Brad) Childress, going back to Coach (Mike) Sherman. They all entrusted me with a job and I just want to do that one.

“When you do it well, just as our team played well, everyone gets credit for it and all of a sudden you have All-Pro players, Pro Bowl players. It’s the same deal. The success of those guys has helped me just doing what I am supposed to be doing.”

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