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Colts' Options to Replace Matt Eberflus (If He Gets a Head Coaching Job)

The Colts could be losing Defensive Coordinator Matt Eberflus this offseason, as he has interviewed with a few teams for their vacant Head Coach jobs. How would the Colts go about replacing Eberflus if he were to depart?

The Indianapolis Colts could, potentially, lose their Defensive Coordinator this offseason, as the Chicago Bears and Jacksonville Jaguars have already interviewed him for their vacant Head Coach jobs.

Despite the constant criticisms from some in the fanbase, Defensive Coordinator Matt Eberflus has done a fantastic job with the Colts in his four year tenure. His defense ranked 7th in overall DVOA this past year and his unit has consistently been among the league leaders against the run and in forcing turnovers.

While losing him would be a tough blow to the defense, there are plenty of options out there that fit what the Colts want stylistically in their defensive coordinator.

In today's piece, I rank a few of the likely options and talk about why they could/should be candidates if the Colts' Defensive Coordinator job were to become open.

Most Likely Options

1.) Alan Williams (Colts' Safeties Coach)

By far and away the most likely replacement for Eberflus would be safeties coach Alan Williams as an internal hire. Williams has been with the team since 2018, when Frank Reich was hired to be the head coach.

In terms of connections, Williams has so many to the zone-heavy scheme the Colts want to run. He got his start in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers under Tony Dungy, and then followed Dungy over to the Colts to coach the secondary. He held that position from 2002-2012.

He later left and became the defensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings in 2012. Following his departure from the Vikings in 2014, he joined the Detroit Lions' coaching staff under Jim Caldwell and DC Teryl Austin. He held that position for four years until joining the Colts in 2018.

Stylistically, Williams would have a similar philosophy to Eberflus. He spent almost his entire career under the tutelage of cover-two coaches (Dungy and Austin) and would likely stick with how the Colts have run their defense over the past four seasons.

With Williams being a long tenured coach with ties to Reich for well over a decade now, it makes all the sense in the world for Williams to get the promotion if Eberflus were to leave.


2.) Lovie Smith (Houston Texans' Defensive Coordinator)

While this may seem like a bit of a retread, Smith proved that he can be a defensive coordinator in this league with the Texans this past season. With a roster practically devoid of talent, the Texans ranked as the 23rd overall defense and had one of the better pass defenses during the second half of the season.

Smith's connections with the Colts go all the way back to his days in Chicago, where he was the head coach for the Bears during a time period where GM Chris Ballard was working as a Pro Scout (2004-2012).

Smith is also heavily connected to Dungy and the Tampa-2 scheme, as he was the linebackers coach for that legendary Buccaneers' defense back in the early 2000's.

While Smith is still currently employed as the Texans' Defensive Coordinator, his job will essentially come down to the new head coach they will bring in this offseason. If he is let go, and Eberflus leaves the Colts, he would be a very similar styled coach to bring in for the role.


3.) Bob Babich (Buffalo Bills' Linebackers Coach)

Keeping with the veteran coaching theme, Bob Babich is another name that has a lot of ties to the Colts' staff. He has spent the last five seasons with the Buffalo Bills, where he has helped Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds become one of the better linebacker duos in the NFL.

Babich's coaching career spans nearly 40 years, as the veteran coach would bring a ton of experience to the position. He overlapped with GM Chris Ballard in Chicago (under Lovie Smith) where he held multiple titles in his nine seasons with the team (2004-2012).

He does have some experience as a defensive coordinator too, as he coached the Bears from 2007-2008 and the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2013-2015. 

While Babich would be a less than flashy hire, he would be an experienced coach coming from one of the best defenses in the NFL this past season. If he can take what he has learned in his nearly 40 years on the job and fuse it with the success that Leslie Frazier had with the Bills, he can be a more than suitable replacement for the Colts.

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Under-The-Radar Options

4.) Jim Schwartz (Tennessee Titans' Senior Defensive Assistant)

If the Colts want to completely flip their defensive scheme upside down, they could look at long time defensive coach Jim Schwartz. While he was fired in 2020, along with the entire Philadelphia Eagles' staff, he was the defensive coach for the team that won the Super Bowl back in 2017.

The obvious overlap with the Colts is that Schwartz and Reich were on the same Eagles' staff from 2016 to 2017. The Eagles had quite a bit of success in that time, so Reich could look to switch up the scheme and go back to what worked with the Eagles.

Scwartz is an ultra-aggressive coach that is great at attacking opponents' tendencies. I'm not sure if this style would work with the Colts, but it could be an interesting look if Eberflus gets a head coach job.


5.) Ken Norton Jr (Former Seattle Seahawks' Defensive Coordinator)

While it wouldn't be as drastic of a scheme change as Schwartz, the Colts could also look at Norton Jr. He is coming off of one of his best years with the Seahawks, as the defense finally began to find its rhythm in the second half of the season.

The only connection that Norton Jr has to the Colts is that he worked as the Seahawks' linebackers coach when (now) Colts' Assistant GM Ed Dodds was with the organization. I'm not too sure about their overall relationship, but Chris Ballard has always been very complimentary of the Seahawks' cover-three scheme.

This hire would only happen if the Colts wanted to move more into a Seahawks' style of defense. I, personally, love how Norton Jr attacks offensive lines with stunts and pressures up front and I think the Colts could desperately use his creativity in that department.


Darkhorse Candidates

6.) John Butler (Buffalo Bills Defensive Backs Coach)

One of the hottest names in league-wide circles is Bills' DB Coach John Butler. Butler has spent the last four seasons with the Bills and has helped the team form one of the best secondaries in the entire league.

While he doesn't have a connection to any Colts' front office member or coach, he did learn the last few years under Leslie Frazier. Frazier is a long time coach that is very similar to Eberflus stylistically, so his system would likely be similar to what the Colts run now.

If the Colts were to look at Butler, they would get one of the best up and coming young coaches in the league. It could be a year or two too early, but he is certainly an intriguing name. 


7.) James Rowe (Colts' Cornerbacks Coach)

The final entry on this list may not be ready for the job yet, but the team loves what he has done with the secondary in just one year. Rowe made the jump to the Colts from Appalachian State in 2021 and he has produced big-time results with the team.

After helping Rock Ya-Sin and Isaiah Rodgers turn out career best seasons, promoting Rowe to defensive coordinator would be a move clearly just to keep his talent. His last stint as a defensive coordinator came back in 2016 with Valdosta State University.

This is obviously a long shot to actually happen, but it wouldn't shock me if he gets a look if/when Eberflus leaves. He is a rising star in this league and I think the Colts already know that.


Follow Zach on Twitter @ZachHicks2.

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