Mike Zimmer Updated: 11:15 p.m.
After interviewing for two head coaching jobs the past three weeks, defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's only reaction to not getting either one is getting his unit ready for his upcoming fifth season by seeking upgrades at every position after the most successful four-year run on the Bengals defense in nearly 40 years,
And it will apparently also involve a search to replace 11-year secondary coach Kevin Coyle. An NFL source said Thursday night that Coyle could be named the Dolphins defensive coordinator as soon as Friday.
This is the second straight offseason the Bengals would make a move in the secondary. Last year long-time assistant secondary coach Louie Cioffi became the secondary coach in Arizona.
Coyle, 56, has a reputation as a top position coach in the NFL after four different stints as a college coordinator, and his signature thoroughness has come in handy as a scout. Since head coach Marvin Lewis arrived in 2003, the Bengals have ranked in the top five in interceptions and in two of the last three seasons they've been in the top 10 defending the pass.
In 2005 cornerback Deltha O'Neal set the club record with 10 interceptions while going to the Pro Bowl and back-to-back No. 1 picks Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall, in 2006 and 2007, respectively, formed one of the NFL's top cornerback duos until last season when Joseph signed with Houston and Hall suffered a season-ending torn Achilles.
After Thursday's NFC practice at the Pro Bowl, Cardinals rookie cornerback Patrick Peterson talked about the influence of the Bengals connection.
"He's been around a lot of young guys, a lot of good guys that developed to become one of the top corners in the game like Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall," Peterson said of Cioffi. "Those guys are still doing great things in Houston and Cincinnati and Coach Louie definitely helped develop my game to what it was in the back half of the season."
With a No. 7 ranking, the Bengals defense is coming off its second top 10 season under Zimmer in what has been the best sprint since it had three top 10 finishes from 1973-76. But Zimmer is displeased with a run game that gave up at least 136 yards rushing in four of the last six games that included a total of more than 400 in the two biggest games of the year that finished the season.
That was after the Bengals spent much of October No. 1 in the league allowing yards per rush.
"We can't be satisfied with being just a pretty good defense," said Zimmer. "We played the run well earlier in the year, but we had trouble with it late. But it was more than just that."
Zimmer interviewed for the head coaching jobs in Tampa Bay and Miami, and reports said the Colts were interested but he said Thursday he didn't talk to them. Now Zimmer is looking at a looming shuffle on his own staff because new Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin has apparently gone with Coyle, a friend from northeast days.
"That's a good thing. That's what you want; teams looking at your coaches," Zimmer said. "They do a good job."
But the uncertainty of Coyle's situation has had the Bengals on a bit of a hold. Plus they're looking at three free agents on the defensive line (Frostee Rucker, Jonathan Fanene, Pat Sims), one at starting linebacker (SAM Manny Lawson) and at starting safety (Reggie Nelson).
"We have to make some decisions on what we want to do there and we're waiting to see what happens with Kevin," Zimmer said. "We're pretty solid up front. We've got some pieces. But we've got to play better all over."
The Bengals are hoping a healthier Hall, a healthier Rey Maualuga at middle linebacker, and a healthier Carlos Dunlap at pass-rushing left end will help. Hall tore his Achilles in the ninth game against Pittsburgh and Maualuga (ankle) and Dunlap (hamstring) never seemed right after getting hurt in the middle of the season.
It's believed Maualuga has either had or plans to have surgery on the ankle, but Zimmer isn't prepared to blame what happened in the last six weeks on an injury at one position.
"It's a lot more than that," Zimmer said.
If the Bengals fill from within, a leading in-house candidate to get a promotion is assistant secondary coach Paul Guenther. Since Zimmer arrived before the 2008 season, Guenther has worked in a wide variety of roles with the linebackers, DBs, and special teams.
Asked about an impending shuffle Thursday night, Zimmer said the major elements of a 4-3 with the ability to generate 3-4 looks are going to stay intact.
"But I have projects and we're going to look at what offenses did to us and what top defenses are doing," he said.