MILWAUKEE (Jan. 11, 2006) -- The Green Bay Packers just finished their worst season in 15 years, yet defensive coordinator Jim Bates says the team isn't that far from becoming a playoff contender again.
"Teams can climb back from the bottom to the top in a year, two years," Bates said in a telephone interview from Green Bay. "We can be back there in a hurry. I'm not saying one year or two years, but it won't take long."
He might get the chance to prove it.
Bates spent about four hours interviewing with Packers general manager Ted Thompson on Monday for the team's vacant coaching job. From the tone of the interview, he said he got the impression he is a serious candidate.
"You get a feel whenever you interview, and coming away from talking to Ted, I just felt real confident," he said.
Bates also is confident he is the most qualified candidate.
Bates, whose high-energy coaching style earned him the support of Packers players, already knows the organization and the teams.
And he believes his background compares favorably to the other candidates Thompson has interviewed to replace fired coach Mike Sherman.
"Look at the track record," Bates said. "I think that's all one has to do."
Among other reported candidates are Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon, New York Giants defensive coordinator Tim Lewis, San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy, Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Sean Payton, San Diego Chargers defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, and possibly Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line coach Russ Grimm.
It's a solid group, but short on big-name sizzle -- another factor that could play into Bates' favor.
Bates' efforts were overshadowed as the team went 4-12. But in his first year as the Packers' defensive coordinator, Bates engineered a modest turnaround.
Green Bay had the league's 25th-ranked defense in 2004 and lost veteran safety Darren Sharper to free agency in the offseason.
But despite injuries to key players, the Packers allowed an average of 293.1 yards per game, seventh-best in the league.
Bates believes that by simply getting back the players the team lost to injuries last season, both on offense and defense, will go a long way toward getting them back in playoff contention.
"A lot of things have to happen as far as the injuries," Bates said. "We have to get those guys back."
Bates spent the previous five seasons in Miami, where he oversaw one of the league's top defenses. The Dolphins struggled to a 1-8 start in 2004, and Bates took over as interim coach after Dave Wannstedt stepped down. They finished the season 3-4, including a memorable fourth-quarter comeback to beat the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football.
Bates interviewed for the Miami job last year and had vocal support from players, but the Dolphins hired Nick Saban.