In another nationally televised disaster, the Chicago Bears went down meekly 31–15 to the New Orleans Saints in a game that was nowhere near as close as the final tally indicates. The Bears had two meaningless scores in the fourth quarter when the game was already long over. Boos reigned down from a Soldier Field crowd with more than 10,000 no-shows in the first minute after a Jay Cutler pick, but that was nothing compared to the hysterics of Jon Gruden on the television broadcast as he surgically dissected the team.
With the lack of urgency the Bears displayed, you could count them among the no-shows. They called two consecutive running plays with less than seven minutes left in the fourth quarter as Gruden challenged their thought process making those calls with the clock running out. Considering the sideshow of the previous week with offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer calling out Cutler, you would think the team would have had a little more pep to the step than they displayed Monday night. The reality is the team has quit on head coach Marc Trestman.
Word leaked out last week in a report by NFL Network’s Ian Rapaport that the team wasn’t happy with quarterback Cutler, and there was buyer’s remorse regarding the huge offseason contract he signed.
It turned out the mole was Kromer. While Kromer didn’t take credit for the buyer’s remorse comment, he did question Cutler’s judgment when calling plays. Kromer said he apologized to Cutler and the offense last Monday. Meanwhile, it’s business as usual at Halas Hall as Trestman said the situation would be handled internally—in other words, nothing would be done. Yes, Kromer is still coaching the quarterback he seemingly has no confidence in.
While I agree with Kromer’s assessment of Cutler, as a member of the coaching staff, you can’t come out to the media off the record, question the quarterback, and then out yourself and take the blame for those comments.
On the Sunday night debacle in November against Green Bay, analyst Cris Collinsworth referred to the team as a once-proud franchise, and I’m trying to figure out exactly when that was. If he was talking about the 1930s and ‘40s, ok, but outside of a few blips like 1963 and 1985, when have the Bears even been relevant?
It’s a tough pill for loyal Bears fans to swallow, with Papa Bear George Halas often referred to as the pioneer of the professional game. While he is long gone, the team is still in the family, and that’s where the problem lies. Somewhere in the lineage, the apple has not only fallen far from the tree, but it’s not even in the ballpark, so to speak.
George McCaskey is the latest family member to wear the crown, or should I say dunce cap? Virginia, the family matriarch and daughter of the legendary Halas, appointed him. He took over in 2011 from his brother, Michael, who was previously sent to his room for multiple screw-ups.
George proudly took the reins and looked forward to turning things around. He felt a kinship with the fans as he related to local business leaders in October. “We have a responsibility to Bears fans and the city and we think we’re uniquely qualified to carry out that responsibility,” he said that day.
I’m not sure what he meant by those words other than he and his siblings were fortunate enough to be born into the family. If that’s the “unique” quality he is referring to—I buy in. If it has anything to do with competence on the part of anyone associated with the family, I’m at a loss.
George is currently the Chairman of the Board, but the person running football operations is Ted Phillips. He joined the organization as the team’s controller in 1983 and was elevated to president of the organization in 1999. In other words, an accountant is running a historic football team in one of the largest markets in the country.
The problems with the Bears all start at the top. If the people in charge don’t have a clue what they’re doing, how can you expect different results? When Phillips decided the team needed a general manager in 2001, he hired an outside consulting firm to give him a list of candidates, and ended up hiring Jerry Angelo. Angelo was already in the division working for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as their player personnel director.
If you ever heard a Jerry Angelo press conference with the Bears, you would wonder how someone as bumbling as him was hired for the position. Many bad drafts followed, as well as a coaching hire of Lovie Smith that followed the organization’s philosophy of hiring milquetoast coaches. After dealing with the volatile Mike Ditka (he was Halas’ last major decision before he passed) roaming the sideline, the family decided they preferred fewer fireworks from the coaching staff.
Dave Wannstedt was the hot coordinator and the first hire after Ditka. Aside from a mustache that drew a lot of attention, the Wannstedt era was quickly forgotten in Chicago. Dick Jauron, a nice-enough guy, followed him but if you arrested him for having a personality, the charges would be thrown out of court.
Smith followed. He was Angelo’s third choice in his first hiring as the GM. If the team wanted to award his tenure with a statue, they wouldn’t need to build one. They could just plant the real thing on the grounds around Soldier Field with his eyes looking up to the sky and he would look just like he did on the sideline for the Bears for nine years.
That brings us to the current coach—Trestman. He was the first hire of Phil Emery, who took over when Angelo was fired. Emery won the beauty contest of ugly contestants with no GM experience on his resume. A scout and a former strength coach, he followed the pattern of hiring people who have never done the job before that the Bears seem to adhere to.
When Emery was hired, Phillips told him that he could not fire Smith the first season. Not only was that part of the requirement for him to be hired, but he also had to be interviewed by Lovie for the job. That’s quite an interesting development where the coach gets to determine who decides his fate.
After another season where the Bears missed the playoffs, Emery decided to part ways with Smith. He interviewed several candidates for the position, including Bruce Arians, who was coming off a Coach of the Year campaign as interim coach of the Indianapolis Colts. Arians wanted the job, but Emery decided to go out of the box—and out of the country—to snag Trestman from the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League. While Arians has been a revelation for the Arizona Cardinals, who gladly offered him the job after the Bears passed, the Trestman hire questions, “What the hell was Emery thinking when he hired this guy?”
He seems like a nice guy, but he is far over his head in this position. That’s why he was never offered a head coaching job in the past, and why nobody else was even interested in interviewing him for the position in years outside of Canada. Arians would have fallen into the type of personality from which the Bear higher-ups prefer to stay away.
One of the main reasons Trestman was hired was because he was thought to be a “quarterback whisperer.” He had success in previous stops as an offensive coordinator, and the thought was he would be able to correct Cutler’s flaws.
Unfortunately, Cutler is foolproof in that there is no way to correct his flaws. Aside from throwing off the wrong foot, being unable to read defenses, and forcing throws that aren’t there, his leadership ability is questionable. You’ve heard the saying, “His teammates would run through a brick wall for him.” In Cutler’s case, his teammates throw bricks at him. Even Brandon Marshall, his buddy from their Denver days, recently commented on Cutler’s contract. “I can understand that as far as a business man, I would have buyer’s remorse too,” he said, according to Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune.
This is a flawed organization from top to bottom. The owners put people in positions they are not qualified for. The accountant (team president) is in charge of hiring the “football guy,” but he has no clue what to look for so he hires someone below his position just like he is. The new GM falls in love with a coach nobody wanted and puts his future in his hands. The coach thinks he can fix the un-fixable quarterback and convinces the GM to extend his contract instead of doing the smart thing and franchising him for one year. The same GM also gave the volatile Marshall a contract extension when he didn’t need to. Now Marshall is acting out like he did at previous stops, while under-performing on the field.
Do you see how things work here? It’s the blind leading the blind. So how do you fix this mess? That’s a question much easier to ask than answer.
As I mentioned, it starts at the top, and that’s Virginia McCaskey. As long as she is around, this sad situation will remain in perpetuity. She’s 91-years-old and counting. Once she goes to the big football field in the sky, the family trust that is divided among several family members might have to sell the team because of possible inheritance tax issues or percentage of ownership guidelines.
That is the only real hope for the franchise in its current state. A similar renaissance occurred with the Blackhawks in Chicago. They were so far out of the public consciousness that local sports radio management threatened show hosts against talking about the team. That was before (Dollar) Bill Wirtz died. He took over the team from his father, Arthur. They were both cut from the same cloth. Fortunately, Bill’s son Rocky took over, and like the mythical character from the movie, he overcame incredible odds (the family blood lines) and not only led the Hawks back to relevance, but to two championships along the way.
Acknowledging he wasn’t capable of fixing the situation, he went outside the organization and put a person in charge to correct the ills that infected his franchise. The Cubs made a similar move when Tom Ricketts stole Theo Epstein from the Red Sox and gave him control over the baseball side of the organization. While the Cubs haven’t won anything yet, they finally appear to be headed in the right direction after 106 years of futility.
While I doubt anyone in the McCaskey family has the gumption to make a similar decision, hiring someone to oversee the football side of the business like a Bill Polian or someone of that ilk is the only way to get the Bears headed in the right direction. While he’s probably too old to run the day-to-day operation, he can put the right people in place. That would be a refreshing change for an organization that has been buried in the past for what seems like forever.