Chris Ballard was a typical hard-working area scout for the Bears — an enthusiastic evaluator who did his homework and learned from his mistakes. But he also showed potential for bigger and better things.
“Chris knows how to evaluate talent. And Chris knows how to build a team,” said former Bears general manager Jerry Angelo, Ballard’s boss with the Bears from 2001-11. “He did his homework. He had a strong opinion based on research and hard work. He worked well with people. And he gets it. He understands the dynamic on what to look for in players and how to build a team.”
Ballard, the Kansas City Chiefs’ director of player personnel the past two seasons, is scheduled to interview with the Bears on Wednesday. Angelo called him the best man for the job.
“I just feel strongly about him. I feel he’s ready. I think they couldn’t get a better candidate,” Angelo said. “If there’s anybody that’s put in the time and learned well — and I saw it first-hand — I think he’s as good as any. He’s an excellent candidate.”
2. There’s no telling if Ballard would be a good NFL general manager. The Bears went to the Super Bowl during his 12-year run in the personnel department, but they also missed the playoffs eight times. The Bears drafted Matt Forte, Tommie Harris, Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs, but they also drafted Michael Haynes, Dan Buzuin, Chris Williams and Gabe Carimi.
The Chiefs improved from 2-14 before Ballard was hired as director of player personnel to 11-5 in 2013 and 9-7 in 2014. But he’s third-in-command with the Chiefs, behind coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey.
And most of all, nobody can tell just how lucky he’ll be. Being at the right place at the right time is a huge factor. Bill Polian was hired by the Bills the year after they drafted Jim Kelly. He went to the Colts they year they drafted Peyton Manning — a key decision over Ryan Leaf, but still a fortuitous opportunity.
“You have to be fortunate,” former Packers general manager Ron Wolf said when asked about the key to his and Ted Thompson’s success. “You’re talking about two exceptional coaches in [Mike] Holmgren and [Mike] McCarthy; two exceptional quarterbacks in [Brett] Favre and [Aaron] Rodgers. You’d like to say it’s skill and ability. But there’s a little bit of luck involved, and good fortune.”
3. Former Bears special teams coach Dave Toub, who has been with the Chiefs the past two seasons, would be a very legitimate candidate for head coach — in Chicago or somewhere else.
Special teams coaches such as Toub are actually better qualified for head-coaching positions than many coordinators, because they work with offensive and defensive players, they have the toughest teaching job in the business and most of all, their job is about managing people — the toughest part of coaching. Most players on special teams units would rather be doing something else and it’s Toub’s job to get the most out of them — something he did in Chicago extremely well.
Unfortunately, nobody hires special teams coaches. Even John Harbaugh, a special teams coach for nine years with the Eagles, was moved to defensive backs coach in 2007 by Andy Reid to enhance his candidacy for a head-coaching job. And it worked. Toub doesn’t have that advantage.
4. The playoffs are often seen as an impediment to a team searching for a head coach — Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase, defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio and Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn might not be available until after the Super Bowl. But good teams find a way around it. None of the 10 active NFL head coaches with five or more career playoff victories was hired for their current job off a playoff team — Bill Belichick, Pete Carroll, John Harbaugh, Mike Tomlin, Mike McCarthy, Tom Coughlin, Andy Reid, Sean Payton, Jeff Fisher and John Fox.
5. Ron Rivera. Rod Marinelli. Pep Hamilton — it was a pretty good wild-card weekend for former Bears coaches.
Rivera, fired as defensive coordinatory by Lovie Smith after the 2006 Super Bowl season, has the Panthers in the divisional round after a victory over Bruce Arians’ Cardinals. The Panthers have won five consecutive games after a 1-8-1 stretch. The Panthers are 16-5 in December and January in Rivera’s four seasons. The Bears are 5-13 in that span.
Marinelli, who left the Bears — reportedly in a huff — after Lovie Smith was fired in 2012, reached the divisional round with the Cowboys, who held the Lions to three points in the second half in a 24-20 victory over the Lions on Sunday.
Under Marinelli, the Cowboys improved from 26th in points allowed to 15th — despite losing Pro Bowl defensive end DeMarcus Ware. The Bears dropped from 30th to 31st in the same span, despite the addition of defensive end Jared Allen.
Hamilton, who was fired as quarterbacks coach by Smith after the 2009 season, is riding high as the offensive coordinator of the Indianapolis Colts, who reached the divisional round with a victory over the Bengals on Sunday.
6. The NFL gives sub-.500 playoff teams a home game they don’t deserve. With Carolina’s victory over the Cardinals, teams that are .500 or worse are 4-0 in the wild-card round since 2008 — all of them division champions winning at home. It would seem like an easy tweak to the playoff format to force division champions to finish above .500 to host a playoff game. But the NFL will never go for it — it makes too much sense.
7. Would Bears fans rather their beloved be the Cincinnati Bengals, who have made the playoffs four consecutive seasons and five of the last six but have yet to win a wild-card game?
After completing his 12th season as the Bengals’ head coach, Marvin Lewis is No. 2 on the NFL seniority list behind the Patriots’ Bill Belichick. How unusual is Lewis’ stability? Of the top eight coaches in NFL seniority, seven have a combined playoff record of 58-30, with 10 Super Bowls — they’ve each won at least one. Lewis is 0-6 in the playoffs. He’s the only current NFL coach who has not won a Super Bowl with more than four years at his current job.
8. Though the Lions got the worst end of the officiating in their 24-20 loss to the Cowboys on Sunday, it’s hard to feel too bad for a team that responded to a bad break with a 10-yard punt.
8a. That said, the most egregious non-call of the game was Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant avoiding an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for running onto the field without his helmet to protest the pass interference call on teammate Anthony Hitchens. “That was worse than the pass interference call,” former Colts Super Bowl-winning coach Tony Dungy said on “The Dan Patrick show.” You can debate the pass interference call. But the helmet rule is plain.”
9. Ex-Bears Player of the Week: Cowboys fullback Tyler Clutts played just four snaps against the Lions, but made them count. Clutts had the key block that sprang DeMarco Murray for a fourth-and-goal one-yard touchdown run that cut the Cowboys’ deficit to 20-14.
10. The big winners in the NFC wild-card games were the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks, who play the 7-8-1 Panthers instead of the 11-5 Lions. Meanwhile, the Packers get the Cowboys, who were 8-0 on the road this season. The Packers were 8-0 at home, but they have lost three of their last four home playoff games.