Every so often over the years, I’ve asked myself why I’ve been so hard on the Bears. Quick to criticize them and slow to credit them — that has been me. Good record, bad record, it hasn’t mattered.
There were times when I wondered whether I had been unfair, but the answer was usually the same: No. I know what a professional franchise is supposed to look like. Nothing I have seen has led me to believe that the Bears are anything other than lost. Even when they went to the Super Bowl in the 2006 season, I couldn’t shake the feeling that they had stumbled into it.
There has been one constant throughout my 14 years of writing columns in this town, and it’s the institutional ineptitude of the Bears. At almost every turn, they have made the wrong choice on the biggest decisions, from whom the head coach should be to whether to keep the quarterback to what should be done about Soldier Field. You don’t even want them picking which soda to serve at the stadium.
In a Coke/Pepsi world, the Bears are RC Cola. It’s the perfect metaphor.
The McCaskeys have a death grip on this franchise. They don’t know football, which isn’t a cardinal sin for an owner, and they don’t know how to hire the right football people, which is. And so, since firing Mike Ditka after the 1992 season, the Bears have hired Dave Wannstedt, Dick Jauron, Lovie Smith and Marc Trestman to coach the team. After resisting for years the idea of having a general manager, they finally came up with Jerry Angelo and Phil Emery, in succession. All of them, GMs and coaches alike, have been cut from the same pair of pleated slacks.
The Bears wanted you to think they were being creative by hiring a CFL coach, Trestman, who was on no one else’s radar. In fact, it was an unfortunate combination of brain-dead decision-making and cheapness. The Bears like to hire a coach who has never been an NFL head coach before. They like to hire a general manager who has never been a GM before. You get what you pay for. The Bears pay for beige.
This most certainly is not what an NFL franchise is supposed to look like. An NFL franchise doesn’t sign an average quarterback to a seven-year, $126 million contract and then bench him less than a year later because it realizes he’s not good. An NFL franchise doesn’t go all out in trying to find the leak of a story critical of its quarterback, and it certainly doesn’t have the guilty party — the offensive coordinator — apologize in front of half the team. A true NFL franchise has a direction, and it’s not south.
This is why Chicago football fans have found themselves roasting marshmallows in Dante’s ‘‘Inferno’’ for so many years.
With the team’s record at 5-9 heading into the game Sunday against the Detroit Lions, the angry talk around town is not just that Emery and Trestman must go, but that the Bears have to find a football expert to run the organization. No, really: One of the charter members of the National Football League needs the business end of a pitchfork to tell it to hire a football expert. That, friends, is the sad state of affairs at Halas Hall.
You knock on the McCaskeys’ door for answers, and someone with a bewildered looks answers, saying that figuratively and literally no one is home. If the family doesn’t fire Emery after the season, then they don’t deserve your money in their pockets anymore. He’s the one who hired Trestman, and he’s the one who thought giving Jay Cutler $54 illion in guaranteed money was good business.
We’ll find out if the McCaskeys are paying attention to the outrage of the fan base. My guess is that they aren’t and that Emery will be back. At this point, I’m not sure Army Rangers could rescue Trestman’s job.
But if it turns out that chairman George McCaskey pulls the plug on both men, it shouldn’t be cause for celebration. He hired them, and he’ll hire their replacements. And don’t be surprised if, once again, the family employs football consultants to give them a list of candidates.
Executive headhunter: “We’ve found someone named Harbaugh who might be a possibility.’’
George McCaskey: “Weird. We used to have a player with that name. Unusual spelling. German, I believe. Hearty people, the Germans. Ever had braunschweiger?’’
To Chicago sports fans, the Bears are a public trust. There is no Cubs/White Sox division when it comes to allegiances to the football team. The city is united behind the Bears, and thus more is asked of them than any other franchise — and thus why they can make you want to gouge out your eyeballs.
Over the years, I’ve heard from readers who’ve asked what I have against the Bears. Nothing, other than their incompetence.