When the Bears fired Mike Ditka on Jan. 5, 1993, after a 5-11 season, the scorned but optimistic coach uttered the now-famous words, “this, too, shall pass.”
Well, just as he was with Doug Flutie, Ditka was wrong. At least for the Bears, he was.
Since the Ditka era, the Bears have been to five playoffs and won four postseason games in 23 seasons. During Da Coach’s 11-year reign, the Bears went to seven playoffs and won six postseason games, including Super Bowl XX.
Here’s how Chicago Sun-Times writer Brian Hewitt described the firing of Mike Ditka in an article published on Jan. 6, 1993:
The hints were everywhere he wanted to look. But Mike Ditka knew for sure he was history Tuesday when he found out Michael McCaskey had ordered extra security at McCaskey’s Winnetka home for later in the day.
“If he’s gonna keep me,” Ditka told a close friend over the phone, “he wouldn’t need armed guards at his house.”
It had come to that.
McCaskey, who apparently has decided to reinvent himself in the image of Dallas Cowboys owner-president-general manager Jerry Jones, actually feared bodily harm might come to him and his family if he fired Ditka, the man George Halas hired in 1982. Two bodyguards escorted McCaskey from Halas Hall when he left the building Tuesday.
“Henchmen,” one Bears employee called them.
Ditka also told the friend he had no idea until recent weeks how much animosity McCaskey had harbored toward Halas, his
grandfather. And it made him think about what former Bears general manager Jerry Vainisi used to tell him before McCaskey fired Vainisi in 1987. Like Ditka, Vainisi had been hired by Halas.
“These aren’t the Halas Bears anymore,” McCaskey would say over and over to the frustrated Vainisi.
“These are the McCaskey Bears.”
Vainisi declined comment Tuesday.
The time has come for Ditka to get on with his life. If you believe that stuff about his staying as a consultant, you are out of touch with reality.
“That’s just to keep things legal,” said former Dallas general manager Tex Schramm, who believes McCaskey simply is trying to cover himself contractually.
Meanwhile, one Bears assistant coach said Tuesday Ditka already has received phone calls from two NFL teams pondering
NFL teams that are looking or should be looking for new coaches include the Falcons, the Broncos, the Oilers, the Patriots, the Giants, the Jets, the Seahawks and the Cardinals.
The most intriguing possibility is Ditka moving to New York, particularly to coach the Giants. But the most realistic near-term fit is in Phoenix.
The Cardinals have the worst attendance in the league. And they haven’t won more than seven games since 1984 when the team still played in St. Louis. Owner Bill Bidwill was unavailable for comment Tuesday in Dallas where he is attending the latest round of NFL owners meetings. A team source said Monday Bidwill has indicated he will not pursue Ditka or former Denver coach Dan Reeves.
But that could change. Bidwill is desperate for a marketing strategy. And hiring Ditka would mean an estimated season ticket sales increase of up to 20,000 within a week. The number of former Chicagoans living in the Phoenix area is substantial. And with the recent failures of longtime Cardinals GM Larry Wilson, Ditka probably could negotiate at least partial control of the football operation into his contract. He might even get a piece of the team.
“There’s going to be a groundswell of support for Bidwill to hire Ditka,” said Lloyd Herberg, who covers the Cardinals for the Arizona Republic.
“And Bidwill may be forced to bow to the wishes.”
The Cardinals sold 21,000 season tickets in 1992. That number could dip below 15,000 for 1993 if Bidwill stands pat.
“I still think Mike Ditka will end up in Phoenix,” said former Bears linebacker Doug Buffone, another link to the Halas Era. When Buffone retired after the 1979 season, he was the last active Bear who had been coached by Halas. Ditka was the last coach hired by Halas.
Ditka’s friends are advising him to take a year off, heal physically and psychologically, take a network television job and weigh his options. One of those options is ownership. Asked before the Bears’ loss in Houston last month how soon Ditka could put together a syndicate to buy a franchise, Ditka’s wife Diana said, “Yesterday.”
Any Ditka syndicate surely would involve Vainisi, who lives in Dallas and supervises a skeleton crew at the offices of the dormant World League of American Football.
But for now Ditka is a consultant. Which makes Michael McCaskey an insultant.
McCaskey’s the boss. Ditka’s the one who doesn’t need bodyguards.