As usual after watching a bad Bears loss, thoughts turned to mental self-preservation. The immediate, knee-jerk remedy seemed to be a move to another country. Somewhere warm where they don’t even know about American football.
But after that passed, the mind proceeded to anger: Rather than us, shouldn’t the source of all this sustained ineptness have to hit the road? That would be the McCaskey family, the owner of the Bears. The one constant from the very distant 1985 Super Bowl through the decades of futility to last Sunday’s rock-bottom loss in Tampa are the McCaskeys. Off with their corporate heads!
And then, finally, like the final stage of grief, there was acceptance: The McCaskeys aren’t going anywhere. As much as people might want the family to divest itself of the team – and your emails and tweets suggest you very much want that – it’s not going to happen.
The problem is that the McCaskeys aren’t like your typical NFL owner, who enjoys his profits and worships at the altar of those profits. They don’t care about money, at least not in the sense of being conspicuous consumers away from Halas Hall. They don’t spend the money on themselves. They might sit around counting it, but they don’t spend it.
They do care about the Bears, a lot. Unfortunately, they have no idea what they’re doing when it comes to building a championship team. They are one part football acumen and 100 parts ardor. That makes them latter-day Honey Bears, only in gray socks, wingtips and cheerleading burqas.
The worst thing that ever happened to the Bears was the Rickettses, who knew that they didn’t know a lot about baseball, identified who did and hired Theo Epstein to run their baseball team, the Cubs. Epstein had won two World Series in Boston, and he set about building another winner in Chicago. He gutted the franchise, losing on purpose to improve through the draft. He saw a contractual window that allowed him to hire manager Joe Maddon away from the Rays. Then he started luring big-name free agents, and here Cubs fans are, still picking confetti out of their hair.
The lesson is in hiring the right people, and the McCaskeys have failed miserably at this:
— General managers Jerry Angelo, Phil Emery and now, though the sample size is small, Ryan Pace.
— Head coaches Dave Wannstedt, Dick Jauron, Lovie Smith, Marc Trestman and John Fox.
The Bears brought in league-approved consultants to come up with many of these hires, which means that friends and friends of friends of the consultants got jobs in Lake Forest.
From the outside, this might look like an overreaction to a 2-7 record and that awful 36-10 loss to the Buccaneers. But a grand total of 16 playoff games since the 1985 Super Bowl would suggest otherwise. (The Patriots, the Bears’ Super Bowl opponent in ’85, have played in 39 postseason games since then.) That skimpy success indicates that we can expect more of the same as long as the same people are running the franchise.
The McCaskeys hitched themselves to Jay Cutler and refused to let go. It has been an eight-year mistake that, in other, more-perceptive organizations would have been limited to a three-year mistake. But at Halas Hall, the quarterback walks around without clothes, and the emperors say, “Nice threads!”
There long has been talk that the McCaskeys might be willing to sell the team some day. I don’t see it happening. Yes, principal owner Virginia McCaskey is 93. But her son, chairman George McCaskey, is so conscious of the franchise’s history that it’s almost impossible to envision him putting it in the hands of someone who can’t trace his or her lineage back to team founder George Halas. The McCaskeys can tell you all about Red Grange and leather helmets. Just don’t ask them about hiring someone who knows how to win championships.
That has been the ongoing problem. If you want ownership to fire Pace and Fox after two seasons, who do you think is going to do the hiring for their replacements? Again, the McCaskeys. And, again, count on them hiring another consultant like Ernie Accorsi, who recommended Fox and Pace.
The McCaskeys will never play dirty, will never bend the rules, which is noble and sort of too bad. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if they spirited away a successful GM or head coach from another team and then became the subject of a league investigation for their methods, a la the Cubs? Just once?
But you’ll never see that. You’ll hear NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wax poetic about one of the founding families of the league. Meanwhile, that same family hasn’t won in forever. Winning – wasn’t that supposed to be the only thing?