Bears general manager Ryan Pace accepted his share of the blame.
“I need to point the finger at myself, as well,” Pace said at the news conference announcing the firing of coach John Fox. “Our record is a reflection on me, as well.”
Even Bears president Ted Phillips acknowledged Pace’s culpability for the three disappointing seasons — 6-10, 3-13, 5-11 — that led to Fox’s firing. Sort of.
“He knows he needs to improve, as we all do,” Phillips said. “But we see progress in our roster, and we’re confident that growth is gonna continue.”
And with that, the message at Halas Hall on Monday was clear: This is Pace’s show. Fox is out, and Pace not only was still standing, but he received a two-year contract extension through the 2021 season.
And that’s the way it should be. Phillips talked about all the characteristics of a good NFL general manager he still sees in Pace — “leadership skills . . . a clear vision of how to put a winning team together . . . management skills . . . communication skills . . . he’s learned how to be a decisive decision-maker . . . instincts to see talent . . . and last but not least, great character.”
That all might be true, but in reality, it boils down to this: Even after hiring Fox, drafting Kevin White, cutting Robbie Gould and signing Mike Glennon and Markus Wheaton among other free-agency misses, Pace still is the smartest football guy at Halas Hall — and it’s not even close. Chairman George McCaskey and Phillips have the authority to fire Pace, but by now we know they haven’t a clue as to how to replace him.
If Pace were fired, the Bears would be hiring their third general manager in the last seven years — a Browns-like pace. What has anyone above Pace at Halas Hall done to give any indication they can find the right guy?
With Fox’s firing, this officially becomes Pace’s mess, but he also deserves the chance to clean it up. He inherited not only a rebuild, but a tear-down to erase the dysfunctional stench of the end of the Phil Emery era.
Three years later, the dynamic that Pace probably wishes he could have started with is in place: He has his franchise quarterback in Mitch Trubisky and now gets to find the coach who can get the most out of him. This is his chance — his first one — to re-create the Sean Payton-Drew Brees model he seeks.
Drafting Deshaun Watson at No. 3 (and saving three picks) or giving the Patriots an offer they couldn’t refuse for Jimmy Garoppolo last year look like better options right now. But Trubisky is his guy. Pace has drafted well enough to earn the right to see if it works. Glennon, Wheaton, White and others stain his fresh résumé. But when you hire a 37-year-old GM, you should give him the chance to learn from his mistakes.
Now we’ll see if he will. Pace didn’t apologize for botching the quarterback situation — not only signing Glennon but not giving Trubisky a chance to win the job.
“I have no regrets in us being aggressive in attacking that position; it’s that important,” Pace said. “We all felt confident in Mike, and sometimes things don’t work out. There are a lot of factors involved.”
Pace’s record in free agency is spotty at best.
“There have been some hits — [Danny] Trevathan and [Akiem] Hicks — and there have been some misses; that’s on me,” Pace said. “We need to get better in that area, and we will get better. But our primary goal is to build through the draft. As we [do that], we can be a little more selective in free agency.”
But for now, his charge is simple: Get the coach and the quarterback right. Everything else seems to fall in place when you do that.
Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash.