You might not have known this, but the Chicago Bears are the New England Patriots — if not the championship Patriots, then at least the on-the-verge-of-greatness Patriots.
If you listened to Bears officials talk about each other at a news conference Monday afternoon, you would have thought the team had just finished an 11-5 season, not a 5-11 season. And had just finished curing cancer.
General manager Ryan Pace got a contract extension through the 2021 season. We found that out from president Ted Phillips, who, if the Bears ever listened to reason, wouldn’t be near a microphone or a coaching search. But he was, and he will be.
The things that were said Monday!
“There has been a significant transformation of our team,” Phillips said. “Since Ryan was made general manager, we have the third-highest roster turnover in the league. At the end of this past season, we had four draft picks that were with us prior to 2015. That’s the fewest in the league.”
You are correct about the player turnover, Ted, but only because Pace’s predecessor, whom you had a hand in hiring, was a disaster. And now we’re supposed to believe the sweet nothings you’re whispering in our ears about Pace?
“When we hired Ryan, we saw the key characteristics of successful general managers in him, and we feel that he has exhibited those traits in his three years as general manager,” Phillips said. “He’s had leadership skills. He’s shown clear vision of how to put together a winning team.”
Pace is 14-34 in his three years as Bears GM.
“And probably, most importantly, he’s learned how to be a decisive decision-maker,” Phillips said.
I can’t take any more, so I’ll stop. I’m worried about sugar shock. The Bears gave Pace a contract extension because they want their next head coach to have the sense that there’s stability at Halas Hall. The rest of it — the idea that the team’s arrow is pointing up — is definitely in the eye (and raised eyebrow) of the beholder.
The Bears, like everyone else, have glommed on to Theo Epstein’s “sustained success” mantra. The idea is that a smart organization doesn’t want one championship now and then. It wants them regularly. The Cubs and Epstein, with one World Series title and three straight NLCS appearances, are there. You’d need a strong telescope to see the Bears getting there.
They are completely banking on quarterback Mitch Trubisky to be the answer. It’s in everything they say. It’s in their strange, out-of-place strut. It was in Phillips’ ode to Pace on Monday. Never mind the poor record of the last three seasons, they say; we have our quarterback. They use it as a shield.
“As I stand here today and I look at where we’re heading, there’s sincere optimism,” Pace said. “You look back this time last year, we had major questions. We had major questions at the most important position on the team — quarterback.”
There’s no guarantee that Trubisky is going to be great. There were some glimpses in his rookie season, but nothing that would make anyone think they were seeing the next Tom Brady. It would be wonderful if he’s what the Bears think he’ll be, but is it a given? No.
It’s why getting the next head coach right is so important. The final decision will be Pace’s, but he was quick to point out Monday that the process would be a collaboration with Phillips and chairman George McCaskey. I don’t want to alarm anyone, but that trio approved the hiring of head coach John Fox, who was fired Monday. And, quoting from his future headstone, Pace is “The Man Who Signed Mike Glennon.”
Also, Phillips and McCaskey hired Marc Trestman and Phil Emery.
Bears fans, escape is futile.
I’m not saying the team will hire the wrong coach. I’m saying that if you buy the mealy mouthed GM-speak that Pace was selling Monday (“I’d like to thank our fans . . . their passion, their support . . .’’), then shame on you.
If an outsider were encountering the Bears for the first time, he or she might ask why we can’t let go of the past. Because the past — one Super Bowl title since 1985 and no playoff appearances since 2010 — won’t leave us alone.
The Bears very well might hire the perfect coach, one who turns the organization into a winner. But it would be considered an upset, given their past.
Every coaching candidate out there is a roll of the dice. Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels? Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur? Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo? University of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh? Who knows if they can succeed with the Bears. Who knows if they can get the most out of Trubisky.
Only one thing is for sure: Any fan who has supported the Bears through all the losing, the coaching changes and the ingrained ineptness deserves some sort of recognition, whether that’s through combat pay or a Nobel Prize in Self-Abuse, which doesn’t exist but should.
Until there are positive results from the Bears, anything else is nonsense. It’s the same old story.
“Ted and I are both available to Ryan as sounding boards, to play devil’s advocate, to make sure that he’s considering all aspects of a particular candidate’s makeup, approach, strategy, philosophy, making sure we’re looking at every candidate that might be available,” McCaskey said.
I have to go now. I feel like someone has repeatedly hit me over the head with a rock.
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