Black Monday felt eerily similar for many longtime Bears observers, especially with the revelation that president Ted Phillips and chairman George McCaskey would travel with general manager Ryan Pace for the interviews with coaching candidates.
But there are differences to consider when compared to the search in 2015, which resulted in the hiring of John Fox. With the Bears’ search for a new coach hitting the road Thursday, here’s a look at how it will be different:
On Jan. 8, 2015, the day Pace signed his contract with the Bears, the team hosted future Jets coach Todd Bowles at Halas Hall for an interview.
Pace took part in the interview, but he started working off a list originally formed by adviser Ernie Accorsi, McCaskey and Phillips.
Of course, Fox quickly joined that list because of his previous ties with Accorsi and the Giants. Accorsi took part in the initial interview with Fox.
Before Fox, Pace interviewed Doug Marrone and Teryl Austin. But Pace only met with four candidates.
It’s different now. Phillips said Pace has a “very definitive” plan.
“[Pace is] leading the charge,” Phillips said. “He’s doing all the reference checking. He’s come up with his list.”
On Monday, Pace said he had a “thorough” approach but his list was “scaled down” so the Bears could be “more targeted and aggressive” during their search.
It started with interviewing defensive coordinator Vic Fangio on Wednesday. The Bears’ other candidates currently include: Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards and Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy.
Pace essentially was alone in his first search. Josh Lucas, the Bears’ director of player personnel, was hired Jan. 18, 2015, two days after Fox was hired.
In May 2015, Joe Douglas was named director of college scouting and Champ Kelly director of pro scouting.
The point is that Pace’s support staff included Accorsi, McCaskey and Phillips when Fox was hired.
Now, Pace can turn to Lucas, Kelly and other members of his staff who have their own contacts in NFL and college circles. They are his true “sounding boards.”
Longtime Bears scout Mark -Sadowski was promoted to director of college scouting in 2016 after Douglas left to become the Eagles’ vice president of player personnel. Kelly also was promoted to -assistant director of player -personnel.
“I’m here with a core group of guys around me, too,” Pace said. “The last time you walk in this kind of solo a little bit. I feel very comfortable in my shoes. I feel very confident, and I have a lot of good people and a lot of resources around me to help me attack this.”
After Pace was hired in 2015, he acted with a sense of urgency.
The first practices of the Senior Bowl — an important week for the draft, but also a job convention for unemployed coaches and scouts — were only a few days after Fox was hired Jan. 16.
Pace flew down to Mobile, Alabama, addressed his new scouts and then immediately returned to Lake Forest to work with Fox on forming the coaching staff.
This time, Pace gets to lead the interviews for coordinators from playoff teams with first-round byes. That includes McDaniels, Shurmur, DeFilippo and Edwards.
On Jan. 3, 2015, the Bears announced that Accorsi, McCaskey and Phillips interviewed Adam Gase and Dan Quinn. Pace was hired five days later. Pace was thought to be high on Quinn, the former Seahawks defensive coordinator, but NFL rules made another interview unmanageable. It would have required waiting weeks without the certainty of Quinn’s hiring because Pace wasn’t part of his initial interview.
It’s an important difference this year, especially if Shurmur, Edwards, McDaniels or DeFilippo reach the Super Bowl with their respective teams.
On the same day the Bears hired Fox, ESPN reported the Falcons wanted a second interview with Quinn. The Seahawks lost to the Patriots in the Super Bowl that season.
Pick one: quarterback Mitch Trubisky in his second season or Jay Cutler in his seventh with the Bears and with $36 million in fully guaranteed money remaining on his contract?
That is just one example of how different Pace’s selling points are this year. He has significantly transformed his roster since being hired.
It starts with Trubisky, but having running backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, defensive linemen Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman, outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, safety Eddie Jackson, center Cody Whitehair and receiver Cam Meredith helps, too.
The Bears also are expected to free up millions in salary-cap space by releasing veteran players, including quarterback Mike Glennon, safety Quintin Demps, outside linebacker Pernell McPhee, receiver Markus Wheaton and cornerback Marcus Cooper.
The Bears’ massive expansion and modernization of Halas Hall also was an effort spearheaded by Pace.
“We have a lot of attractive things about our job, and it starts with a 23-year-old quarterback that we all feel good about,” Pace said. “Our best players are young players. We have a very healthy cap. We’re picking in the top 10 in the draft. We have seven draft picks. And we also have a facility expansion [that] we’re all very excited about that will put us as one of the top facilities in the NFL.”
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