It starts at the top.
With all due respect to the hard work being done at Halas Hall, back-to-back embarrassments against the Patriots (51-23) and Packers (55-14) have again exposed systemic problems that prevent the Bears from becoming a consistent winner.
What a perfect opportunity for an age-old lament — it’s time for George McCaskey to hire a director of football operations and get the hell out of the way.
He’s got the second part down pat. By most accounts, McCaskey keeps his hands out of football operations at Halas Hall. It’s the first part that has been problematic. The Bears’ hiring practices for years have been the Peter Principle run amok — and that inability to get the right person for the right job has reared its ugly head again.
The red flags are adding up to an inevitable conclusion: the Bears are poorly coached and poorly comprised. They’re failing to get the most out of their pockets of talent. They have a massive leadership void and little depth.
There are few overt signs of player development. Kyle Fuller and Alshon Jeffery — two of their brightest stars as recently as a month ago, are getting worse. Whatever Marc Trestman did to get through to players in the CFL is not working in the NFL.
And Phil Emery’s once-shimmering star has all but burned out. His miscalculation of Jay Cutler as an “elite” quarterback is more obvious by the week. His admission that Cutler’s bad habits at Vanderbilt were so ingrained that they “are hard to improve” made his decision to sign Cutler to a three-year, $54-million contract even more questionable.
In his attempt to build a team with a winning chemistry, Emery has a team that is almost the polar opposite. From the star-crossed Cutler and Brandon Marshall — who can’t seem to avoid difficult circumstances even when they’re not creating them; to Shea McClellin — a struggling first-round draft pick; to Lamarr Houston, who told fans to “eat dirt” and tore his ACL while celebrating a meaningless sack against the Patriots; to Jared Allen, who has underachieved with 1 1/2 sacks in eight games.
Even if the Bears let the dust settle after this latest embarrassment and Trestman gets the Bears back on their feet with victories over the Vikings and Buccaneers and maybe even the Lions or Saints at Soldier Field, the makeup of this team already has been indelibly exposed.
Big changes again are in order. Unfortunately, the Bears rarely think as big as they need to. That’s why they’ve been to the playoffs only five times in 21 years since the end of the Ditka era. Of the 28 teams in the league in 1992, only three have fewer postseason appearances — the Redskins and Raiders (four) and Cardinals (three).
2. So who could do the job? If the Bears can’t hire former Packers’ general manager Ron Wolf, they could at least heed his advice from his book, “The Packer Way — Nine Stepping Stones to Building a Winning Organization.” It might be the best $23.95 they spend:
“As a manager, you never can overemphasize the importance of identifying and hiring great leaders throughout your organization. You might be a truly unique leader, but to make your company No. 1, that’s not enough. You must fill your business with others who can work with you to reach your mission of producing a winner. I’m amazed at how frequently companies botch this essential element of success.”
3. Wolf’s keen eye for leadership should resonate more than ever in Chicago. Wolf, of course, brought Mike Holmgren and Brett Favre — and later Reggie White — to Green Bay.
“With the Packers, I had to fill two key leadership spots, head coach and quarterback,” Wolf wrote. “With some rare exceptions, teams in our sport have never become champions without top-notch leaders in both positions.
“I know, because I have studied our game’s history. … If you’re weak at either position, you’ll be forced to overcome difficult odds to win titles. It can happen, but your margin for error is so minimal that you can’t afford any major faults.”
4. Wolf is a guy who knew what he wanted in a quarterback — potential for greatness. “As he improves, he’ll just naturally upgrade those around him,” he wrote.
He traded a first-round draft pick to the Atlanta Falcons for Favre — then an unproven rookie backup — in 1992. Favre “simply was a fearless competitor,” Wolf wrote. “You could sense that in the way he carried himself. He just had to win. Whenever he played, the field tilted in his favor. Few players possess that ability.”
5. Anybody expecting Marc Trestman to fire Mel Tucker or bench Jay Cutler was in for a big disappointment. That’s not his style. But therein could lie the problem — as much as Trestman talks about accountability, he’s not quick to crack the whip. It’s a familiar story at Halas Hall — accountability without consequence is worthless.
6. Would firing Tucker make a difference? Probably not with the Bears 3-6. But a mid-season move is hardly unprecedented. In 2012, Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron when they were 9-4 and replaced him with quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell. It was a controversial move — the Ravens were 18th in total offense at the time, but ninth in points.
But it paid off. Under Caldwell, Joe Flacco had a postseason for the ages — 11 touchdowns, no interceptions and a 117.2 rating in four games — as the Ravens averaged 31 points a game en route to winning the Super Bowl. Even Cameron called his firing “a brilliant move,” telling the New York Times that “everyone on the team took a look in the mirror after that.”
Then again, the Ravens were 9-4 at the time of the change. The Bears are not. But “a look in the mirror” definitely is in order.
7. Trestman did not seem interested in discussing a benching of Cutler — who is 14th in the NFL in passer rating (a career-best 92.8) and 17th in yards per attempt (7.17). But after Josh McCown’s success with a more understated style last season, how can they not be curious to find out what Jimmy Clausen — by all accounts a more talented quarterback than McCown — can do?
8. Even Trestman supporter Rich Gannon, who went to the Super Bowl with the Raiders in Trestman’s offense, is calling for change.
“Jay Cutler was awful,” Gannon said on “NFL Monday QB” on CBS Sports Network. “He turned it over three times — two interceptions and a fumble in the pocket. It bothered me that they weren’t ready to play. If I was Marc Trestman, I’d sit Jay Cutler.”
9. Ex-Bears Player of the Week: Didn’t have to look far for this week’s winner. Packers linebacker Julius Peppers had a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, four tackles and two pass break-ups — including one that led to Micah Hyde’s first-quarter interception that sparked the rout.
For the season, Peppers, 34, has five sacks, two forced fumbles, three fumble recovers, 28 tackles an interception that he returned for a touchdown and five pass break-ups for the Packers.
10. In the first half of the Bears’ last three games, Ryan Tannehill, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are a combined 50-for-60 for 694 yards, with 12 touchdowns, no interceptions and a combined 154.5 rating. … Overall, the Bears are 31st in the NFL in opposing quarterback’s rating (107.0), ahead of only the Jets (108.8). Only two teams have been worse in that category in the last 10 years. … Without garbage-time production against the Patriots and Packers, Jay Cutler’s passer rating is 89.8 — nearly identical to his career-best 89.2 last season. … Cutler’s 10 interceptions this season have been returned for 326 yards (32.6 yards per pick). Aaron Rodgers’ 55 career interceptions have been returned for a total of 366 yards.