McCaskey expert says family wasn’t meant to run Bears

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Members of the McCaskey family pose for a photo at Soldier Field in 2004. Matriarch Virginia is third from the left in the front row.


For the Sun-Times

A man who has studied the McCaskey family for years sums up their stewardship of the Bears thusly:

‘‘They have been failures,’’ said Jeff Davis, the author of Papa Bear: The Life and Legacy of George Halas. ‘‘It’s obvious. The Super Bowl team was put together by [former general manager Jim] Finks. It was George Halas who hired Mike Ditka. That was his last creation. That team belongs to George Halas as much as anybody. Even though he was dead when they won the Super Bowl, that was Halas’ last championship.’’

That said, Davis, a lifelong Bears fan and a longtime Chicago TV journalist, thinks fans should be optimistic about the McCaskey family’s latest attempt to resurrect a franchise mired in mediocrity.

It’s not his confidence in the McCaskeys that makes him hopeful; it’s his faith in longtime New York Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi, whom the family has hired as a consultant.

Chairman George McCaskey and team president Ted Phillips have said Accorsi will make recommendations, but they ultimately will decide who will become the new coach and general manager. But Davis thinks Accorsi will be more involved in the hiring of replacements for fired GM Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman than the Bears’ brain trust would have you believe.

He also envisions a scenario in which Accorsi would take the GM job himself if he can’t find a suitable replacement and/or remain in a consulting role after hires are made.

‘‘I’d like to believe that was a smokescreen,’’ said Davis, who also wrote a biography of former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle and knows Accorsi well. ‘‘They would not have hired Accorsi to be in charge of the search, only to walk away from his recommendation and make their own decision. If they try that on him, he’ll walk away from it.

‘‘The key here is to watch what Ernie does. He’s a pretty good politician in his own right. He’s worked with some pretty tough people and some pretty complicated families, and he has handled it all well.’’

Davis grew up in Glen Ellyn. His father often played golf at Glen Oak Country Club with longtime Halas friend Ralph Brizzolara, who owned a stake in the Bears and acted as their president and GM when Halas served in the Navy during World War II.

Brizzolara persuaded Davis’ father to buy season tickets. Young Jeff grew up worshipping the Bears from his father’s bleacher seats at Wrigley Field.

Davis studied journalism at Northwestern before shipping out with the Navy in 1963. He was at Idlewild Airport in New York, which later would be renamed JFK, when he learned that John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.

Davis was a producer/writer in Chicago TV for 33 years and worked with Johnny Morris and Greg Gumbel before retiring and writing his first book.

He thinks George McCaskey is better equipped to run the Bears than older brother Michael, who stepped down as chairman in 2011. But he thinks Halas’ first choice would have been Tim McCaskey, the second-oldest of Virginia McCaskey’s 11 children. Tim died in 2011 after a long battle with cancer.

‘‘The old man thought the world of him,’’ Davis said of Tim. ‘‘He got down to Notre Dame, though, and got pretty wild. He was a partier. The old man did not hold it against him that he was a wild kid. A lot of wild kids grow up and become successful men. Look at Mike Ditka. Halas didn’t feel that should ever be held against a young man.’’

As for Virginia, Davis has no doubt the family matriarch was ‘‘pissed off,’’ as George put it, about the sad state of the Bears, but he said she has little influence on the day-to-day operations of the team.

‘‘She gives the kids an allowance every year, which is a six-figure allowance,’’ Davis said. ‘‘That team is hemorrhaging money. Other than that, she knows enough to root for the team, but she knows no details.

‘‘She wasn’t supposed to know. She comes from the era when women had their place, and it was in the home and not the boardroom.’’

Davis said Halas never intended for the McCaskey family to run the Bears. His son, George Jr. or ‘‘Mugs,’’ had been groomed to replace his father before dying suddenly in 1979.

‘‘The McCaskeys are not bad people,’’ Davis said. ‘‘It’s unfair to say that. They are good people. But they’re not very hip, and they were not ever supposed to run the Bears.’’

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