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A lesson from the Bears: Bad things happen to bad organizations

When you are your own worst enemy, you don’t need enemies like a neighborhood news source.

Bears president Ted Phillips (left) and team chairman George McCaskey seem to be using the franchise’s bid for the Arlington International Racecourse property to get a better deal at Soldier Field.
Bears president Ted Phillips (left) and chairman George McCaskey listen to new head coach Matt Nagy during an introductory press conference at Halas Hall in 2018.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The romantic, Bears’-eye view of what’s happening to the local NFL team is one of a franchise valiantly carrying on despite being under siege from evil forces intent on its demise.

The truth would like to have a word with that view.

The whole truth is that the Bears can blame themselves for everything that has befallen them, even the rumors and “reports” that seem to be estranged from reality. The organization is the prime mover in its own sob story. If there is no McCaskey family, there is no team president Ted Phillips. If there’s no Phillips, there’s no general manager Ryan Pace. If there’s no Pace, there’s no coach Matt Nagy.

If there’s no Nagy, there’s no five-game losing streak and no awful offense. And if there’s no five-game losing streak and no awful offense, there’s no sketchy reporting about an imminent firing — an imminent firing, by the way, that wasn’t.

Now, is this unfair to the Bears? Does it flippantly pardon a journalistic sin? In the narrower context, probably. To be clear, I’m not giving a pass to Patch.com. Two days before the Bears’ Thanksgiving game in Detroit, the news site reported that the team already had informed Nagy the Lions game would be his last as head coach. The story turned out to be incorrect. There are no subtleties or qualifiers to that. Nagy is still the Bears coach.

But the off-field beating the Bears are taking these days is what happens when an organization serially bumbles. When you are your own worst enemy, you don’t need enemies like a neighborhood news source. When you wear a Kick Me sign, steel-toed boots tend to find you. Then it’s open season, and in the world we live in, well, good luck with that. It results in rumors, non-stop social media abuse and incandescent stories that never should see the light of day.

Bears management refused to comment on the Patch.com story, taking what it likely thought was the high road. That left Nagy to refute his own firing. When the story took on a life and decibel level of its own, team chairman George McCaskey had to address the players and coaches, telling them there was no truth to it. But by that time, it was too late. The lame-duck coach story was everywhere, and it became the theme of the Bears’ game against lowly Detroit. They ended up winning one for their beleaguered Gipper. Yay.

This is what I mean when I say the franchise is responsible for everything that’s happened to it this season (and seasons past), even the things beyond its control. A smart organization would have quickly and publicly shot down the report about Nagy. Not these guys. McCaskey hasn’t talked with the media since Illinois became a state and Pace since Brylcreem was invented. So if their lips were rusted shut, what chance was there that someone at Halas Hall would think to send out a press release debunking the Patch.com story? Zero.

The people in charge don’t know how to do things. They think they’re being noble when, in fact, they’re being boneheads. In this case, their silence did damage to the organization and left their coach in a very uncomfortable position. Good companies don’t let that happen.

Ineptitude has been the Bears’ constant companion for years, so it was no surprise that last week played out the way it did, no surprise that such a thing would befall them. Again, they’re not to blame for the Patch.com story, but even when they don’t mean to, they aid and abet.

This season was a mess before the “news’’ of Nagy’s impending exit broke. Last month, when he couldn’t find a way to improve an offense that had struggled the previous two years, he gave up play-calling duties, purportedly his strength. He hasn’t been able to figure out how to get much out of rookie quarterback Justin Fields, who was supposed to be a lot better than Mitch Trubisky but statistically has been worse.

Now the season has devolved from a mess to a soap opera. Everybody’s waiting for the next shoe to drop, and if it doesn’t soon, you can be sure a blogger will report a heel hitting ground. Nagy figures to be fired after the season, and Pace should be, but Chicago, knowing the McCaskeys too well, fears the worst.

I should feel bad for the Bears but don’t. They’re not innocent bystanders. They’re not the victims of bad luck. They’re not brave souls living in an unfair world. They’re the sum of all the mistakes and bad decisions they’ve made for decades.