Friendship and football: When the tie that binds is the Bears’ congenital clumsiness
The team needs to clean house but probably won’t. Another column in a loooooooong series.
The last text from a friend of mine came after I’d written a column about what’s wrong with the Bears. I’d estimate it was the 247th column I’d written over the past 25 years about what’s wrong with the Bears.
“George McCaskey asked for your address,’’ he wrote. “Virginia wants to send you a rosary.’’
I responded: “I’m Catholic. They can’t play that card with me!”
This is another column on the subject of Bears ineptitude, and I have a pretty good feeling my friend would have agreed with this one. If at any point during the writing of this I start working the beads, the prayer will be for a complete overhaul at Halas Hall. I won’t be the only one praying.
Based on years of observing the Bears in the wild, I suspect they’ll fire head coach Matt Nagy and retain general manager Ryan Pace after this wretched season. It’d be like firing only the monkey when the axing should include the organ grinder. And that would be so like the Bears. It would be so much like them I’d be shocked if it didn’t happen that way.
Pace has been a failure. There’s no metric that would alter that view. The Bears’ record during his seven-year tenure is 47-64 with one winning season and two wild card game losses. With the Bears’ record at 5-10, the arrow is not pointing up. It’s bent. Pace took Mitch Trubisky with the second overall pick of the 2017 draft, and it was one of the most disastrous decisions in franchise history. He should have been fired for that sin alone, but the managerial pacifism of the McCaskeys saved him. He hired Nagy to coach Trubisky and then, after the Trubisky debacle, to coach Justin Fields. That has been a similar calamity, and only Fields’ tantalizing athleticism has made any of this palatable.
The McCaskeys always move in the direction of comfort. They don’t want tension and confrontation. To fire Pace would be to remove the buffer separating them from the unpleasantness of not just firing Nagy and others but from having to hire Pace’s replacement. Understand this about the family: They need people to lean on. If they remove Pace, they’re face down on the ground mumbling something about the good, old days of the T-formation.
You might ask yourself how a family raised on football, a family that has football blood running through its veins, could know so little about the thing that has brought it fortune. This is one of life’s greatest mysteries. You would think a revelation might have broken through enemy lines at some point, allowing a McCaskey to identify a genuine football candidate. But in the 38 years of McCaskey ownership, hardly a one.
One rumor going around is that Bears president Ted Phillips will move into a different role after the season and that the team will hire a guru to oversee the entire football operation. Phillips is the one who says he’s not involved in important football decisions but always shows up center stage whenever the team makes an important football decision. So, no, not at all involved.
The problem with hiring a guru, at least as it relates to the Bears, is that someone has to do the hiring. This has always been the team’s problem under the McCaskeys because, when you peel back all the layers, you realize that the first hire, the First Cause, was done by a McCaskey. The result has been a waterfall of bad hires over the years.
This was behind one of my friend’s texts. He said he could imagine the Bears firing Phillips and then hiring someone a few offices down at Halas Hall to replace him.
“I want to read that column!” he texted.
“That development would be the end as we know it,’’ I replied.
Sometimes I wonder about the long-term emotional effect the Bears have on the people who follow them and the people who cover them. All that incompetence. All that ridiculousness.
My friend smiled whenever he saw me coming, amused by the cudgel I always carried for the Bears. He was critical and fair when it came to the team, but he enjoyed people like me who were not bound by any restraints.
One time, when he was talking with a prospective employer, I jokingly told him I’d do the negotiating for him.
“It’s your delicate touch around people that I know will put me over the top,’’ he texted.
“You’re the only one who gets me,’’ I responded with a wink.
This column’s for you, my friend. Rest easy.