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Bears’ GM, coach searches could be out of order

A team in dire need of leadership should probably hire the GM first, but George McCaskey said the Bears could hire a coach first if they find what they’re looking for. “We’ll know one when we see him.” Do Bears fans believe that?

Ryan Pace (right) hired John Fox (left) as his first head coach eight days after being named the Bears’ general manager in 2015.
Ryan Pace (right) hired John Fox (left) as his first head coach eight days after being named the Bears’ general manager in 2015.
Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

It was a cringeworthy moment in a news conference full of cringeworthy moments. Asked what qualities would compel him to take the unorthodox route and hire a new head coach before a new general manager, Bears chairman George McCaskey responded, “We’ll know one when we see him.”

Bears fans probably didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at that. The notion that McCaskey and a leadership group that had Bruce Arians in the building in 2013 but hired Marc Trestman has some kind of intuition about football coaches not only is unsupported by McCaskey’s record as chairman — it’s contrary to it.

Bless his heart, McCaskey acknowledges his lack of football knowledge. (“I’m just a fan. I’m not a football evaluator,” he said.)

But he still fancies himself a manager when he is not. His right-hand man is president Ted Phillips, another nice guy who has had his own share of cringeworthy moments at these season-ending news conferences, including an acknowledgement Monday that he doesn’t regret the hirings of Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy after the Bears had one winning season in Pace’s seven years and won zero playoff games in Nagy’s four.

“I trust Ted implicitly,” McCaskey said, “because I have great respect for his judgment, his analytical skills, his instincts when it comes to the people we’re interviewing.”

The Bears plowed ahead Tuesday in their concurrent searches for a GM and coach. And while they hope to hire the GM first, they’re making no promises they won’t do it backwards. Bears are gonna Bears.

A franchise in dire need of real football leadership at the highest levels probably should have fired Pace during the season to get a head start on hiring a GM who would then hire the new coach. There’s little cost in that; Pace’s work for the 2021 season was almost entirely done after he acquired kick returner Jakeem Grant in Week 4. All his work for 2022 is out the window.

Unless the Bears hire a coach who is, in effect, the GM — a Bill Belichick, Sean Payton or Andy Reid — it makes more sense to hire the GM first and let him or her conduct the coaching search. That’s standard practice. But this is Halas Hall.

Be that as it may, the Bears’ initial list of coaches they intend to interview — with help from Hall of Fame GM Bill Polian — is impressive: former Eagles coach Doug Pederson; Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier; Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll; Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles; Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich; Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus; Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett; Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, and former Dolphins coach Brian Flores.

Then again, GM Phil Emery interviewed 13 candidates in 2013 and chose Trestman over Arians, so you never know.

For reference, the coaches interviewed to replace John Fox in 2018 were Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards, Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo and Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy.

Among the reported candidates for the GM job are Saints assistant GM Jeff Ireland (a one-time Bears ball boy); Morocco Brown, the Colts’ vice president of player development; Ed Dobbs, the Colts’ vice president of player personnel; Glenn Cook, the Browns’ vice president of player personnel; Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, the Browns’ vice president of football operations; and Ran Carthon, the 49ers’ director of player personnel.

Perhaps the Bears are just laying the groundwork for the new GM to hit the ground running, as they did with Pace in 2015. When Pace was hired on Jan. 8 of that year — 10 days after Emery was fired — the Bears had already conducted interviews with Quinn (then the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator) and Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase. Pace interviewed Bowles the day he was hired. Five days later, the Broncos surprisingly fired John Fox, and Pace hired him four days later after a whirlwind courtship.

The rest is Bears history, which has led them to a familiar place: searching for the right guy to find the right guy. Just not necessarily in that order.