Of all the disturbing things about the Bears’ sorry situation, the most disturbing is the unshakable feeling that it’s going to take some sort of cosmic interruption, maybe a ripple in the fabric of time and space, for the team to get things right.
It certainly won’t be because ownership knows what it’s doing. I’ve often wondered if it has ever occurred to the McCaskeys, in a moment of clarity, that they’re not in possession of a clue. And I always come back to — what’s the word? — no. They don’t know that they don’t know.
They’ve made the same mistakes over and over again in hiring coaches and general managers, not necessarily because they’re incapable of learning how to do things better but because they don’t think they need to learn new things.
That obliviousness was on display during team chairman George McCaskey’s bizarre, out-of-tune news conference Monday. He announced that he had hired 79-year-old Hall of Fame executive Bill Polian as a consultant in the search for a new coach and general manager. He also revealed that he had named team president/enemy of the fan base Ted Phillips to the hiring committee and that the final decision on the GM and coach would be left to ... drum roll … George McCaskey.
The Bears will argue that hiring Polian is proof that they’re willing to admit when they’re in over their heads. That argument might hold up if it weren’t for the fact that the Bears have taken the same path for previous searches. They hired former Browns general manager Ernie Accorsi after the 2014 season to help find replacements for general manager Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman. Accorsi, then 73, came up with Ryan Pace and John Fox. On Monday, the Bears fired Pace and Fox’s replacement, Matt Nagy.
The Bears saw how the GM emeritus approach worked with Accorsi running the show (not well!), yet here they are, drinking from the same well again. They don’t know that they don’t know.
A better approach? Maybe find some advisers who are a little more plugged in to today’s NFL. Polian last worked in the league in 2011. He retired as an ESPN analyst almost three years ago. I don’t mean to be ageist here, especially with the decades piling up on me like junk mail. But it is so like the McCaskeys to travel back in time to find a consultant for their coach and GM search. They live for history, and that’s what Polian is.
This approach, with the McCaskeys offering guidance from the backseat, has been a failure. It’s the cause of an unrelenting headache for anyone who has observed this franchise for any length of time: You don’t want the family making the decision on a general manager and a coach, yet you assume that whatever people the family hires to find a coach and general manager automatically will be tainted by the mark of the McCaskeys. This is why many Bears fans live with the certainty that all is lost.
In all the years of franchise weirdness, one of my favorite moments was when the Bears hired a search firm to find them a general manager in 2001. After a thorough and costly process, the headhunters somehow found Jerry Angelo. He had been hiding for 14 years in the Bears’ division as director of player personnel for Tampa Bay. It was a miracle.
Angelo ended up having some success, helping the Bears to a Super Bowl appearance in the 2006 season. But he also traded for Jay Cutler, and the secondhand effects of Smokin’ Jay hung around Chicago for years after his departure. It’s what people around here remember most about Angelo.
Don’t be surprised if Polian, a former Colts president, recommends Colts director of college scouting Morocco Brown, a former Bears assistant director of pro personnel, for the Bears GM job. It’ll be another needle-in-a-haystack miracle.
Why wouldn’t the Bears come up with a different method, one that doesn’t involve a search committee that includes McCaskey and trusty sidekick Phillips? It gets back to not knowing that you don’t know. And there’s no one at Halas Hall willing, able or conscious enough to tell the McCaskeys that they’re out of their depth.
The solution to all of this would be a sale of the team. There’s no indication that’s going to happen anytime soon. I wish a court would allow the Bears to go into receivership. Let somebody else run the team’s affairs. But you and I, having watched this franchise for too long, know how that would turn out. The receiver would drop the ball.