George McCaskey and Jeff Ireland will have plenty to talk about.
Decades before he was named chairman and tasked with making franchise-altering hires, McCaskey was a ball boy during Bears training camp. Years later, so was Ireland, who is now the Saints’ vice president and assistant general manager. He’ll interview for the Bears’ vacant GM job on Friday, according to NFL Network.
Ireland’s maternal grandfather, Jim Parmer, was a longtime Bears scout. Ireland spent his summers — from 1982 to ’87, the franchise’s sweet spot — with him. The summer after the Bears won the Super Bowl, Walter Payton gave Ireland a pair of shoes he said he wore during the big game in New Orleans.
Close your eyes, and you can just hear him telling the story at the introductory news conference, can’t you? Squint, and you can see McCaskey and Ireland reveling in their shared boyhood love of the franchise, right?
No franchise reveres its history — some would say fetishizes it — more than the Bears. Maybe it’s only a matter of time before they look to their past to make one of two signature hires this month. The Bears, though, have resisted such alumni homecomings in recent years — which is amazing, given their own self-reverence.
While Phil Emery was a former Bears scout when he was named GM in 2012, the Bears haven’t hired a head coach who’d previously worked for the franchise in 40 years. That was, of course, Mike Ditka, who was a Pro Bowl tight end in five of his seasons with the Bears — and an eventual Pro Football Hall of Fame player.
McCaskey was asked Monday if a coach or general manager candidate with a Bears history would intrigue him. Ever-careful not to rule anyone out — or in — he demurred.
“I tried to say in my opening remarks as exhaustively as I could that we weren’t going to limit the search,” he said. “Whether a person has a Bears background or not would not disqualify the candidate.”
What if it’s someone his family knows well? Wouldn’t that give him comfort?
“It would depend on who that person was,” he said, “and what their vision was for the Bears.”
Leslie Frazier is expected to explain his vision as coach to the McCaskeys next week. The Bills’ defensive coordinator/assistant head coach played cornerback for the Bears from 1981 to 1986.
During the team’s Super Bowl run in 1985, he led the Bears with six interceptions. The biggest day in Bears franchise history, though, ended his career.
During Super Bowl XX, the Bears tried a reverse on a punt return. Frazier’s got foot stuck in the artificial turf, and he tore his anterior cruciate ligament. He never played again — and vowed not to return to a Super Bowl unless a team he was coaching made it. That happened in January 2007 — when his Colts beat the Bears in Super Bowl XLI.
Within a week, he was named the Vikings’ defensive coordinator. Four years later, he was named their head coach. Counting part of an interim season, he went 21-32 before he was fired.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh’s intentions remain a mystery — does he want back in the NFL or a raise to stay in Ann Arbor? — but that might change if the Raiders lose this weekend. He was a Bears first-round pick in 1987 and went 35-30 in seven years as the team’s starting quarterback.
Both men would have seen a teenage Ireland helping out with one of their practices. He’s not the only GM candidate with Bears ties. On Thursday, the team interviewed Champ Kelly, the Bears’ assistant director of player personnel. Kelly is well-regarded around the league — he has interviewed for GM jobs with the Jets, Panthers and Broncos the last three years — but would hardly represent the real change the Bears are pushing for.
Emery had been a scout for the Bears from 1998 to 2004. When the Bears fired him three years later, they had a chance to replace him with a longtime Bears scout, Chris Ballard, who was working for the Chiefs at the time.
Ballard was the Bears’ Southwest-area scout for 10 years and their pro scouting director in 2012. McCaskey instead picked Ryan Pace — a Saints executive with no Bears ties — as his next GM.
The Saints revamped their front office to make up for Pace’s departure. To oversee the scouting process, they hired the man who had been fired a year earlier after six rocky years as the Dolphins’ GM: Ireland.