Why Bears chairman George McCaskey must focus on offensive-minded candidates
The last five Super Bowl champions have finished among the top five in the NFL in points per game and among the top seven in yards per game. Good luck winning with ball control and defense.
The last time the Bears went looking for a head coach, they had a Sunday-morning interview with an offensive coordinator whose team had hosted a first-round playoff game the night before.
Matt Nagy’s Chiefs were stunned so badly — they led the Titans 21-3 and lost by one — that the Bears offered to put off the morning interview so he could compose himself. Nagy refused, wowed general manager Ryan Pace in a conference room in Kansas City and was hired hours later.
On Sunday, the Bears had another interview with an offensive coordinator whose team had played in the first round of the playoffs the night before. Brian Daboll, however, didn’t have the same problem Nagy did. All his Bills did Saturday night was come close to hanging half a hundred on Bill Belichick’s Patriots. In their 47-17 victory, the Bills did something no NFL team had accomplished in the regular season or postseason: They didn’t punt, kick a field goal, turn the ball over or reach fourth down.
Those facts — and that score — had to be racing through Bears chairman George McCaskey’s head when he fell asleep Saturday night. Last week, he repeatedly refused to state his preference about the expertise of his next head coach. He said he wanted leaders first, not an offensive or defensive mind.
McCaskey would be foolish, however, not to weigh offensive expertise more heavily than he does defense.
The Bears thought Marc Trestman and Nagy would bring them into the world of modern offensive football, albeit kicking and screaming. Neither stuck, but that doesn’t mean the Bears can stop trying to find that coach. The last five Super Bowl champions have finished among the top five in the NFL in points per game and among the top seven in yards per game. Good luck winning with ball control and defense.
To paraphrase Democratic political strategist James Carville: It’s the quarterback, stupid. It’s always the quarterback. If McCaskey doesn’t understand that, here’s hoping his next general manager — the person whose vote on the head coach matters most — does.
The fastest path for the Bears to return to relevance is for rookie quarterback Justin Fields to turn into the superstar they think he can be. The head coach needs to be the man to help him do that — or have a plan to bring in an assistant who will.
That coordinator or quarterbacks coach, however, can be lured away to a new team next year. That’s precisely what the Bears would do if they hired Daboll with the hope he could develop Fields the way he did Bills quarterback Josh Allen. The Dolphins have the same idea about Tua Tagovailoa, and they interviewed Daboll on Sunday, too.
Hiring an offensive-minded head coach ensures no team can break the bond between the Bears’ offensive architect and Fields. That was the plan when the Bears hired Nagy four years ago. And that was the plan for literally every NFC team that made the playoffs. All seven teams have an offensive-minded head coach. Four were offensive coordinators who got their first head-coaching job with their franchise, including Matt LaFleur, whose Packers went 13-4 this season and enjoyed a first-round bye.
The Bears interviewed LaFleur’s offensive coordinator, Nathaniel Hackett, on Saturday. Only 42, Hackett fits the prototype of the dynamic coordinator a team can pair with an up-and-coming quarterback. He doesn’t call plays, however, and is hardly the first coordinator to get the most out of Aaron Rodgers, who has been a star in three decades.
Hackett has talked with four of the seven teams that actively have been conducting interviews. Teams can’t talk with him again until the Packers are out of the playoffs.
The Bears interviewed Jim Caldwell on Saturday, too. He won a Super Bowl as Peyton Manning’s quarterback coach and was the head coach of both Manning’s Colts and Matthew Stafford’s Lions.
In seven seasons, he went 62-50 as a head coach — with 14 of those losses coming in 2011, when Manning’s neck injury forced the Colts to start Curtis Painter, Dan Orlovsky and Kerry Collins all season. Since 2001, the Lions have finished above .500 four times; Caldwell was the head coach for three of those teams.
Maybe that’s the leadership the Bears are looking for. Maybe Hackett can grow with Fields. Or maybe McCaskey can’t get the Bills’ 47 points out of head.
Regardless, he has to recognize that, in a league that stresses offense like never before, not all expertise is considered equal.