With quarterback Justin Fields in place, new GM Ryan Poles’ first hire a big one
Fields is far from proven and is no sure thing after an uneven rookie season. But his potential gives the Bears’ new general manager a chance to make a big splash with his first coaching hire.
NFL general managers generally get more than one swing at a head coach, but it still helps to get the first one right.
Look at the Hall of Famers. Almost every one of them hit a home run in his first at-bat: the Cowboys’ Tex Schramm (Tom Landry), the Vikings’ Jim Finks (Bud Grant), Washington’s Bobby Beathard (Joe Gibbs), the Bills’ Bill Polian (Marv Levy) and the Packers’ Ron Wolf (Mike Holmgren).
Each of those first hires took his team to the Super Bowl, including Landry five times (two victories), Grant and Levy four times (no victories), Gibbs three times (three victories) and Holmgren twice (one victory). The Giants’ George Young, another Hall of Fame GM, missed with his first hire (Ray Perkins) but hit it big with his second (Bill Parcells, who had been hired by Perkins).
That’s the challenge Ryan Poles faces after being hired Tuesday as the Bears’ GM. His first coaching hire is a huge one because the Bears are in better shape now than they were in 2015, when Ryan Pace faced a virtual teardown and a rebuild.
Within two seasons, Pace either had cut or traded the top five weapons he inherited from Phil Emery: quarterback Jay Cutler, receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, tight end Martellus Bennett and running back Matt Forte.
Poles is in a little better spot to hire a difference-making coach, and it starts with having Justin Fields at quarterback. If Fields clicks under the right coach, current keepers such as receiver Darnell Mooney, running back David Montgomery and tight end Cole Kmet become bigger weapons.
And the offensive line, which looks pretty ho-hum after an uneven-at-best season in 2021, has room for growth. Free-agent guard James Daniels has played well but hasn’t reached his potential. Guard Cody Whitehair, a Pro Bowl player in 2018 as an alternate, is coming off his worst season. And rookie tackles Teven Jenkins and Larry Borom, while far from proven commodities, are more than seventh-round/undrafted guys you take a flier on.
In the right hands, this offense isn’t the total rebuild it might look like after the failure of former coach Matt Nagy.
But you have to find the right guy. That’s not easy for a first-time GM. Finks’ first hire after being named the Bears’ GM in 1974 was Jack Pardee, who was an instant hit, taking the team to the playoffs in 1977 — its first postseason appearance since the 1963 NFL championship. But Finks came with previous experience as a GM with the Vikings.
Jerry Angelo inherited Dick Jauron in 2001 and all but had to re-sign him after the Bears went 13-3 in Angelo’s first season as GM. He didn’t get to hire Lovie Smith until his fourth season. Emery was forced to keep Smith when he was hired in 2012. After firing Smith in the wake of a 10-6, non-playoff season, Emery struck out with Marc Trestman (over Bruce Arians, among others) and didn’t get a second chance.
Pace had the best chance, with an immediate opening after Emery and Trestman were fired following the 2014 season. He ended up with John Fox, who had been fired by the Broncos after a playoff loss to the Colts four days after Pace was hired. (And while the Fox hire might have been a marriage of convenience, pairing the then-37-year-old rookie GM with a veteran coach, it was a popular hire at the time, encouraged and applauded by critics.)
That turned out to be a miss, though roster circumstances played a big role in that. But Pace missed again with Nagy, which ended up being a fireable offense.
Now it’s Poles’ turn, only with two advantages: not as big a mess to clean up and a better quarterback prospect in place.