Bill Polian: Justin Fields isn’t a blue-chipper yet, but ‘give him a chance to grow’

Bill Polian knows the expectations put on Fields. He doesn’t think they’re fair.

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The Bears used Bill Polian as an advisor in their coach and GM searches.

The Bears used Bill Polian as an advisor in their coach and GM searches.

Logan Riely/AAF/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — At the urging of Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy, Bears chairman George McCaskey hired Bill Polian to evaluate his team as its disappointing season came to an end.

Polian, the former general manager who was inducted into the Hall of Fame seven years ago, watched film of the team and examined the way it was built. He consulted with people he respected to get their opinions of the Bears.

“[I found] pretty much what every other person that we talked to found, including some folks on the inside,” Polian told the Sun-Times via phone Wednesday. “Depending on your point of view, depending on the scheme you used, there were six or eight players you could win consistently with in the NFL.

“The rest were either questionable or not good.”

Good NFL teams need “a dozen or so difference-makers,” he said. The Rams and Bengals, who will play in the Super Bowl, have more.

Justin Fields wasn’t on Polian’s blue-chipper list, though he was careful to say that wasn’t a knock on the quarterback who played only 12 games as a rookie. Polian said he sees in Fields precisely what new GM Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus articulated when they were hired.

“The talent level — the arm talent, the athleticism, the size, the ability to move — you can see all those things,” he said. “That’s just the clay that has to be molded into a finished product. We don’t know what the finished product is gonna look like. And we won’t know probably for another two years, maybe three.”

He knows the expectations put on Fields. He doesn’t think they’re fair.

“They’ve gotta do it first,” he said. “That’s the problem — we put so much burden on these guys. They can’t even find their way to the dining hall and media is anointing them as stars. Goodness gracious, give him a chance to grow.”

Polian said he “couldn’t pinpoint” whether the talent drain was a result of former GM Ryan Pace’s drafts and free-agent signings or Matt Nagy’s coaching, but “acquisition is the first step — if you don’t have the player in the building you can’t develop him.”

While the NFL sped toward the Super Bowl on Wednesday, Polian spoke from his home in Charlotte, North Carolina, to promote “Super Bowl Blueprints: Hall of Famers Reveal the Keys to Football’s Greatest Dynasties,” a book he wrote with Vic Carucci featuring oral histories of eight dominant NFL teams. The day he fired Pace and Nagy, McCaskey cited Polian’s book when saying the Bears would look for leaders at both vacant positions.

“I actually talked to George McCaskey a little bit and kind of recommended that he seek out somebody who had done this,” said Dungy, who worked under Polian with the Colts, this week. “And Bill Polian picked several coaches and [has] taken a lot of teams to the playoffs and different things. I felt he was a natural.”

Polian said he agreed to help the Bears despite recovering from recent surgery because of the respect he has for the McCaskeys.

“George’s original charge was to create as deep and wide a search as we could, and not only to comply with the new Rooney Rule dictums but to exceed them whenever and wherever possible,” Polian said. “I think we did that. Everyone involved with it deserves credit. George deserves the most credit of all for having set those parameters.

“I know he heard from some owners who jokingly said to him, ‘What are you gonna do, interview everyone in the country?’ But the process worked.”

Given the NFL’s problematic hiring practices —former Dolphins coach Brian Flores sued the league last week for discrimination — the Bears’ candidate list was diverse. Polian assembled a pool that reached 13 GM candidates and 10 coaching hopefuls. The Bears added to their coaching list when GMs mentioned them. The same eight coaches came up over and over again, Polian said.

The first round of interviews were held on Zoom and lasted about three hours. The Bears conducted two, sometimes three, per day. McCaskey would open with an overview and Polian would ask a series of technical questions that allowed all five members of the committee to follow up.

“The nuts and bolts of football, the nuts and bolts of scouting,” Polian said. “The scouting process, creating a draft board, how you’re gonna deal with medicine and training and equipment. Organization on the coaching side. From the offseason program to the Super Bowl. What are you gonna do on a daily basis?”

Poles had experience that belied his 36 years, Polian said — he worked for three different regimes with the Chiefs and knew what he’d keep — and change — with the Bears.

“Just a large breadth of knowledge in terms of how to run the scouting operation and some real common sense and insightful points of view in how the football operation ought to be managed,” he said. “And some really good choices in terms of people he wanted to talk to as head-coaching candidates.”

In writing the book, Polian found the coach is the most important person in any NFL building.

“He controls [players’] destiny, he controls their economic livelihood, he controls their career, he controls how they’re viewed by the public . . . ” Polian said. “I said, we’re really picking a guy here — the general manager will pick a guy here — who is the be-all and end-all for the players.

“If he can’t be the be-all and end-all, if he doesn’t have the wherewithal to do that, he’s not going to be successful. And play-calling doesn’t have a damn thing to do with it.”

Polian said his job was done after they chose Poles. The new GM chose Eberflus from a list of three candidates that included former Falcons head coach Dan Quinn and former Lions and Colts coach Jim Caldwell. Poles called Polian after he chose Eberflus and explained why, a courtesy Polian appreciated.

“It was his show,” Polian said of Poles. “That’s the way it should be.“

Dungy called it a “coincidence” that Eberflus — who, like Polian, has Colts ties — got the job.

“I was really delighted to see Ryan Poles get an opportunity,” Dungy said.

Polian called Eberflus “great,” “wonderful” and “terrific,” but added that “there were any number of candidates who could fit that role.” He liked Eberflus’ focus on discipline, speed and physicality.

“All the right vision for what the Bears should be,” he said.

Even if he’s a defensive-minded coach and the rest of the league prioritizes offense?

“It doesn’t matter to me at all,” he said. “Pick the best man.”

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