Chicago Bears: George McCaskey

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Ryan Pace's age became a constant topic of conversation Friday during his introductory news conference at Halas Hall.

But instead of getting defensive, Pace simply pointed to Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider as an example of what the Chicago Bears might be able to accomplish under his direction.

“I lean on my experiences in New Orleans,” said Pace, the NFL’s youngest general manager. “So yeah, I’m 37. But I’ve seen a lot in those years, I think a lot more than a lot of people have with a lot of teams, and throughout that time, we’ve been a successful franchise. So I don’t look at my age. I look at my experience in New Orleans. There are other GMs that started off at a similar age. I can think of one right now who won the Super Bowl last year. So it doesn't concern me."

[+] EnlargeRyan Pace
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhAt 37, Ryan Pace is the youngest general manager in the NFL.
It shouldn’t.

Back in 2010, the Seahawks had gone 9-23 under two head coaches over two years before bringing Schneider into the fold as GM. He was 38 at the time. In Schneider’s first season in Seattle, the Seahawks turned over the roster with an NFL-high 284 transactions from February through the club’s final contest of that season.

That year, the Seahawks won the NFC West and defeated the defending Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints in the wild-card round, before falling to the Bears in the divisional round.

“After all our interviews, we never once talked about his age,” Bears team president Ted Phillips said. “Never knew he was the youngest GM until you guys wrote about it. I didn’t know that. To me, it was because all we were focused on was his experience, what he had to say about what he can bring to the Bears. And he just did a great job, from showing intensity, from showing toughness, from really being able to articulate the kind of head coach he wants and how to build the roster. I’ve heard the comments made that he has to win right away. Look, we want to see progress. [Do] we want to win right away? Yeah, he did it in New Orleans, or he was part of that plan in New Orleans. So we hope we can be there. I don’t think that’s too much added pressure on him. We’re in this business to win. He knows that, and I love his intensity and his competitive fire.”

Like Schneider back in 2010, Pace was a surprise hire by the Bears, which also interviewed Tennessee Titans vice president of player personnel Lake Dawson and Houston Texans director of pro personnel, in addition to local favorite Chris Ballard, who serves as director of player personnel for the Kansas City Chiefs after 12 seasons working in Chicago’s front office. Like Schneider back in 2010, Pace joins the Bears with several years of experience despite his young age.

Pace joined the Saints in 2001, and started his career as an assistant helping in areas such as game-day and training camp operations, before working his way through the ranks in the personnel department.

ESPN Saints reporter Mike Triplett pointed out New Orleans valued Pace so much it created a new position for him when the club promoted him in 2013 to director of player personnel overseeing both the college and pro scouting departments. Prior to that, New Orleans utilized separate pro and scouting directors, who reported to general manager Mickey Loomis.

Pace’s promotion in 2013 marked the second major promotion he received during the most significant run of success in New Orleans franchise history.

In describing the decision to hire Pace, Bears chairman George McCaskey recited a line often uttered by team consultant Ernie Accorsi.

“He said when you see that great, young quarterback, you’ve got to take him,” McCaskey said. “That’s the analogy [Accorsi] applied to Ryan. So we think and hope we have the right guy.”

After the Bears hired Pace on Thursday, Phillips, who has known Loomis 31 years, picked up the phone to thank the Saints GM.

“When I called him to thank him, he said, ‘You son of a gun. I can’t believe you took my guy,’” Phillips said. “So that says a lot about Ryan.”

We’ll see.
videoLAKE FOREST, Ill. -- After Ryan Pace's general manager interview Wednesday, George McCaskey, Ted Phillips and Ernie Accorsi shared a moment.

“When he left the room, Ernie, Ted and I looked at each other, and you could tell by the looks on their faces, he was the guy,” McCaskey said.

A day later, Pace was hired as the sixth general manager in Chicago Bears history. Phil Emery, we hardly knew ye.

[+] EnlargeRyan Pace
AP Images/Nam Y. HuhRyan Pace said during his introductory press conference that the Bears need to regain their identity as a tough, physical team on defense.
Now, you, me and everyone else in the free world trust exactly one guy in that room’s opinion when it comes to football matters, and it’s Accorsi, the former Giants general manager who’s now earning a nice, fat paycheck for a few weeks' work as a consultant.

So if Ernie liked him, that’s a good sign, I suppose.

Even Phillips, the team president, joked about his reputation, telling reporters, “Hey look, you guys have all convinced me I’m not a football guy, all right?”

When asked about the Bears' brain trust betting on Pace, a 37-year-old New Orleans front-office veteran, to fix this mom-and-son operation, McCaskey quoted Accorsi.

“Ernie had a good analogy,” McCaskey said. “He said when you see that great young quarterback, you've got to take him -- that's the analogy he applied to Ryan. So we think and we hope we have the right guy.”

A good young quarterback in Chicago? Does anyone here know what that looks like?

It wasn’t Cade McNown or Rex Grossman or even Jay Cutler.

In his televised introduction to Chicago, the new “great young quarterback” of the Bears' organization looked the part. He’s tall, good-looking and young. He said “sustained success” so often I believe he owes royalties to Cubs president Theo Epstein.

He didn’t have much to say, because there’s not a lot to talk about yet. His vision for the Bears is your vision for the Bears. He wants to win a lot of games behind a bunch of athletic football players.

There’s no coach yet, no coaching staff, and Pace definitely didn’t want to wade into the dangerous waters of publicly evaluating Cutler, the $54 million elephant in the room.

Pace can’t remake the guts of the football operations department until the draft, so what’s there to say to the world? Not much. Just vague statements, a joke or two, and that’s it.

There’s a lot of work to do in a very short window. Emery lasted three years at the job, Marc Trestman just two as head coach. The Bears bottomed out at 5-11 in 2014, their worst record in a decade.

The roster isn’t rife with talent, and there are some expensive questions to answer. There are schematic questions, philosophical quandaries. But really, there’s only one acceptable result.

“This is a winning league. You must win,” Pace said. “We’re all judged on wins and losses. I understand that. In fact, I thrive in that. I know I’m evaluated on wins and losses. As far as the time frame and all that, I’m not concerned with that. I want to win. I want to win.”

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Phillips/McCaskeyAP Photo/Nam Y. HuhGeorge McCaskey and the Bears have a tendency to play it safe rather than institute real change.
CHICAGO -- To borrow a phrase popular around these parts back in the day, change is something I believe in.

After all, change is something for which we assemble, something we argue about, and at times, demand.

But when it comes to the Chicago Bears, if you demand change, you might as well spit in the wind during Peak Bear Weather. Because change is still a four-letter word in Lake Forest.

[+] EnlargeChicago Bears, Emery, Trestman
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhPhil Emery and Marc Trestman are out, but will it be more of the same with whoever replaces them?
Real change, I mean. Not cosmetic alterations, not shuffling in Halas Hall expats and friends of friends. Not giving power to the same guys over and over again.

Remember the “massive change” press conference of 2010?

After the expected, necessary firings of general manager Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman last week, there was a lot of buzz about a sea change inside Halas Hall, where previous McCaskeys let the Bears flounder for years under Dave Wannstedt and Dick Jauron.

Not even the laziest McCaskey would’ve let Emery and Trestman return after this past season.

But the reality of what we saw the Monday after the regular season ended were two well-meaning neophytes in George McCaskey and president/consigliere Ted Phillips explaining the obvious (The Bears were a joke this season) and going over the process to find the family’s latest savior (It'll work!).

They dabbled in organizational philosophy and vague assurances. They kept saying “foreclose” like it was the game played by the cops in “Super Troopers.”

No need to ridicule these guys. But they didn’t, and don’t, inspire any confidence that the Chicago Bears will change under new management.

Hiring “Football Guy” Ernie Accorsi as an advisor, the big news out of the meeting, was a smart move -- and surely no guarantee of success. After all, the final decision comes down to a “collaboration” between Phillips and McCaskey. Accorsi, the former New York Giants GM and “old school” steward is just a guide.

The Bears are a mom and pop shop that rarely make the playoffs. They aren't cheap, as has been their reputation in the past, when it comes to players. But this ain't JerryWorld either.

There's a reason people aren't falling over themselves for these open jobs. Some of it is Jay Cutler and the lack of talent on the roster. Some is the Bears are a cornerstone NFL organization in name only. They are the embodiment of the league's past.

Former Bears scout Chris Ballard, now a player personnel chief in Kansas City, interviewed with the trio Wednesday and has been a local favorite since before Emery was officially axed.

Given that he’s turned down other general manager interviews leads you to believe he’s confident in this landing spot. Ballard worked for 12 years in Halas Hall under Jerry Angelo and briefly, Emery. He’s well-respected, but once you get into the insular world of anonymous league execs, who isn’t?

“[Ballard] should be a lock unless they want to totally move on from the [former general manager Jerry] Angelo ties,” a scouting director who has worked directly with Ballard told ESPN NFL Nation reporter Michael C. Wright. “If [the Bears] don’t hire Ballard, they would be making a big mistake. ... He’s more qualified than anybody I have ever been around in this business."

Given that this person worked with Ballard, you have to listen to these plaudits and still reserve judgment.

“He’s got a great head of hair,” Bears guard Kyle Long noted on the “Carmen and Jurko” show Wednesday afternoon. “He’d give Jay [Cutler] a run for his money.”

Duly noted.

I was in favor of forgoing all attachments to Bears Past, regardless of their qualifications, and snagging a young personnel executive from, say, the Green Bay Packers.

I also wanted Rex Ryan, the erstwhile Jets coach who would completely and positively change the franchise for the better. He’s a culture builder, a change agent. An establishment coach who acts like an outsider.

Again, I was way off. That’s why they don’t hire me as a consultant.

Ryan won’t be interviewed. No Packers will be smuggled south.

Accorsi, obviously, knows what he’s doing as he steers Lake Forest’s Bunk and McNulty to their next lead.

The idea of paying a consultant to tell you to hire a guy who already worked at Halas, who will then, in turn, hire Dave Toub, who coached here for nine years, well, is pretty funny.

It reminds one of when Tom Ricketts hired an advanced statistical analyst to figure out who would be Jim Hendry’s ideal replacement and he came up with no-name Theo Epstein.

Good ROI on those hires.

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By the time the team sent out a two-sentence news release at 10:03 a.m. ET Monday, "Bears Make Change At General Manager And Head Coach Positions," millions of printed words and countless hours of talk perhaps had already determined that the most thorough one-day house-cleaning in Chicago Bears' history was a foregone conclusion.

[+] EnlargeGeorge McCaskey
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesBears owner George McCaskey didn't waste any time firing GM Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman after a disappointing season.
If so, it would be unprecedented.

According to team chairman George McCaskey Monday, his mother and Bears matriarch Virginia McCaskey was "pissed off" at the state of the team. It seems to safe to infer that her anger and disappointment stemmed in part from the crush of public/media reaction which, in the end, neither she nor George could ignore.

That's not to imply Monday's decision to fire Emery and Trestman was solely reactionary instead of reasonable. From the inconsistent and clumsy handling of such team issues as the suspension of Martellus Bennett in training camp, the inaction over Lance Briggs missing practice to open his restaurant and the hands-off treatment of Brandon Marshall, Trestman's leadership abilities are easy to pick apart.

And from the management's missteps of hiring Trestman, drafting Shea McClellin with the first pick, giving Cutler a $126 million contract and allowing the quarterback to start in Week 17, ditto on Emery.

Throw in the epic blowout defeats; the league-leading pre-snap penalties and the ever-increasing impression that if the inmates were not running the asylum, they were at least running amok, and the decision Monday was a rather elementary one.

A decade or so ago, critical columns in the local newspapers and chitchat on local radio certainly were given no heed when it came to the fates of Dave Wannstedt, Dick Jauron and Jerry Angelo. It took two 4-12 campaigns for the Bears to fire Wannstedt, four losing seasons to say goodbye to Jauron and much hemming and hawing to pull the plug after 11 years on Angelo, while forcing new GM Emery to begin his campaign with a lame-duck coach in Lovie Smith (whose firing Emery could justify when Smith's team missed the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons).

But never before have the people spoken at the volume they did through all means possible this season, so much so that a full-page ad in the Chicago Tribune the day before the firings practically begged for fans' forgiveness, saying, "We Won't Make Excuses. We Will Thank You For Your Support."

Trestman is the first Bears coach to be fired after only two seasons as the previous tendency to avoid paying coaches for unused years on their contracts did not apply here. Nor did it matter that both Emery and Trestman are nice, respectable men (see: Wannstedt and Jauron).

Even under the most ferocious criticism the past few weeks, there was still the question of whether the team would keep Emery while firing Trestman because it was simply hard to imagine the Bears would make such a decisive, sweeping change. The fact that they did may be testimony to a new decisiveness within the Bears' organization. Or it may be that indeed, Virginia McCaskey had heard enough because it was simply impossible not to hear.

The people spoke. And this time, maybe made the Bears' decision an easy one.
Chicago Bears chairman George McCaskey expressed disappointment Wednesday with the club's 3-5 record during Comcast SportsNet's "Bears Huddle" show, but remains confident in the direction the team is headed under general manager Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman.

Given the team's high expectations headed into the season, McCasey said he's "very disappointed," adding that "Bears fans and everyone in this building expected us to contend for a Super Bowl."

The Bears haven't won back-to-back games since Weeks 2 and 3 of the season, and have dropped four of their last five. Trestman and Emery said the staff will spend the week at Halas Hall meticulously researching and critiquing the first half of the season to determine which the direction the team should take coming out of the bye.

McCaskey is confident in Trestman and Emery's ability to lead that effort.

"I think every team at some point faces a little bit of adversity in the season, and the measure of that team is how they react to that adversity," McCaskey said. "We'll see what these guys are made of. We have every confidence in Phil and Marc and the players to pull us out of this."

McCaskey also said that Bears fans "have every right to be" upset with the way the season has unfolded. McCaskey was responding to a question about Kyle Long's reaction to fans at Soldier Field booing the team as it came off the field down 14 points at halftime of a Oct. 19 loss to the Miami Dolphins.

"We're 3-5, that's a losing record," he said. "We're winless at home, and that doesn't fit the formula for making it to the postseason. You've got to dominate at home. You've got to control your division, and you've got to do pretty well for yourself on the road. We're outside that formula right now, and we need to correct that."

Whether that's possible at this point remains uncertain, but McCaskey remains bullish in his belief the Bears should be competing for championships every year. At this point, to do that, the Bears need to utilize a more narrow focus.

"The goal every year is to win the Super Bowl," McCaskey said. "The long-range goal is to win more championships than any other team. To do that though, you have to win the next one. That's where we're focused on. Right now, we need to put all our focus and all our energies into winning the next game."

The Bears face the Green Bay Packers on Nov. 9 at Lambeau Field.

Five things we learned vs. Cowboys

December, 10, 2013
CHICAGO -- Here are five things we learned in the Chicago Bears45-28 victory over the Dallas Cowboys:

1. Trestman recovered: There was legitimate concern about whether the Bears would be capable of rebounding after their demoralizing Week 13 loss to the Vikings in the Metrodome. Coach Marc Trestman and his team answered that question on the Bears’ first offensive drive of the game, when they marched 78 yards on 12 plays and ate up 7:27 on the clock to tie the game at 7-7. The Bears never looked back on offense, partly because of the creative and efficient manner in which Trestman called plays. Trestman was in the zone Monday night. Almost everything he called was executed to perfection. He deserves credit for hanging in there after a tough week during which he was put under the microscope. The head coach overcame the adversity and now has the Bears right back in the NFC North race at 7-6.

2. McCown refuses to have a bad game: Jay Cutler may be medically cleared to start next week against the Cleveland Browns, but Josh McCown has the city buzzing after his latest performance. He went 27-of-36 for 348 passing yards, threw four touchdowns, ran for another, and registered a passer rating of 141.9. In seven appearances this year (five starts), McCown is 147-of-220 for 1,809 yards, 13 touchdowns, one interception and a 109.8 quarterback rating. Of course, McCown had the benefit of playing against a hapless Dallas defense on Monday night. He also was lucky not to have a couple of throws picked off. But when you’re in the zone, you’re in the zone. And McCown is in the zone. Nobody can dispute that.

3. Cutler hysteria expected to peak: The natural reaction is to question why the Bears, with the playoffs still a real possibility, would risk benching McCown in favor of Cutler on Sunday in Cleveland. It’s fair to wonder, but keep in mind the Bears have been consistent all year when it comes to Cutler. When healthy, he is the team’s starting quarterback. If the Bears make the switch now, there is no going back. Are you ready for that? Why not see how Cutler responds to the pressure of starting the final three games? Worst-case scenario: If he Cutler struggles, McCown will certainly be ready to enter a game at a moment’s notice. And it Cutler bombs down the stretch, the Bears will have a better idea of whether he is the guy moving forward. But Cutler also could succeed and guide the Bears to the postseason. The Bears already know what McCown can do in the offense at this stage of the season. But Cutler remains kind of a mystery. The only way to know for certain is to let him play.

4. Defense kept the Bears in it: All the Bears can ask for from the defense at this stage of the season is to keep them in ballgames. Mission accomplished Monday night. Dallas still ran all over the Bears for 198 yards on 28 carries, but the Cowboys converted just 50 percent of their third-down chances (5-of-10) and went 1-of-2 on fourth down. Those aren’t great numbers for any defense, but for the Bears, it’s an improvement. In contrast, the Bears were 8-of-11 on third downs (73 percent).The Bears also sacked Tony Romo twice and limited Dallas to 144 total passing yards.

5. Ditka ceremony a success: The tribute at halftime to retire Mike Ditka's No. 89 went off without a hitch. From the red carpet that stretched from the Bears’ sideline to the middle of the field -- where a small stage was assembled that contained the 1963 NFL championship trophy, the Super Bowl XX Vince Lombardi trophy and Ditka’s bronze Hall of Fame bust -- to the classy and well-produced video montages that rolled on the JumboTron featuring Ditka’s former teammates and players, the organization should be proud of the way it celebrated one of the game’s all-time greats. Ditka delivered a heartfelt and articulate speech that culminated with a loud, “Go Bears,” which sent the crowd into a frenzy. Team chairman George McCaskey, who enthusiastically introduced Ditka, should be applauded for the manner in which he has reconnected with the team’s alumni base since assuming his current position two years ago.

McCaskey fine with Flacco year for Cutler

August, 7, 2013
Chicago Bears chairman George McCaskey said he would be happy if quarterback Jay Cutler, in the final year of his deal, follows the path of Joe Flacco, who cashed in on his contract year with a Super Bowl win last season.

Read the entire story.

Ditka credits George McCaskey for peace

May, 24, 2013

Mike Ditka's final season as a player for the Chicago Bears was in 1966. His last season as their coach was 1992. So why did it take 47 years after his departure as a player, and 21 years after his final season as the coach, to retire the number of one of the most recognizable figures in team history?

A small part of the explanation could be the sheer size and breadth of the Bears' history. Before retiring Ditka's No. 89, a move the team announced Friday, the Bears already had the most retired numbers in the NFL (Ditka's is the team's 14th). I chuckled Friday morning when punter Adam Podlesh tweeted: "BREAKING: The NFL finally gives Bears the nod to use fractions and decimal points on jerseys after the last whole number is retired #iwantpi"

If you retired every deserving number in Bears history, there wouldn't be many left over for the current team.

But I think we all know that more than numbers were in play here. Ditka alluded to it during a morning appearance on ESPN Radio, noting the efforts of Bears chairman George McCaskey to reach out after succeeding his brother, Michael, in 2011. Michael McCaskey, of course, was running the Bears when Ditka was fired as coach.

"I never left" the Bears organization, Ditka said, but added: "I think what happened is they made a decision based on what they wanted to do. They had a right to make that decision. It hurts. It always hurts when there is a separation or divorce.

"But when George took over running the Bears and he called me, him and [team president] Ted Phillips and I met with him. I think [the meeting] was so cordial. George is a special guy. He probably had a little bit more vision than somebody else. But that didn't matter. That's not important to me. Whatever it is, it is. … I am very, very honored. That's the bottom line."

The ceremony will take place Dec. 9 at Soldier Field, when the Bears will host a "Monday Night Football" game (on ESPN!) against the Dallas Cowboys. It should be a great night.

Note: The video of Ditka's radio appearance is at the top of this post. Here is the link to the audio version if you prefer that.

McCaskey talks with 'gracious' Urlacher

April, 2, 2013
DES PLAINES, Ill. -- Chicago Bears chairman George McCaskey talked with Brian Urlacher for the first time since the team parted ways with him and said the star linebacker, who was bothered he hadn't heard from the team, was "gracious" during their phone conversation.

Read the entire story.

Brian Urlacher as a transition figure

March, 20, 2013
PHOENIX -- Four days at the NFL owners meeting has helped clear up a portion of Brian Urlacher's continuing contract standoff with the Chicago Bears.

We know that chairman George McCaskey wants Urlacher back with the team but won't influence the final decision of general manager Phil Emery.

It's now overtly clear that the Bears' coaching staff wants Urlacher back as well, a topic we've discussed generally but was confirmed Wednesday by coach Marc Trestman. In discussing the issue at the NFL owners meeting, Trestman said: "We all understand I think that he can help us on the field. I've said that, and I've said that to Brian."

Given the current state of the Bears' roster, I understand why the coaching staff would want Urlacher back. Neither of the players who have started at the position over the past three years -- Urlacher and Nick Roach -- are under contract. (Roach signed last week with the Oakland Raiders.) There really isn't a viable starter on the roster, and it's never ideal to enter a draft with a desperate need for a starter at any position.

But in addition to providing continuity at middle linebacker, I also wonder if Urlacher could provide Trestman an essential service during his rookie season as coach. Assuming Urlacher bought in to Trestman's program and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker's scheme, he could serve as a locker room salesman and messenger to help smooth the transition from the previous regime.

At a time of uncertainty, many Bears players would be looking to Urlacher -- who has long been the face of the franchise -- to set a tone and take the lead. If Urlacher enthusiastically embraces Trestman and Tucker, chances are better that the rest of the locker room would follow suit.

If Trestman wants Urlacher back, my guess is he thinks there is a good chance of buy-in. And Urlacher's interest in returning suggests he feels the same way. Here's what Trestman said when I asked him about Urlacher serving in the conduit role:

"There is no doubt that the No. 1 thing is he can help our football team on the field. Everything else certainly brings great value to our team. No doubt about it. I'm just hopeful it will be resolved. And it will be resolved. As a coaching staff, we've just got to trust the process."

That process, to be clear, is financial. The Bears have removed emotion from the equation and have acknowledged the on-field aspect. So now we wait.

McCaskey staying out of Urlacher situation

March, 18, 2013
PHOENIX -- We've passed through the first week of NFL free agency, and league news probably will come at a slower pace over the next few days here at the plush Biltmore Resort. But one of the biggest news stories of the offseason still hangs over us: The future of Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher.

The sides are in enough of a contract stalemate that word leaked last week that Urlacher had discussed his status with the Minnesota Vikings, whose 2012 middle linebacker -- Jasper Brinkley -- has departed via free agency. While I don't expect Urlacher to join receiver Greg Jennings as NFC North defectors, I do think it's far from settled that he will return to the Bears.

[+] EnlargeDez Bryant
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireBrian Urlacher is at a contract impasse with the Chicago Bears.
The issue is important enough that I figured it was worth speaking to Bears chairman George McCaskey about it. As he walked the Biltmore halls, McCaskey said he personally hopes Urlacher returns but made clear the decision lies with general manager Phil Emery.

"As a fan," McCaskey said, "of course you want him back. He's been the face of the franchise. He's been an outstanding player, a Hall of Fame career. But I've tried to assure Bears fans since I became chairman that I don't involve myself in player personnel decisions unless there is a question of character. Of course, there is no question about Brian's character. So you have to leave that to the pros, the guys that make the evaluations, and hope for the best."

Urlacher's future isn't just a "player personnel decision." It's a franchise decision, and one that needs careful handling from all angles -- perhaps even a rare involvement from ownership. But I understand why McCaskey isn't inserting himself. If he makes an exception and orders Emery to re-sign him, he would leave Emery and the rest of the front office wondering when the next exception is coming. To maintain the wall he has advertised to fans, McCaskey has no other choice.

If I had to guess, I would assume the Bears have attached a value to Urlacher's return and are sticking to it. That financial figure is almost assuredly much lower than the $7.5 million he earned last season, and that's why the sides are where they are. This one is too murky to call. Stay tuned.

Playoff exits push coaching search along

January, 13, 2013
Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery acknowledged Jan. 1 that in his search for a new head coach "the playoffs are a consideration," but that potential roadblock appears to have come down Sunday with the conclusion of the divisional round of the postseason.

[+] EnlargeDenver's Mike McCoy
Byron Hetzler/US PRESSWIREDenver's Mike McCoy is one of four offensive coordinators whose season ended this weekend, opening the door for the Bears to move forward in their coaching search.
Of the known candidates, four coached for teams that lost in the divisional round, a group consisting of four offensive coordinators: Seattle's Darrell Bevell, Houston's Rick Dennison, Green Bay's Tom Clements and Mike McCoy of the Denver Broncos. The losses by the Seahawks, Texans, Packers and Broncos open up availability for those coaches to talk more in the coming days, with Emery expected to move into the next phase of the process. He'll probably pick two to three finalists for second interviews that will also involve team president Ted Phillips and Bears chairman George McCaskey.

"There may be a candidate that's in the playoffs and may be unavailable to us (that) we may have to wait out," Emery said. "After we're at the point where we feel good (that) we have quality candidates to select two or three as finalists, we will either have them come to us or go to them so we can have an opportunity for them to talk to George or to talk to Ted and that George and Ted can interact with them and get a feel for them. At the end, the final decision will be mine."

The timeline for Emery making the choice seems now to be a little less difficult.

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Free Head Exam: Chicago Bears

December, 31, 2012
After the Chicago Bears' 26-24 victory over the Detroit Lions, here are three issues that merit further examination:
  1. Free Head Exam
    All eyes are on general manager Phil Emery, and by extension team president Ted Phillips and chairman George McCaskey. The Bears finished with a playoff-worthy record at 10-6, even if it was after a 7-1 start, but ultimately they missed the postseason for the fifth time in six years under coach Lovie Smith. That sounds like a fair recipe for making a change, even for a coach with a career record of 81-63. But there is more gray area here than you might realize. The Bears have spent almost a decade building their defense around Smith's scheme. The chances of finding a new coach with the identical defensive approach are not high. So firing Smith is a move to overhaul the entire defense, long the lifeblood of this team. In other words, the Bears stand on the brink of a major rebuild if they fire Smith. Are they ready for that, with quarterback Jay Cutler and receiver Brandon Marshall in their prime? Emery has a chance to change the direction of the franchise, but it remains to be seen whether he thinks it is necessary.
  2. This has to be the most disappointing season in Devin Hester's career. The much-heralded "Hester Package" never materialized in the Bears' offense, and none of his 64 combined punt and kickoff returns went longer than 44 yards. Cutler targeted him on only 40 of the 208 routes he ran this season, including just one over the final three games, according to EPSN Stats & Information. Hester caught 23 of those passes for 242 yards and one touchdown. This was the first of Hester's seven seasons when he was productive neither as a receiver nor as a returner. He turned 30 last month and is entering the final year of his contract. Assuming he didn't hit any of his contract escalators this year, he is signed for a reasonable $1.857 million in 2013. But you wonder what his place would be in a revamped Bears program.
  3. On the other hand, I don't think the Bears could have taken better advantage of their acquisition of Marshall. His reunion with Cutler produced career highs in receptions (118), yards (1,508) and touchdowns (11). You would have to consider Marshall's performance one of the best for an offensive skill player in Bears history. One interesting offseason discussion will be the 194 passes Cutler targeted Marshall on. It tied for second in the NFL behind the Detroit Lions' Calvin Johnson (205) and was nearly four times as many as the Bears' next-most targeted receiver. Was it too much? You wonder if the Bears' approach in 2013 will include a plan to target Marshall less, incorporate more players on a weekly basis and be more productive as a whole.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher is a pending free agent, and it's at least worth discussing whether his career is over. He gutted through 12 games on a knee that never completely healed from a January 2012 injury, and most football people would tell you he was nowhere close to his usual sideline-to-sideline self. He is 34 and his contract status could give the Bears a relatively graceful way of moving on. Emery paved the way for that possibility by declining to extend his contract before the season. Urlacher's 2012 season made that decision seem wise. Emery can't bring Urlacher back for a competition or as a role player, however. That wouldn't be respectful to one of the best players in Bears history. It's all or nothing, and at this moment it's not clear which way he will go.

Bears must 'win out.' What if they don't?

December, 9, 2012
Jay CutlerAP Photo/Andy KingQuarterback Jay Cutler and the Bears were shaken up in a Week 14 road loss to the Vikings.
MINNEAPOLIS -- A step into the Chicago Bears' locker room Sunday afternoon was like opening a door into a blizzard. The people inside spoke in hushed tones, steeling themselves from elements that had been pounding them for hours. They looked wind-worn and resigned to additional accumulation.

Sunday's 21-14 loss to the Minnesota Vikings was the Bears' fourth in five games, a slump that has dropped them from NFC North leaders into a fight for wild-card playoff position. (The Bears are now clinging to the sixth seed in the NFC playoff race after the Seattle Seahawks' 58-0 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.) They are now 0-6 in their past two Decembers, and watching them Sunday made you wonder if they are nearing the end of an era.

Linebacker Brian Urlacher was walking through the locker room in street clothes, sidelined by a hamstring injury that ESPN's Adam Schefter has reported could end his season and perhaps his career in Chicago. Quarterback Jay Cutler was nursing an injured neck that was so stiff he could not turn it during a postgame news conference, instead swiveling his upper body or just moving his eyes to face questioners. Even coach Lovie Smith, who always looks ready for battle, was notable for the gray stubble sprouting from his chin.

"The window of opportunity for us is a lot smaller," Smith said, "but we still control what happens to us."

Smith was referring to this season's playoffs, and yes, the Bears have a good chance of advancing if they win their final three regular-season games. They might well get in with a 2-1 finish. That schedule includes one home game, next Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, and then road games at Arizona and the Detroit Lions to finish the season.

Do you see three wins in those games? Maybe. Do you see two? It's quite possible. But here's a more specific question: Do you see either scenario from the team the Bears trotted onto the Metrodome carpet Sunday? I'm not sure about that.

Cutler didn't mince words afterward, saying: "We have just a handful of games left, and we have to win them all." But what if they don't? What would a second consecutive December collapse mean for this franchise?

Smith has a 79-62 record in nine seasons with the Bears. He had them in the NFC Championship Game two years ago and seemed destined for a deep playoff run last season before Cutler's season-ending thumb injury. This year, Smith had the Bears at 7-1 before they hit this slump.

Instincts tell you that Smith's job isn't riding on the next three games. But the Bears haven't been predictable since George McCaskey ascended to the chairman's role two years ago. After Week 14 last year, I wouldn't have guessed general manager Jerry Angelo would be fired the day after the season. That event means that Smith's boss, new general manager Phil Emery, isn't the man who hired him.

Even if Smith keeps his job, you would think the Bears' 2012 finish will jump-start the rebuilding of a defense that has been slowed by age and injuries in the second half of the season. Sunday, the entire team seemed literally to be falling apart in front of our eyes.

Place-kicker Robbie Gould strained a calf muscle in pregame warm-ups. Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson ripped off a 51-yard run on the first play of the first game Urlacher has missed in three seasons. Receiver Alshon Jeffery slipped on a cut, resulting in an interception that set up a touchdown that gave the Vikings a 14-0 lead less than halfway through the first quarter.

Receiver Devin Hester dropped a certain touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, and teammate Brandon Marshall allowed a potential fourth-down conversion to skip off his hands. Even Cutler interrupted one of his better NFL seasons with some sloppy throws, including one in the third quarter that sailed over Marshall and was returned 56 yards by Vikings safety Harrison Smith for a touchdown. That score proved to be the deciding points in the game.

"We have to come out with a higher sense of urgency," said defensive lineman Israel Idonije. Said linebacker Nick Roach: "We kind of came out a little flat, maybe."

How the Bears came out flat in a December game with playoff implications is a story with no acceptable explanation. This performance should be a wake-up call to anyone who believes in the Bears' status quo.

Cutler was one of the few players who appeared to be scrapping from the start, most notably on an 11-yard run on third-and-10 to extend the Bears' second possession. But Cutler paid a price for his hard-driving play. He said his neck was "stiffening up more and more" as the game progressed, and Smith pulled him late in the fourth quarter after he absorbed one final head shot from Vikings defensive lineman Everson Griffen.

Speaking to reporters afterward, Marshall said "we just have to win out" three times in a span of four questions. And if they don't? Well, anything -- and everything -- seems possible.


McCaskey: Emery can decide on Lovie in '13

July, 27, 2012
Chicago Bears chairman George McCaskey said Friday that when Phil Emery was promoted to general manager, he was told Lovie Smith would be the head coach for 2012, but Emery would have the freedom to make a change after that.

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