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Don't expect Bears to rock the boat with new hires

1/7/2015
George McCaskey and the Bears have a tendency to play it safe rather than institute real change. AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

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.

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.

As for Mike Shanahan, if he were really a candidate, I don’t like it. A big name like Shanahan is popular among the certain sort who like order and a big name. But he’s never won much without John Elway and botched the benching of Jake Plummer for rookie Cutler, which precluded his exit from Denver.

One thing the Bears don’t need to do this time around is cater to Cutler. He’s got two years, max, left here, and could be out this offseason if the new general manager and coach wish so. Shanny is not the guy.

The Bears seem to agree. It doesn’t seem like there’s interest from them yet, though they have only reached out to “hot” assistant coaches before hiring a GM. But I don’t think a first-year general manager would bring in a guy who has had power like Shanahan.

Since I know my Rex dream is over -- I would move to Lake Forest if he was giving daily briefings -- I will say I like Toub, in theory, even if it's a grasp to the past. I wouldn't suggest it, but I wouldn't pan it either.

While the “Lovie Guys” are gone, Toub earns instant respect from his players. Next to Smith, Toub had the most love in Halas Hall. And his unit worked.

I have no qualms about a special teams coach ascending to head coach. In fact, I see the value of it. After all, those coaches have to teach minutiae, they have to be able to coach myriad positions and personalities. They have to lead their own fiefdom.

But hiring Toub is not change. It’s what the Bears do. They play it safe. A guy they know. Or a guy who knows a guy. No one with a personality that will rock the walls. Someone Ma McCaskey would like.

Emery was an ex-Bears scout. Trestman was hired, in part, because he was someone Emery thought he could work with.

This would be the same setup, albeit with the hope it works this time. Ballard definitely seems to have more respect than Emery in league circles.

Dramatic change doesn’t always work. It’s messy and chaotic. But sometimes we need to be shaken out of our doldrums.

The Bears will make their hires soon. Then it’ll be time for dreaming and optimism. When George McCaskey tucks himself into bed after the head coach’s press conference, I figure he’ll be comfortable and content.

Change makes us uncomfortable. The status quo makes us feel safe.