It appears the Chicago Bears were the last stop on Mike Martz's 20-year NFL coaching career. The architect of the St. Louis Rams "Greatest Show on Turf" offense, Martz never found the same success in stops in Detroit, San Francisco and Chicago.
But will the 60-year-old coach really retire? Our Four Downs panel weighs in on that and more:
Fact or Fiction: Mike Martz will never coach again in the NFL.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. This is not a voluntary retirement. Martz certainly did not sound like a coach who wanted to call it a career after the 2011 season. In fact, his name continued to pop up in connection with college and NFL jobs up until last week. But let's face it, Martz's best days are behind him. Nobody can take away the success he had in St. Louis as offensive coordinator and head coach, but the Mike Martz system did not work in Chicago, and he proved incapable of adapting. His total disregard of the tight end position in the passing game seems out of touch with the current landscape in the league. Still, Martz will be remembered as a brilliant offensive mind who helped guide the Rams to two Super Bowl appearances and one championship during his time there. It's just too bad we never saw that Martz in Chicago.
Michael C. Wright: Fact. Interestingly, Bears coach Lovie Smith receives tons of criticism for his defense being supposedly outdated (although there are still successful teams running very similar schemes). But it’s Martz’s system that seems to be outdated. The Greatest-Show-on-Turf days passed Martz by a long time ago, and he never exercised the flexibility to make that pass-happy scheme jibe with the talent on the roster. In my mind, Martz has committed one of the cardinal sins of today’s NFL, and that’s placing importance on the scheme over the players executing it. That approach just doesn’t work in today’s NFL, and is part of the reason Martz’s name hadn’t come up for any potential openings prior to him announcing his retirement. Had Martz demonstrated a desire to be more flexible with his scheme when he met with Smith, I’m almost certain he’d still be with the Bears today.
Melissa Isaacson: Fact. Otherwise, we’re calling him a liar, right? I suppose if the right offer from the right team comes along, Martz, like anyone, could be convinced to go back on his word that the Bears offensive coordinator position is his last job. Football coaches don’t tend to retire easily. But making it easier for Martz is that he isn’t likely to be offered a head-coaching position again, and even he seems to realize that his best coordinating days may have passed him by.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. I just don’t see who would hire him. He has very few allies and no coaching tree fraternity. He’s not that old either. But he refused to change. Good coaches grow and evolve with the time, but Martz was adamant that his system was the best, and the only way he would work. His offense does work, but his rigidity just doesn’t fly in the NFL. We groused a lot about Martz, but before his injury, you could see Cutler was pretty comfortable in the offense, sideline expletives notwithstanding.
Fact or Fiction: There is a large gap between the Bears and the eight NFL teams in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. Sorry, but it all comes down to offense, or a lack thereof right now with the Bears. Even defensive- and special teams-minded San Francisco was able to outscore the high-powered Saints offense because of dynamic tight end Vernon Davis. The Bears had Kellen Davis, not Vernon, on the roster this season. Sure, the Giants can run the ball with Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, but New York also has serious threats in the passing game with Hakeen Nicks and Victor Cruz. In fact, Mario Manningham would look pretty good in a Bears uniform next season, and he's the Giants' third option at receiver. The Bears already lost in the regular season to Green Bay (twice), New Orleans and Denver, albeit an argument could be made the Bears might be better than the Broncos. The Texans also appear to be a more complete team than the Bears, and New England is head and shoulders better than Lovie Smith's crew. But the good news is the Bears have an opportunity to make the necessary upgrades in the offseason, but much work needs to be done to bridge the gap.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. Absolutely not. The Bears defeated Atlanta and Detroit in the regular season and took the Broncos to the wire on the road with a backup quarterback and a running back that somehow lost all common sense in the clutch. I’ll buy that a talent gap exists between the Bears and most of those teams, but I’m not quite ready to call it a large one. Because of the team’s disappointing finish, it’s easy to lose sight of its 7-3 start. What this season has taught everyone more than anything is that the Bears need depth and youth in a few spots, a weapon or two for quarterback Jay Cutler, and a legitimate backup for him. But this team isn’t far off from being where it needs to be, and I sense ownership is committed to doing what’s necessary to make that happen.
Melissa Isaacson Fiction. Obviously it depends on which playoff team we’re talking about and which Bears team we’re talking about. But if we’re referring to the worst of the playoff bunch -- Denver -- and the Bears as they looked before Jay Cutler’s injury, then no, they’re not far off at all. This should not, however, be interpreted as a vote of confidence for a Bears team as currently constructed. Gaping holes, which still includes the front office, will need to be filled before even a smaller gap can be closed at all.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. The Bears were right there after week 11. But great organizations can overcome injuries, and the Bears couldn’t do that. Still, how many teams can survive six games without their starting quarterback? Quick, name New Orleans’ backup? I had to look it up. It’s Chase Daniel. The Bears have their fair share of depth issues, but if Cutler had played the last six games, the Bears would have made the playoffs.
Fact or Fiction: Ex-Bucs OC Greg Olson would be a good choice for Bears quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. The Bears would be wise to continue interviewing candidates once the coaching staff returns from vacation, but Olson represents a solid upgrade over what the Bears had at that position the past few years. Olson, the former offensive coordinator for Detroit, St. Louis and Tampa, brings an impressive amount of experience to the table, plus a track record of installing easy-to-understand and easy-to-install passing game concepts. The shakeup Tuesday in Indianapolis might give the Bears an expanded pool of candidates to choose from, but Olson is without doubt a qualified contender to fill the vacancy.
Michael C. Wright: Fact. But is a “good choice” the best choice? That’s the question the Bears need to answer in making a decision on that position should recently-promoted offensive coordinator Mike Tice remain with the team after his interview with the Oakland Raiders. Olson definitely built a track record of success on the collegiate level, where he worked with Saints quarterback Drew Brees at Purdue, and in the NFL, with multiple teams. Olson directed an offense the last three years for a Tampa Bay team which fielded one of the youngest rosters in the league, and was led by standouts such as quarterback Josh Freeman, receivers Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn and running back LaGarrette Blount. So undoubtedly, Olson would be a good choice for this team. Bears receiver Roy Williams worked with Olson in Detroit and called him a “great teacher.”
Melissa Isaacson: Fact. OK, sure. Olson has some decent credentials, having developed Brees at Purdue and Freeman in Tampa Bay, and he would be helpful in working with the Bears backup, whomever ends up in that role. But frankly, based on the track record of Bears quarterback coaches, it doesn’t seem to matter who they hire as long as he can get play calls in on time and generally stay out of the way of Cutler.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. Cutler and Olsen got along well early in their shared Bears career … Oh wait, this is the other guy. Yeah sure. He sounds great. The Buccaneers had a pretty efficient offense in 2010, judging by Football Outsiders’ numbers, but were subpar in 2009 and 2011, which spans his three-year reign as offensive coordinator there. Really, it doesn’t matter about the numbers or what scouts say about him. It’s all about his relationship with Cutler. Is he a guy who speaks Jay’s language? Do the Bears know how to work for their quarterback? These are big questions.
Fact or Fiction: The Bears were wrong to prevent Jon Hoke from interviewing for the Minnesota Vikings' defensive coordinator position.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. Hoke will probably get over it. He seems to enjoy coaching in Chicago, has a family that has begun to put down roots in the area, and will more than likely get a nice pay bump out of the whole deal. But the concept of preventing a coach from potentially advancing up the ranks is unsettling. I realize Minnesota is a division rival, but to deny somebody the chance to interview for a better job seems unfair. The NFL needs to look into changing that rule in the future.
Michael C. Wright: Fact. And I’m only saying this is fact because the team’s decision to prevent Hoke from interviewing totally defies what Smith said in his season-ending press conference. Smith said that “every coach on our staff … you would like to see them take another step. Hopefully we’ll have guys on our staff get an opportunity to move up, whether that’s assistant coaches moving into coordinator roles.” Well, that’s exactly what Hoke was attempting to do by interviewing with the Vikings. Now on the flip side of that, it’s certainly understandable for the organization to prevent a coach from joining a divisional rival. There are just too many trade secrets Hoke could give up to the Vikings that would put the Bears at a competitive disadvantage. I’m a little on the fence about this one. But ultimately, a man’s word is his word. Smith said he wanted to see his assistant coaches move up the coaching ladder, and that’s not what the team is doing by stopping Hoke from interviewing elsewhere, division rival or not.
Melissa Isaacson: Fiction. Morally wrong or ethically wrong? Obviously you don’t want to help a division rival in any way, but Smith has always preached that he wants the best for his staff and whoever made the decision not to let Hoke interview for a better job in Minnesota was not exactly making Halas Hall look like a swell place to work. This is particularly the case now that they have denied staff members a chance at career advancement for the second year in a row after telling the Titans they could not interview Tice. Bottom line, however, is that Hoke is still under contract and the Bears have every right to hold him to it.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Let’s not pretend the NFL is the real world. It’s a secretive and gossipy, congenial and cutthroat. As a scout told me the other day, to succeed in the NFL, you have to be a different breed. And most front offices are so wary about their secrets spilling out, they don’t let coaches go to rivals when they can help it. And since Hoke is under contract, it’s no surprise the Bears blocked him from a promotion in Minnesota. It’s sad, sure, but it’s not unfair given the law of the jungle.