Commentary

Bears in 'solution business' by firing GM

George McCaskey should follow one bold move with another: Hire a proven draft guru

Updated: January 3, 2012, 5:55 PM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- As training camp opened this season, Jerry Angelo was hit with familiar questions about adding more offensive linemen.

The nerve of those reporters. As if J'Marcus Webb wasn't enough! And how about Gabe Carimi!?

[+] EnlargeJerry Angelo
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhJerry Angelo had run the Bears' football operations since 2001.

"Everybody has an opinion: 'They need this. They need that,'" Angelo said. "Well, tell me who you want. Who should we look at? Give me names. Don't tell me about our problems. Give me solutions. I'm in the solution business, not identifying the problems. You guys do a great job of identifying our problems. How about a few solutions."

Apparently, George McCaskey and Ted Phillips are in the solution business too. As Angelo said recently, they didn't "whistle Dixie" about making a change after a 7-3 start devolved into an 8-8 ending.

The Bears' brain trust decided, rightly in my opinion, that 11 seasons of Angelo were enough. He was relieved of his duties as general manager Tuesday, much to the delight of Chicago sports fans, many of whom are still waving goodbye to Jim Hendry.

I want to avoid the "Bears need their Theo Epstein" angle because it's lazy, but it's valid to consider a younger executive rather than chase respected veteran Bill Polian.

What the Bears need is a guy who will draft football players who are ready to play football today. There is nothing sabermetric about making good draft decisions. Just ask the Pittsburgh Steelers. Or the Baltimore Ravens, where Chicago might find its (gulp) own Theo.

Because if we're talking replacements, Baltimore director of player personnel Eric DeCosta is a logical start. He's been with the team since 1996, and during his six years as scouting director, he had some big hits, including Ray Rice, Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs. The 40-year-old DeCosta went to Colby College and worked his way up the ladder, so it fits the "Bears' Theo" angle if that's your thing. There are worse places to look for a new point of view than Baltimore.

Angelo was a tough guy for the public to embrace, given his mule-headed public comments, his uneven draft record, his predilection for taking medical risks and, most recently and importantly, his inability to surround a budding star quarterback with complementary talent.

To be fair, Angelo also built playoff teams, including two Super Bowl contenders, and made his share of savvy draft picks and free agent moves.

But it's no fun to credit him for drafting Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman, Devin Hester and Matt Forte when you can bring up pool-jumping phenom Jarron Gilbert and those defensive stalwarts you've grown to love, Dan Bazuin and Michael Okwo. Chris Williams, the first-round pick out of Vanderbilt, continues to wow us.

My favorite Angelo draft joke of late was the Bears taking Central Michigan quarterback Dan LeFevour in the sixth round of the 2010 draft. Later in that round, the Steelers took Central Michigan receiver Antonio Brown.

LeFevour was waived after the preseason to make room for Todd Collins and claimed by Cincinnati before Chicago could add him to the practice squad. LeFevour is now a backup in Jacksonville.

Brown, a speed demon who has turned into the kind of receiver the Bears thought Hester could be, was just named MVP of the Steelers by his teammates.

I'm cherry-picking, but to me, that's a classic Angelo move. Of course, everyone passed on Brown, including the Steelers earlier in that round, but it speaks to how the Bears scouted under Angelo that they took LeFevour over Brown.

I'm just happy to see the Bears go in a new direction under new McNepotism Prince McCaskey, who may look like Ned Flanders but seems to have the cutthroat attitude of Mr. Burns. Eleven years is a long time in this league, and without a consistent track record in developing talent, I see no reason why Angelo should have stuck around a season longer.

We live in the now, so it's easy to focus your ire on Angelo for not having a better backup quarterback option this year. You wouldn't be wrong.

Caleb Hanie was a main reason the Bears didn't make the playoffs after Cutler went down. But I can cut Angelo a little slack, given the awful collection of backup quarterbacks hanging around the league. Bringing in Collins last season didn't work very well, did it? Still, the Hanie decision had major repercussions, and those kind of decisions get people fired.

To me, the real crime was not surrounding Cutler with better talent, starting in 2009.

After Angelo finally acquired the quarterback Chicago had pining for since Jim McMahon, if not Sid Luckman, he failed to give him adequate blockers and game-breaking receivers. You know, the things a quarterback needs besides a hot reality-show girlfriend (check).

If I bought a Jaguar, I wouldn't put on doughnut tires and not buy insurance. Would you? Jerry might.

[+] EnlargeLovie Smith and Mike Martz
Jerry Lai/US PresswireThe Bears say Lovie Smith will be back, but the same can't be said for offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who resigned Tuesday.

In Cutler's three seasons, we've seen him get sacked 110 times and struggle to find a rapport with his receivers. Angelo shipped out Greg Olsen, a pass-catching tight end in a season where that position was in vogue, because he wasn't a Mike Martz guy, and he added Roy Williams, who, by January, was the only Roy Williams fan in Chicago. Earl Bennett got a big payday simply for being a receiver.

Forte was Cutler's favorite target and the Bears' best offensive weapon, but Angelo wasn't able to lock him up with a new deal. Forte's contract status didn't hamper his play, but it was a major distraction.

No one's too concerned with Angelo's reputation, or dare I say "legacy," in Chicago. What is exciting is the prospect for change at Halas Hall.

I like Lovie Smith and think his stable hand is welcomed by his players, who like being treated like adults. He has his blind spots, as do most coaches, but I don't think Smith should be ushered out the door. According to the Bears, he won't be.

A story on the team's website noted: "No other changes will be made. That includes Lovie Smith, who will remain Bears head coach." Less than an hour later, that sentence was amended to "Lovie Smith will remain as head coach and will continue to evaluate his coaching staff."

Soon after, word came out that Martz was out along with quarterbacks coach Shane Day.

It's odd that the Bears would put out their backing of Smith before hiring a general manager. But Smith's contract, like Angelo's, goes through 2013, so he's not safe past next year.

Regardless of who the Bears hire as general manager, it would have been foolish to fire Smith right away, as his rapport with his team is still strong. It seems to make sense to promote from within to fill the offensive coordinator spot, and Mike Tice, ear pencil and all, is the obvious choice.

Regardless of next year's record, Smith's job security is now akin to a safety's job security under his tenure, which is to say tenuous at best. A new guy will want his own coach, if not today, then tomorrow. It's only a matter of time.

As for Bears fans wanting some kind of massive change, this move got me thinking about something McMahon, in a moment of clarity, said to me after the 2009 season.

"The only massive change they'll ever have is if they ever sell the team, and that ain't going to happen," he said of the McCaskey clan. "While they're still there, they ain't going to win."

McMahon was proven wrong in 2010, but there's more than a hint of truth to his words. Who will pick Angelo's replacement? Angelo was brought in via a search firm, which to me, is the ultimate cowardly way to run a sports franchise or college program. That kind of decision-making vacuum has kept the Bears from putting out consistent playoff teams.

It speaks to what McMahon said all along. The Bears don't need a Theo; they need a Rooney.

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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