Commentary

Hardly a clean slate for Phil Emery

New GM hire was the best the Bears could do under the circumstances

Updated: January 29, 2012, 2:02 AM ET
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- There will be those who criticize the Bears for their low-wattage hire in new general manager Phil Emery.

The news, announced by the team on Saturday afternoon, at least a week after everyone had pretty much deemed it done, has less sizzle than the story of a Theo Epstein spotting at a Wrigleyville Starbucks last fall.

Frankly, who are we kidding? It's generating less buzz than the unveiling of the store's new Trenta-size coffee.

After the Bears seemed to promise a major overhaul with the firing of Jerry Angelo, fans may have been expecting, well, a major overhaul. Instead, they appeared to get ho-hum. Same team president, same head coach and a GM who has Halas Hall on his resume but not, well, GM.

[+] EnlargeJerry Angelo
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhPhil Emery will replace Jerry Angelo, whose draft record was less than stellar.

This does not, however, portend disaster.

Once the decision, or non-decision, was made to retain Ted Phillips and Lovie Smith, Phillips and Smith were not going to go out and look for a football czar. Nor were they going to find one willing to come in under these circumstances.

But tweaking, in this case, is not necessarily a bad thing.

More than anything, Angelo was fired for failing too often in the draft. And more than anything, the Bears needed a fresh set of eyes. That they found someone in Emery with almost exclusively college scouting in his NFL background, and a pretty good track record at it, is a fine place to start.

Build a foundation of solid young players then worry about reworking the entire hierarchy, not the other way around. Though hiring Emery may have been lackluster, it would be unfair to paint the man with the same broad strokes.

Emery, 53, fell in love with the idea of scouting while playing football at Wayne State. As a sophomore, according to Michael Holley's book "War Room: The Legacy of Bill Belichick and the Art of Building the Perfect Team," Emery saw a scout on his way to the football office with a 16 mm projector and thought there had to be no greater way to make a living than traveling across the country, evaluating the most talented players around.

You are not going to find too many people more dedicated to their jobs than professional scouts, people who sacrifice practically their entire lives for their work. But in Holley's book, Emery is revealed as a man who learns to see his life in a different light while coming grips with his daughter, April's, epilepsy.

Among others, Emery was mentored by late Bears VP of player personnel Mark Hatley, as kind and ethical as anyone you could find in pro sports and someone who impressed on Emery the importance of being a good listener.

Under Hatley's direction during Emery's seven-year tenure with the Bears, the team drafted Brian Urlacher, Mike Brown and Olin Kreutz. It also drafted Curtis Enis and Cade McNown. But even the best are going to miss sometimes, and Emery was part of a scouting effort that drafted Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman. As director of college scouting for the Falcons, he was responsible for drafting quarterback Matt Ryan and receiver Roddy White.

Of course, Emery is going to have to do more than oversee drafts, and we won't be able to fairly judge him on that work for at least a few years. In the meantime, he will have to refurbish an offense by finding playmakers who can contribute immediately, either through the draft or free agency; mend fences with Matt Forte; and establish himself as the authority figure in football operations.

If that sounds like a little more than tweaking, so be it. But with Smith staying put for now, and the seemingly smooth transition from Mike Martz to Mike Tice, Emery does not have to be a football czar.

Just a reasonable new boss with an attention to detail, an open mind and, oh yes, an eye for talent.

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Melissa Isaacson

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for espnW.com, ESPN Chicago and ESPN.com. The award-winning writer has covered Chicago sports for most of her 31-year career, including at the Chicago Tribune before joining ESPN in 2009. Isaacson has also covered tennis since 1986.