Mark Hatley didn't hire Dick Jauron, and neither did Jerry Angelo. Nevertheless, it is Jauron who stands between these two NFL executives Sunday when the Chicago Bears play host to the Green Bay Packers.
Jauron's work thus far with players mostly handpicked by Hatley, the Bears' former vice president of player personnel, has made him a leading contender for NFL Coach of the Year.
Regardless of this good work, Angelo, the Bears' new general manager, might fire Jauron.
|Despite showing progress in the win-loss column, Bears coach Dick Jauron still has to earn a new contract.|
Those are the cold, hard facts. Very cold.
Angelo opened eyes last week when he told a media gathering that Jauron's record at the end of the 2001 season would not be the bottom line when making a decision on the coach's future.
The media ran with it, picking apart a number of Angelo's pronouncements, including the suggestion that it is important that the coach and the GM need to "get along."
Bad choice of words. Even Angelo realizes it. You have to try real hard not to be compatible with Dick Jauron.
"Personally, I know that Dick is one of the great guys around," said Angelo. "Who wouldn't want Dick as their friend or neighbor? To me, he's like Tony Dungy. There are a lot of parallels between the two guys."
Angelo knows Dungy from his days as player personnel director of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was in Tampa until June 12, when the Bears ended a lengthy search for a general manager by naming Angelo. He didn't exactly replace Hatley, who resigned after three years on the job and then took a similar job with the Packers. Angelo has more power than Hatley had, including the right to hire and fire the Bears coach and basically rule the entire football operation.
The late hiring is causing a multitude of problems.
Angelo gets almost no credit for the success of the upstart Bears (6-1) because Hatley drafted or signed 18 of the 22 starters.
Angelo also has had little time to get to know Jauron and his staff.
"The thing I remember is that the day I was hired was the day everyone around here went on vacation," he said with a laugh. "There's been a lot of work to do within the organization -- a lot of work -- so I'm catching up on a lot of things."
That includes Angelo's relationship with the Chicago media. Because of the large task at hand of restructuring the organization -- or disorganization -- Angelo had never really sat down with beat writers and shared his heart and vision with them. Many GMs do this, especially in their first year, but most such sessions are done on an "off-the-record" basis. When Angelo spoke last week, everything was on the record.
"I made a mistake by opening a can of worms," said Angelo.
Frankly, it all means the same thing as it relates to Jauron's future. He's on shaky ground. Most general managers who are new on the job always prefer to hire their guy. Angelo has never worked with Jauron before, which apparently is making his evaluation more difficult. Thus, he tripped on the "get along" mantra.
"I really don't want to get into this too deep, but what I mean is that I have to share the same vision, and our philosophies have to be compatible," said Angelo. "It takes time to get to know someone. If I had worked with Dick previously, if we had some history together, I'd have some foreknowledge, a comfort level."
Angelo asked to shut down our conversation on Jauron's future because he doesn't want to diminish the team's current accomplishment. He did offer a fairly honest assessment of why Jauron is not a lock to be retained.
||I've been around this league a long time, and you can get lost if you focus only on the won-lost record for a particular season. I've seen things go awry very quickly, and then you have regrets. But, obviously, I am very happy with the team. These guys have worked their tails off. ”
||— Bears GM Jerry Angelo
"I've been around this league a long time, and you can get lost if you focus only on the won-lost record for a particular season," said Angelo. "I've seen things go awry very quickly, and then you have regrets. But, obviously, I am very happy with the team. These guys have worked their tails off."
Jauron has made an impression on Angelo -- how couldn't he? -- because the Bears do some things that the general manager desires in his team. The Bears run the ball well and they stop the run. In fact, it is most promising that the two central figures -- middle linebacker Brian Urlacher and running back Anthony Thomas -- are just beginning their NFL careers. It conjures up visions of Butkus and Sayer, Singletary and Payton. It's part of the Bears tradition.
That also may be one of Jauron's problems. Personality-wise, Jauron does not necessarily fit the traditional Bears identity. He's an Ivy Leaguer whose hiring was the last meaningful act of ex-Bears president Mike McCaskey, another Ivy Leaguer. When you see Jauron, you don't necessarily see George Halas or Mike Ditka. Angelo also has a real passionate, tough-edged personality.
Jauron's supporters will tell you that people should not be fooled by Jauron's seemingly mild-mannered personality. He is a tough guy, on his own terms. A former running back who set Yale's career rushing record with 2,947 yards, he played strong safety in the NFL from 1973 to 1980. He made the Pro Bowl in '74. You don't play strong safety in the NFL by being a wimp.
He has a way of appealing to players. My ESPN NFL Countdown cohort, Sterling Sharpe, has always maintained that Jauron was one of the most respected assistant coaches on Mike Holmgren's all-star staff in Green Bay. Tom Coughlin, a tough guy and one of the most thorough evaluators of coaches and players that I've ever seen in the NFL, selected Jauron to be his first defensive coordinator with the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars.
Jauron's first season on the job, 1999, was exemplary. The Bears were 6-10 and became the first Chicago team since the '85 Bears to win road games at Green Bay and Minnesota.
Jauron's 2000 season was a struggle, because the Bears were trying to force their '99 first-round investment in Cade McNown. Even Hatley, who drafted McNown, will tell you that once he saw the UCLA quarterback on a day-to-day basis, he realized McNown did not possess the ability of a first-round quarterback.
So here it is, 2001, Jauron has Jim Miller and Shane Matthews, and a bunch of young guys mixed with some savvy veterans, and the Bears have turned the NFC Central upside down.
Are they for real? They are a very competitive team. It does start to get real for the Bears, though. The game against the Packers will be the first of six straight divisional games that include the Buccaneers and Vikings.
Angelo will watch closely. He knows the division well. If Jauron's Bears can hold their own during this stretch, Angelo will have a little more knowledge about whether he wants to be wedded to this guy beyond 2001. Otherwise, the coach of the year may be the ex-coach of the Bears.