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Tuesday, January 26, 2010
What a world (of Chicago sports)

By Jon Greenberg
ESPNChicago.com

Life moves pretty fast in the big city.

On Monday evening, reporters for daily newspapers, not to mention cutting-edge Web sites, were writing about Ravens coach Hue Jackson's impending meeting with the Chicago Bears brass. By Tuesday morning, Jackson was already signed, sealed and delivered to the Oakland Raiders.

Somewhere at a small high school or a Division III college, there is a young offensive genius creating an offense that will change the game as we know it. And that coach has already turned down the Bears.

What is going on here? Didn't the Big Three (Ted Phillips, Jerry Angelo and Lovie Smith) inform a full house of reporters and, by proxy, a couple million Bears fans, that this search for coordinators would be a relative snap?

Now, maybe they have their eyes on some Super Bowl coaches. Maybe that perfect coach is New Orleans Saints quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi -- grandson of Vince -- or Colts assistant head coach of wide receivers Clyde Christensen, a former Tampa Bay offensive coordinator.

Of course, knowing the Bears, they'll bring in Danny Abramowicz.

Then again, maybe the Bears will simply get lucky and fall into a pair of coaches who turn out to be the missing pieces of a Super Bowl contender.

Crazier things have happened, right?

After all, we're living in a world where the Blackhawks are arguably the most successful team in the city and Chicago Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro is not only still gainfully employed, but also inspiring people to ask me, in all seriousness, if he's a candidate for coach of the year.

Has anything crazier than that happened? Maybe if we found out Sammy Sosa was really taking Flintstones vitamins. Or that Ozzie Guillen speaks the King's English at home.

Sometimes you have to shake your head.

Morgan Park basketball coach Nick Irvin chuckled a couple of weeks ago, noting he's not used to living in a world where Northwestern is a local power and DePaul is garbage. The Wildcats are loaded with city players while DePaul picks up the scraps. Ray Meyer is rolling over in his grave.

The Chicago White Sox, the team of big-name designated hitters like Frank Thomas, Harold Baines and Jim Thome, will now see that power position filled by the likes of Mark Kotsay, Andruw Jones and Omar Vizquel. (Then again, "Jurassic" Carl Everett held it down in 2005 ...)

We're living in a world where the Chicago Cubs made sports history when they brought in a new hitting coach, Rudy Jaramillo, for a news conference and put their biggest free-agent acquisition, Marlon Byrd, on a conference call.

We're living in a world where Allen Iverson is starting an All-Star Game, well past his time, while Derrick Rose, the reigning rookie of the year and sublime sophomore, sweats out the reserve vote.

We're living in a world where Rex Grossman, well after his expiration date as Bears starter, paid $2.68 million for a two-bedroom condo (he lost $700,000 when he sold it this month) or about 14 percent of the price the Tribune Company paid to buy the Cubs in 1981. Hey, it was still a better deal than Orlando Pace.

A couple of weeks ago, I jokingly said that coaching the Bears' offense is worse than being a Raiders coach. I guess Hue Jackson took me seriously. The California native told ESPN 1000's "Waddle & Silvy" show that geography led him to the NFL graveyard in Oakland.

Jackson is the second offensive coach to pass up an interview with the Bears to take a job that is, at best, a lateral move. Jeremy Bates, the Jay Cutler-loving wunderkind, followed Pete Carroll to the Seattle Seahawks and Jackson, it seems, would rather work with JaMarcus Russell than Cutler. That would be like a director passing up Colin Farrell for Freddie Prinze Jr.

"My decision had nothing to do with Jay," Jackson told Waddle & Silvy. "If you look at both situations, obviously Jay is the more established quarterback. There's more to it. It's the whole team ... I grew up rooting for the Rams and Raiders."

The Bears' coaching search -- and don't forget they're still looking for a defensive boss too -- has long crossed the border from deliberate to embarrassing. It's not a lost cause quite yet, but if they don't land at least one coach from the Super Bowl teams, this is going to resonate as a clear sign of Lovie Smith's demise in Chicago.

Kane/Toews
Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, both 21, have become the face of the Chicago Blackhawks' organization.

Maybe Smith will wind up taking over the offense now that the defense failed under him. Or maybe Jackson can consult from Oakland, given that he'll be a de facto assistant to Al Davis, anyway.

The odds of the Bears holding two vacant coordinator positions while Del Negro coaches on would have been higher than the New Orleans Saints winning the Super Bowl.

But Vinny has persevered, well-coiffed head held high. Del Negro kept his composure when every question was about his job, or perceived lack thereof. Now the Bulls are playing well under their embattled coach, though it's probably more of a testament to Rose's health and Joakim Noah's steady improvement.

Come to think of it, who would've thought two years ago that Noah would be one of two cornerstones of a half-decent Bulls team? I thought he'd be a Memphis Grizzly by now. Then again, they're good now, too.

We're well past the time where anyone should be amazed at the Blackhawks renaissance, but we're in the midst of what could be a Stanley Cup season, and it's something to behold. Teams aren't supposed to turn around this quickly. But like every other out-of-nowhere success, the seeds were planted years ago during drafts and under-the-radar trades.

In fact, young talent abounds in this city. Hawks stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are both just 21, as is Rose. Sox infielder Gordon Beckham, the best young baseball player in the city, is 22. Knox, the Pro Bowl replacement receiver/return man, is 23. Noah is a relative dinosaur. He turns 25 next month.

If you want to go amateur, Northwestern's best basketball player, John Shurna, is a baby-faced sophomore. Wildcats football coach Pat Fitzgerald just turned 35. There's a 6-foot-9 freshman center at Whitney Young, Tommy Hamilton Jr. (his father played in the NBA), who will have colleges hounding him in two years, if not sooner.

The importance of young talent isn't lost on one man relishing his stars. After all, how many over-30 stars are left in Chicago?

"Toews and Kane are just 21 and they're already dominant players," Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said in an interview earlier this month. "It's really unusual. If you look at stars around our league, when they were 21, they were nowhere near as good as these guys. It's rare to be great at 21, let alone leading your team."

Jim Thome
The White Sox recently bid farewell to 39-year-old slugger Jim Thome.

Last week, Paul Konerko said the number of MLB veterans looking for work right now, most notably his former teammates Jermaine Dye and Jim Thome, "raises some eyebrows." While he's not wrong to hint at the C-word (collusion), an agent told me that has more to do with teams going younger, not wanting to lose draft picks, etc., than franchises snubbing the gray hair set in unison.

Letting Thome leave was the right move. Don't be confused by what you hear. There will be plenty of time, and more than enough suitors, if the Sox want to add a big bat during the season. The 39-year-old Thome, a hero to his teammates and former employers, is nearing his end as a hitter. He goes through an amazing amount of prep work to play every day, and if he's not going to play every day, it's almost not worth it.

So Thome trudges off to Minnesota, an aging, proud refugee from a city getting younger every day.

It could be worse. At least he didn't turn down a job with the Bears.