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Friday, January 11, 2013
Emery can't wait too long

By Melissa Isaacson

While the sheer length of Phil Emery's growing list of head coaching candidates has drawn some skepticism, some say it may just be a case of the Bears' general manager biding his time until his top candidate becomes available.

Phil Emery
Bears general manager Phil Emery's thorough interview process is no surprise to those who know him.

When that happens, however, Emery had better act fast, say former coaches who have been there.

"When I went through the process of becoming a head coach, I had five interviews set up but I never got to the second one," said Herm Edwards, ESPN analyst and former head coach of the Jets and Chiefs. "After the first one, I was supposed to go to Detroit but New York wouldn't let me go to Detroit."

Edwards called it "highly unusual" that a general manager would interview as many as the 13 candidates as Emery is said to be speaking to (though a tweet by former coach Jimmy Johnson Friday suggested the search may already be over with the selection of CFL coach Marc Trestman).

"How do you (talk to) that many guys and remember what everybody said?" Edwards said. "Hopefully he's taping it. That's not a knock on (Emery) but going through candidates can be tedious. And eventually, the problem you run into is that as these jobs get filled, it's more about getting assistant coaches and coordinators.

"Buffalo and Kansas City (and now Cleveland, which already filled head coaching vacancies) are sitting in great positions. Some of the best guys are available right now but the longer you wait, those guys are gone so now you're strapping your head coach with getting the guys he wants. ... Lovie was there all that time, but Lovie could never get the coordinator he wanted ..."

FOX analyst Brian Billick, a former Super Bowl-winning coach with Baltimore, said the safe assumption is that Emery has his list of three or four top candidates.

"I imagine he has a good idea of who he wants, but he doesn't want to share that and he doesn't want to rush to judgment," Billick said. "The key becomes the time frame. It depends how long it takes and if, because of that number, the process drags on and becomes difficult or stagnant or an encumbrance. But right now, it just sounds like he's doing his due diligence."

As for the theory that part of Emery's plan might be simply to gather as much information as he can through the process about both the Bears and other potential candidates, Billick said it's not a bad strategy.

"That's classic Al Davis, interviewing guys and then pumping them for information," he said. "I don't think there's anything wrong with it as long as the parties involved know you're doing it."

Edwards said it is likely that, "If he's interviewing that many people, then he's waiting for a playoff team to lose," and then go after his top candidate.

"But then it'll happen fast and you better have three guys on your list and say, 'I might get my third guy.'

"Then it all boils down to Jay Cutler and the offense. Everyone in America knows you have to fix the offensive line. And then you've got to get the quarterback right. You've got to sit down with this guy and say 'Look, you have top-5 talent. My job is to make sure that you reach that level of consistency. That's my job and I'm going to do everything in my power to get you there, but you've got to help me help you. You can't be five games this way and five games another way ... ' "

One NFL team employee familiar with Emery said his thorough job search is not surprising.

"This is very typical of Phil Emery," he said. "Phil would rather talk to 15 people than five, that's just him by nature, whether he's scouting a school or leading a coaching search."

Better that, it was pointed out, than the time the Bears spent approximately half a million dollars for a search firm to aid in their hiring of a GM and ended up with a guy (Jerry Angelo) in their own division who "you could have found by going to your rolodex," the NFL employee said.

While those who know Emery can envision more a more economically prudent option like Mike Smith than Jon Gruden as his new head coach, it is not inconceivable that team chairman George McCaskey could request that Gruden or a big-name college coach be among a group of finalists Emery brings in for final interviews.

Emery's final decision, however, says one observer, is certainly going to be a coach with whom he's compatible.

"He'll hire a guy he knows he can work with who has the same philosophy he has, who will be a team player, will improve the office, can be a leader ... but he's not going to hire a coach to do it all himself. He's going to say 'I can make this guy a good coach by drafting well,' and I think Phil is real confident he can do that."