Seasons like the one the Chicago Bears are going through often lend themselves to changes in a team’s brain trust. Nothing is off-limits; from hirings and firings to signings, cuts, and trades. So we won’t be taking the standard path of telling you how Deshaun Watson and the Texans are going to pile on the misery for Bears fans, you know that already. Instead, let’s indulge in our less-refined selves and get a little meatheaded.
How this all plays out for Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy is at the center of the debate. We know the fate of a large swath of the roster; most of it is locked in at least through next season. But the guys at the top have to hear the calls for their jobs growing louder and louder. Nagy’s enthusiasm has been noticeably (and understandably) lower in recent weeks and Pace has been M.I.A. leading some to speculate he’s all but gone and pointing to Phil Emery’s silence at the end of his tenure for reference.
What Does the Future Hold for the Chicago Bears Brain Trust?
This is the option that scares the bejesus out of most Bears fans. How could ownership (led by George McCaskey) stand idly by as the current regime has bungled all but one draft in the first round and setting the franchise back years by taking the wrong quarterback? What has Nagy done to instill confidence he can turn around the ship he helped sink? Nothing has changed despite him taking on more of a “CEO” type role.
Per McCaskey himself, he reacts like a fan. So another loss to the Green Bay Packers (2-9 under Pace) was bad enough coming out of the bye week. But to have it be sandwiched by losses to the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions had to be salt in the wound. Neither team had beaten the Bears in two years. But an article written by Dan Wiederer of the Chicago Tribune might have given us a glimpse into how ownership might punt on firing Pace and Nagy.
In it, Wiederer brings up a point we’ve made in that the biggest reason the Bears got here was their horrendous process. The disjointed nature of the relationship between Pace and then-head coach John Fox resulted in one of the greatest draft blunders of all time. Is the possibility of a better process with a seasoned Pace and an in-place head coach in Nagy enticing enough? Financially, you’re tied to the roster for another year. Letting the decision-makers remain, however, can set you back multiple years.
Let’s assume ownership truly does react as fans and head roll. Who should the top guys be? Brad Spielberger of Pro Football Focus recently put out a cheat sheet of the top general manager candidates and there were some very intriguing names. More important than just the names, Spielberger lists the qualifications organizations should be looking for in a candidate.
In that vein, there were some names that don’t provide any juice or are non-starters for reasons that are probably out of their control. That meant Mike Borgonzi of the Kansas City Chiefs and (especially) Terry Fontenot and Jeff Ireland of the New Orleans Saints started off behind the pack despite the documented success of their respective franchises. Let’s call this the Pace-Nagy effect. It’s not that they definitely aren’t good, it’s that the guys the Bears poached before the three of them have reset the clock on the benefit of the doubt. Instead, if going for outside help focus on organizations like the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, and Indianapolis Colts.
All three teams have proven track records in the draft and free agency; two critical areas the Bears have severely lacked. They have also shown the ability to properly identify a franchise quarterback. If the Bears had ever figured that out we wouldn’t be here. This shoots Omar Khan (Steelers), Joe Hortiz (Ravens), and Ed Dodds (Colts) to the top of the list with Dodds and Khan having the edge. The former is currently the assistant general manager in Indy and the latter has handled every aspect of football operations and is known as a contract guru for one of the leagues best-run franchises.
Ok, now that we’ve gotten through the rational choices, let’s get funky. One of the names on Spielberger’s list is Louis Riddick. The current ESPN analyst spent 13 years as the director of player personnel of the Washington Football Team and the Philadelphia Eagles. Riddick has interviewed for similar roles in the past and it’s believed to be a matter of if and not ‘when’ he gets a shot. The one potential drawback of him landing in Chicago could be his relationship with Nagy, with whom he crossed paths with the Eagles.
But if Riddick has seen enough just as fans have, the next coach might not be that far away. In fact, he’s been here before. Jim Harbaugh (meathead alert) fits what the Bears should be looking for in a coach to a T. He’s experienced having coached the San Francisco 49ers for four seasons with 8-8 (his final season) being his worst record. He even took them to Super Bowl XLVII. His time ended in San Fran because of a frosty relationship with then-general manager Trent Baalke who did more to ruin that 49ers team than build it.
The critiques of this pairing are obvious. Are hiring a television analyst and failed (at Michigan at least) college football coach the moves to make following the collapse this franchise is going through? We can look to a similar situation in the Las Vegas Raiders (Bears fans are familiar) for some solace. General manager Mike Mayock spent years as an NFL Draft analyst after his playing days before his current role came in conjunction with the return of Jon Gruden to the sidelines after a decade. It’ll be eight years since Riddick was last in a front office; six since Harbaugh on an NFL sideline. But both have solid track records in this league. For a potential Bears brain trust, that should encourage more than discourage.
Changes Could Be Coming to the Chicago Bears Brain Trust
We might be a ways from having this discussion in earnest and that could hinder the Bears even further. It all depends on if ownership perceives the Bears issues as fans like they say they do. They may take the “easy way” out and cite reasons like the truncated off-season and opt-outs. Maybe they do make a change, but the looming financial crunch leads them to in-house name, Champ Kelly. He’s the current assistant director of player personnel in Chicago. He also made Spielberger’s list of candidates to keep an eye on. Bottom line, despite the team’s struggles on the field, the rest of the season is still very interesting.
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