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By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) George McCaskey has emphatically spun the Bears in a new direction.
Having seen enough of Jerry Angelo’s bumbling and stumbling on Draft Day and after watching a team that was ill-prepared to cope with a season-ending injury to its quarterback, McCaskey shoved the general manager out the door. The move demonstrates that the Bears were not going to abide injury excuses as the reason for their 8-8 record this season.
The move also means that Lovie Smith is safe for another season. Don’t expect the Bears to hire a general manager who will clean out the coaching house and send Smith into orbit. Smith offers nothing to the press or fans and his game strategy and challenges need improvement. However, his players compete hard for him.
Angelo had worn out his welcome because of his many bone-headed moves. His most recent major error was among his most egregious. He had no competent backup for Jay Cutler. The belief that Caleb Hanie could step in and do a competent job for
Cutler falls directly on Angelo’s shoulders. Based on Hanie’s performance against the Packers in last season’s NFC championship game, Angelo thought Hanie could keep the Bears’ heads above water. He couldn’t have been more wrong.
As bad as the decision was, Angelo was like a lot of general managers who didn’t pay significant attention to the backup quarterback spot. That’s ridiculous. Quarterback is the most important position on the field and you can’t just try to get by with a body. Any other general manager around the league who follows the same thought process is on notice.
That recent move was just the cherry on top of the plentiful Angelo sundae. His drafting has been abominable for years. Among the notable first-round misses on Angelo’s resume: offensive tackle Marc Colombo in 2002, defensive end Michael Haynes and quarterback Rex Grossman in 2003, running back Cedric Benson in 2005 and offensive tackle Chris Williams in 2008. There were no first-round picks in 2009 or ’10 and 2011 pick Gabe Carimi saw his rookie season at offensive tackle cut short by injury.
The only first-round choice who was a big-time success was 2004 first-round draft pick Tommie Harris. While Harris productivity was cut short by injury, he was one of the key players behind the team’s success in the 2006 season when the Bears won the NFC championship over the New Orleans Saints before losing to the Colts in Super Bowl XLI.
The draft that came after that Super Bowl season was particularly egregious. It included tight end Greg Olsen in the first round, defensive end Dan Bazuin in the second round, and running back Garrett Wolfe and linebacker Michael Okwo in the third round.
The later round picks that year were equally unproductive.
Angelo did some good things, including trading for Cutler and signing free agent defensive end Julius Peppers, but the team is in need of a major overhaul as the Bears prepare for the 2012 season. Where are the Bears strong? What is it they do well at this point? It’s hard to point to an area of strength.
Cutler will be one of the top 7 quarterbacks in the league next year, but you can’t point to any other area of strength. The offensive line is inconsistent at best. The receiving crew, led by Roy Williams, is awful. Will the Bears have a running game? Matt Forte is an excellent back, but he is not under contract. Perhaps a new deal can be worked out or the Bears will franchise him, but Angelo sullied the Forte waters with his inability to work a new deal with the versatile running back.
On the other side of the ball, age is the major problem. Peppers, Lance Briggs, Israel Idonije and Charles Tillman are all over 30.
Future Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher is 33 and coming off a significant knee injury. The defense no longer intimidates any opponent.
McCaskey should look to the north at Packers director of football operations Reggie McKenzie as the possible successor to Angelo. He’s tight with Lovie Smith and he has received high grades for his personnel evaluations with the Packers. The Raiders have been courting McKenzie since the death of Al Davis, so McKenzie will be in demand. Other highly respected candidates include Baltimore’s Eric DeCosta, Atlanta’s Les Snead and Arizona’s Steve Keim. All three are player personnel directors for their current team.
McCaskey does not have to look for a “name” general manager. Forget about old timers like Bill Parcells or TV star Jimmy Johnson. They are both too tired for the job. The biggest mistake McCaskey could make is hiring Bill Polian, who was sent packing by the Colts after they clinched the No. 1 pick in the draft. Polian is a mean-spirited and pompous windbag who only wants things done his way. Colts owner Jim Irsay was smart to get rid of Polian and his son Chris. Polian had a solid career with the Bills as well, but his time is done. He would bring nothing but misery to the Bears if they brought him in to run the show.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.