By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) It wasn’t much, but it could be enough to stir the last remnants of aging Ditkaphiles, so look out. Some still live among us, and still have the navy-blue sweater.
Phil Emery didn’t exactly say “Dats da kinda fire and da passion I gotta have coachin’ da Bearss” while dripping Italian beef gravy onto his tie, but he made a point of describing a personality type that fits his vision as his methodical search begins to replace Lovie Smith.
“I want somebody to have some warmth that pulls everybody together, to work to our common goal,” Emery said. “Upbeat and positive. Everybody has a different personality, everybody represents themselves in a different way, but those qualities are paramount.”
He’s not pining for the kind of reckless yahoo that still excites the old simpletons – not Mike Singletary with his cheesy slogans, comically-oversized cross and desire to motivate players by removing his pants. Not Rex Ryan and his profane outbursts, fetish-sex videos and sideline trash talk, and certainly not the Ditka-saur himself, wobbling on roller-skates with a cigar in one hand and a snifter of cognac sloshing in the other, amber sunglasses askew as he garbles something at a fan before spitting out his gum and tumbling down a flight of stairs.
But the other skills he described could be interpreted as what he feels has been missing from the position. “I want somebody who’s good on his feet,” Emery explained. “Working with the media, not only in Chicago but in a national sense, is very important. I want this person to stand up and represent us well.”
Smith was a public cipher for nine years, drawling the same desert-dry perfunctories from the moment he arrived to the day he departed. He had the whole Tom Landry thing down, minus the banded fedora and the championship trophies. His disdain for the media increased in recent seasons, causing unnecessary and pointless friction with individual reporters, and reinforcing a perception that fans were not entitled to know anything about their team beyond what sanitized scraps were fed through reliable, tamed house-pets.
If Emery’s own honesty, transparency and willingness to answer every last question yesterday is an indication, he wants the head coach to meet the media/fan relationship at least halfway. How this translates to on-field success is unknown, but what matters is that the new boss seems to think that it can’t hurt, and could help.
Personality is not coaching, however, and cannot be confused as such. Some guys own the interview, look and sound the part, have the assembled press corps howling with laughter, and then can’t win. They become TV analysts and radio talk-show guests.
Others appear to have come directly from a nearby mortuary, where they had been either the funeral director or the corpse itself. They may also have the next visionary tactical concepts and the right way to teach, install and adapt them from week to week and within the game. They wear gray sweatshirts and stalk the sidelines at multiple Super Bowls.
We trust that Emery knows the difference between the two, and the elements of each that must exist in the person he ultimately selects.
I’m sure the energy, warmth and steadiness he seeks apply during the constant grind of the NFL work schedule, those traits manifesting themselves in hallways, practice fields and meeting rooms, on airplanes and buses.
It’s not about the empty rah-rah grandstanding of pep talks, postgame lectern-pounding, hobnobbing with celebs outside the lockers, or impersonating Elvis on a weekly coach’s show. Nor should it be about pandering publicly to the neediest subset of fans by pretending to be one of them.
Emery understands that modern, multimillion-dollar businesses benefit when the organization’s primary face is generally well received both within the building and outwardly. It’s not politics, but images and demeanor matter – particularly early on.
I don’t think he’s over-valuing personality, ignoring the greater significance of winning championships. He’s fully aware that a champagne-soaked ogre holding the Lombardi trophy is a sufficiently-beloved ogre. An emotionless robot covered in ticker-tape on a double-decker bus is everyone’s favorite emotionless robot.
But it is clear that Emery believes strongly in something all but impossible to prove – the causal relationship between a coach’s disposition and that team’s ultimate success.
And it’s his show. A city wishes him luck.