By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com senior columnist
(CBS) Off they go on their merry hunt, George McCaskey and Ted Phillips all in tweed and ear-flapped caps, with Ernie Accorsi pacing alongside as their wily guide. They seek to bag both a general manager and a coach for the Bears, targeting whatever is flushed out of the brush as it comes.
If it all seems a bit strange at this point, that’s because it is. A combination of factors is contributing to that, including the undetermined order of the two hires, the time windows for coaching candidates still involved in the playoffs, permission requests for those currently employed by other NFL teams and just the fact that we’re dealing with the Bears here.
Weirdness is endemic to Bears business, and that comes from the natural insularity of family ownership and the weight of history on everything they do, in more than one sense. Their recent string of modern-era mishaps includes both the Dave McGinnis fiasco and the now-infamous press conference that announced “massive change” and the “value of continuity” simultaneously, with straight faces. Add into that the abrupt plug-pulling of Phil Emery and Marc Trestman, the continued uncertainty regarding the football role of Phillips and the constant references to various sepia-toned glories, and you have more baggage to drag along.
So here’s what we know.
Phillips is an issue, but he’s primarily one of perception more than reality. The Bears last week considered heading into their search with the announcement that he would be moved officially to a business side-only presidential role, but they ultimately stopped short of that. McCaskey, the chairman, expressed a clear willingness to revisit that plan should it facilitate the acquisition of a more powerful executive than a mere GM, but he figured that Phillips was already involved in the process and such a change could still easily be made quietly after the new football man was installed.
It seems the Bears misjudged or remain unaware of the outside view of Phillips, despite the fact that it’s almost entirely wrong. He doesn’t see himself as any kind of expert on the game, which was why he demurred when asked directly about the roster last week. The truth is that Emery was every bit the alpha football exec in the building, as his replacement will be. One may question fairly the responsibilities Phillips is taking on in their current exploration, but he’s far from the meddler too carelessly and incorrectly portrayed by multiple reports.
In hindsight, however, McCaskey could and should have done more to compartmentalize Phillips publicly, but he half-stepped it when given the chance. Accorsi the consultant is perfect cover for George and Ted, brought along more for appearance’s sake than any heavy lifting. He should have been at that press conference, lending his experience and gravitas from the outset and letting Phillips recede from the spotlight. An NFL lifer who has been through all this many times before should have been a more powerful presence, altering the image of George and Ted completely in charge.
As it is, a consultant isn’t really needed to compile the list of viable coaching candidates. League zeitgeist seems to take care of that every year, as the pool of names takes shape as if bubbling up from some collective consciousness and soon becoming accepted. Deviating from these known knowns to unearth something alternative and proprietary is how you end up with Marc Trestman coaching your team.
As far as potential general managers, the idea of hiring someone who has done the job before needs to be put to rest. Unlike coaches who can take time to find the right fit with the right franchise, GMs generally don’t recycle. A look at the 32 NFL teams reveals only two with a GM that had served in the same role once before: Washington’s Bruce Allen, who was GM of Tampa Bay; and the Vikings’ Rick Spielman, who was fired by Miami after only one season and needed six years as a player personnel director to rebuild enough trust and goodwill for another shot.
Everybody else stepped up into the opportunity somehow, with the exceptions of coaches Bill Belichick and Chip Kelly and owners Jerry Jones and Mike Brown (in a de facto capacity). This group of lieutenants currently under consideration by the Bears and others is exactly from where the vast majority of GMs originate, both those successful and those not.
For the Bears, it’s not about reinventing the process. It’s about getting it right.
Accorsi is a helping hand, but it’s McCaskey and Phillips stalking big game as competitors work the same grounds.
What matters now is if they can shoot straight.