By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) I want to give Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace the benefit of the doubt. But I have my doubts.
Pace has had a sketchy tenure so far in his third year in Chicago deciding who’s part of team personnel. Thinking that quarterback Mike Glennon belongs on an NFL roster at all, let alone signing him for three years and $45 million with $18 million guaranteed, is troubling. But Pace also signed the darling rhino of the defense in lineman Akiem Hicks and key cogs in defensive lineman Mitch Unrein and linebacker Danny Trevathan.
Drafting — maybe the most important part of the gig — has been a sore spot for some of that time, mostly due to the inability of 2015 seventh overall pick Kevin White to be healthy. But Pace seems to have made the right call in trading up to draft edge rusher Leonard Floyd in 2016, and he’s had hits with defensive lineman Eddie Goldman, safety Adrian Amos, center Cody Whitehair, running back Jordan Howard and safety Eddie Jackson. The jury is still out on the pick that will define Pace’s Bears career, quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.
Coach John Fox’s time in Chicago now involves just playing out the stretch before he rasps his way to somewhere not Chicago. And Pace deserves to hand-pick a head coach to work parallel to what hopefully is a franchise quarterback for years to come.
He might have one in the organization already, though. But that doesn’t seem to interest Pace much, which is puzzling.
On Tuesday, 670 The Score contributor Greg Gabriel reported for Pro Football Weekly that not only is Fox indeed not part of the Bears’ future, but current defensive coordinator Vic Fangio isn’t, either.
According to our sources, Pace already has plans for change in the very near future and auditioning Fangio could possibly interfere with those plans a lot more than help them. While there is virtually no chance that Fangio will return as defensive coordinator with whomever is named the next Bears head coach, we’re hearing that’s a loss Pace is already preparing for.
If that report is true, multiple red flags get raised. For one, what does Pace have to lose by giving Fox a head start on golf and missing December weather here? And how would giving Fangio, an individual considered by many to be a head coach at some point, a chance to get his feet wet in the top spot on the sidelines negatively affect any of the figurative and literal trash fire going on at Soldier Field this year?
If Fangio is overmatched at the job — which his boss seems to be right now anyway — then he gets no consideration after Week 17. It’s fairly simple. And if you see a whole roster rallying for him like the blood he’s been able to squeeze from the duct-taped turnip of a defense that has mostly overachieved in his time here, then you consider him staying over as head coach next season while keeping his defensive playbook that’s worked so well so far. Why is that so hard?
But the Bears already have a list of names they want to interview, and Fangio isn’t on it, Gabriel reported.
I’m not sure what Fangio has done in his time in Chicago to disqualify himself from such a list. The front office blocked him from leaving last offseason to join the new coaching staff in San Francisco, so if he was that important to you in a season in which you didn’t plan on contending (the Glennon signing trumps any argument otherwise) and he improved the play on that side of the ball this season, you owe him at least the courtesy of an interview.
If that interview is more of a formal one after the season because Pace prefers not to do the coaching change press conference midseason (like he talks during the season anyway?), so be it. It would be nice to get Fox’s conservatism away from Trubisky as soon as possible, and even knowing that he’s out of a job in a few weeks isn’t going to loosen up Fox. Still, an in-season firing is messy and in a lost season would create more negative attention — and a microscope on Pace — that isn’t needed. And maybe Fangio’s head coaching hypotheticals in that sit-down with Bears brass wouldn’t be as good as those of whomever is on Pace’s secret magic list. If so, no big deal, and good luck to him with his next team.
Hiring a defensive-minded head coach while Pace is hitching his job to a young quarterback might be counterproductive. Or that defensive coach choosing an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach to do more of the micromanaging with a single player than a head coach has time for might be a good thing. Either way, at least the due diligence would be done in a sit-down with Fangio.
Dismissing any possibility of a coach who has proven his bona fides while here, is loved by players and is respected by fans in a season of such disrespect to the viewing senses that the Trestman era PTSD might have competition seems unprofessional at the least. Fangio is a coach who will likely be interviewed for an open head coaching position by someone this January. At least one other NFL team thinking he’s at least worth a conversation would seem to mean he’s worth a conversation with all coach-hunting general managers.
But not Pace apparently. Omitting Fangio from consideration already smacks as unnecessary. What does an interview hurt, be it on the field for a few games or in what’s probably a muted all-purpose wedding/funeral/interview suit Fangio has?
I don’t doubt Pace has a list of viable candidates to coach the Bears next season, and his choice might the perfect one. But I have my doubts about needlessly narrowing that list right now by leaving off someone who has at least earned the respect of a meeting.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.