By Dan Bernstein —
670TheScore.com senior columnist
(670 The Score) It says something about a team when press conferences consistently raise more questions than they answer.
Nothing good, to be specific, and nothing that convinces wary observers that the Bears have started to find a way to keep from stepping all over themselves when it comes to messaging and managing both their public face and the ongoing perception problems that they have come to deserve.
The lead-up to the inevitable and long-leaked John Fox firing included assertions from the team that general manager Ryan Pace was the top football voice in the building, making the final call on the current coach and then in full command of the ensuing search and next hire. The Bears said so both publicly and privately and were all set to solidify Pace in his proper position, even using an official release Monday to note that “general manager Ryan Pace has informed John Fox he will not return.”
It was touted as a day on which Pace would be the lone speaker at the lectern, too, serving in his proper role as the organization’s highest-ranking football opinion.
And then the Bears went ahead and Bears-ed it all up.
First, president Ted Phillips showed up to announce a two-year contract extension for Pace, taking too much time to list what they see as his accomplishments after three miserable seasons and insisting that this was confirmation of their belief in his initially stated plans to rebuild. Instead of a simple, printed release distributed minutes before Pace spoke, Phillips reinserted himself into the story unnecessarily. And it didn’t stop there.
Pace kept describing himself as the final decision-maker, yet undermined that with constant talk of collaboration at Halas Hall. He and Phillips tried to have it both ways, holding to the fact that it’s Pace’s show now, but then painting a picture of a group effort that leaves us wondering how Pace can feel as empowered as he says he is.
Chairman George McCaskey had to weigh in too, presiding over his own side session with the media after Pace finished 30 minutes of not really answering questions. McCaskey performed his usual bit of pandering to the fans, all while describing his continued role alongside Phillips as self-described “support” as “sounding boards” for Pace’s search and interview efforts.
And just like that, an afternoon on which everything could finally have been streamlined properly turned into just the latest bizarre exercise in double-talk.
The team has been trying to position Phillips increasingly as a Crane Kenney-type president, involved in football matters only as they relate to large-scale budgeting and multi-year economic concerns. You could hear it in all the times he, Pace and McCaskey reminded us of Pace’s authority on the day his position was further solidified. But actions and presence speak as much as so many words.
It was supposed to have been a day for and about Pace, given new and full investment by his bosses at a critical time for the organization. But by choosing to involve themselves when there was no need, Phillips and McCaskey only added ambiguity for no good reason, eroding so much of the progress they had made in empowering the general manager they claim to be behind like never before.
The best thing they can do for Pace and the Bears is get off the stage and get out of his damn way.