By Tim Baffoe–
(670 The Score) On Tuesday, former Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher was named a finalist for the 2018 class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It’s a nice New Year’s cookie for Bears fans who aren’t exactly in the best place with their beloved team right now. But Urlacher’s honorific also highlights a time in this franchise’s history that wasn’t so long ago yet seems so far away.
The Bears at present are once again left scratching their heads for what’s one too many times this decade about the state of themselves. General manager Ryan Pace has made his first head coaching fire in jettisoning John Fox and was rewarded on New Year’s Day with a contract extension for it. He will now look to hire a coach whose contract will align with his, decide on defensive and offensive coordinators and together with quarterback Mitchell Trubisky become the five Sankara stones giving power to win a Super Bowl.
Getting all five of them to sync up perfectly is highly suspect, and optimism was only kicked in the rocks Monday when team president Ted Phillips and chairman George McCaskey confirmed they would have a role in the coaching search, thus crapping on the one favor Bears fans have asked of those two.
“George and I are going to be support resources for Ryan,” Phillips said. “He’s leading the charge, he’s doing all the reference checking, he’s come up with his list right now. We’ll see how that goes in terms of the competition and who comes in. But I don’t think he’s ever going to tell you exactly who’s coming in. We’ll talk later about whether or not once a guy interviews, we’ll probably let you know who interviewed.
“My years in this league, I’ve been around a lot of different head coaches, sharing ideas. We have a real collaborative environment here, so Ryan and I have a great relationship, along with George as well. So I think just giving our input into things to look for, how to assess the results of different interviews will be helpful to him.”
Yeah, no. Your input — hell, your very presence in that Monday press conference — was the opposite of what Bears fans want to hear about a general manager who was supposed to have control of this situation.
“Ted and I are both available to Ryan as sounding boards, to play devil’s advocate, to make sure that he’s considering all aspects of a particular candidate’s makeup, approach, strategy, philosophy,” McCaskey also said. “Making sure that we’re looking at every candidate that may be available and making sure that we leave no stone unturned to get the best possible head coach for the Chicago Bears.”
And you ruined my stones metaphor.
It wasn’t like this in the Urlacher era. In his time as a Bear, the team had its share of ups and downs, but it wasn’t seen as a dysfunctional joke as it’s been since then. His was a time when the Bears had a star, a face. Supporting roles, too, in Lance Briggs, Matt Forte, Devin Hester and Olin Kreutz, with all but Forte deserving of a spot in Canton. Plus , there was a 1,500-yard season from Brandon Marshall. Even Jay Cutler’s overlap with Urlacher’s time here was at the least interesting as hell and produced a viable playoff team.
What since then? Two really bad head coaching tenures. The soap opera of Marshall and Cutler. The Ray McDonald embarrassment. The face of the franchise at the moment being … Kyle Long? It will hopefully become Trubisky, lest Pace and whomever he brings in all be sent packing and we all endure another start from scratch with this team.
“It’s either going to be a plum job because of Mitch Trubisky or everyone will be in trouble,” one personnel member on another NFL team told the Chicago Tribune’s Brad Biggs.
The Bears won their division four times during Urlacher’s 13-year tenure with them. They haven’t made the postseason since his retirement after the 2012 season and are currently searching for their third different head coach since then. Though we thought it was frustrating that the Bears produced no Super Bowl championships in Urlacher’s Hall of Fame-caliber career, we’d trade these five consecutive years of confusion since then and a sixth offseason that has started off pretty gray for the identity and contention of the Urlacher era. Frustration is much different now, with empty seats having increased like a rash at Soldier Field as fans have shown their breaking points. Even on Urlacher’s underachieving teams, there was plenty to love about him and other teammates. What strong positive feelings exist today for the Chicago Bears?
Urlacher should be a first-ballot selection to the Hall of Fame, though that waits to be seen. But just his place on the threshold calls to mind how the Bears at least used to be a lot steadier and the criticisms of the team year to year were the garden variety of Rex Grossman vs. Kyle Orton and not “Why is the GM with a 14-34 record getting a contract extension?”
It’s Urlacher’s first year of Hall of fame eligibility, meaning it wasn’t long ago he was still on the field. It feels a lot more distant, though.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for 670TheScore.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not Entercom or our affiliated radio stations.