By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) The Peter Principle suggests that in any hierarchy, employees have a tendency to rise to the level of their own incompetence.
Leave it up to the Bears to prove that theory with the two most important resources to run an NFL franchise.
For the past three seasons, football operations have been presided over by a man who was best suited as a director of college scouting, and the team has been coached by a man best suited to manage a quarterback’s room.
Expecting elite results from over-promoted people is imprudent and the Bears suffered the consequences.
Consequently, the Bears rebooted the franchise today, firing general manager Phil Emery and his hand-picked coach Marc Trestman.
Emery robotically repeated that the standard for the organization was winning championships, plural. In order to do so, the Bears needed to be in contention on a consistent basis and in order to be in contention on a consistent basis, they needed to be in the playoffs on a consistent basis.
Neither Emery nor Trestman helped lead the Bears to the playoffs during their time in Chicago. Thus, their lofty promises went unfulfilled, easing the decision to part ways with both of them.
In reality, the Bears are further away from contending than they were before either walked through the door of 1920 Football Drive.
Despite having the rare opportunity to hire the reigning coach of the year (Bruce Arians), Emery gambled on Trestman, who previously peaked as an offensive coordinator in the NFL. Trestman spent 17 years in the NFL before landing in Chicago, yet no other team during that span thought to hand him the keys to the kingdom.
The spirit of Trestman’s hiring is easy to follow. Emery thought he was outsmarting the league by hiring a coach who previously demonstrated success developing quarterbacks and coordinating offenses.
The fatal flaw was Emery ignored the fact that those accomplishments took place nearly a decade prior and the NFL landscape has undertaken drastic changes in the meantime.
From player salaries to on-field strategies, the game Trestman once knew and now knows aren’t the same.
Trestman fell short as a coach, strategist, play caller, administrator, and as a leader.
Tracing back to the day Trestman was originally introduced, Emery referred to him as “our new leader” before calling him the team’s new head coach. A near bulletproof argument can be made that of all of Trestman’s failures, the biggest was his inability to lead men.
Such doubts dogged Trestman during his first go-around in the NFL and were publicly expressed by former players when he was announced as the Bears new head coach. As the Bears bottomed out this season, the leadership void was obvious and the locker room became toxic.
Current players expressed disgust with how things had devolved, pining for how things had operated in the past. The wick was already perilously close to the bomb, but then ignited when the Aaron Kromer story broke. Trestman lost any remaining credibility and trust when he forced Kromer to apologize — tearfully — to the team and admit he broke the trust of the inner circle, expressing displeasure with the performance of quarterback Jay Cutler.
Undoubtedly, Cutler also plays a crucial role in the team’s erosion. Trestman was known for his ability to develop quarterbacks, but like many others before him, he was unable to unlock Cutler’s physical gifts.
Emery did Trestman no favors with his handling of Cutler, particularly the contract extension that was signed this past January.
Cutler was set to become a free agent, yet the Bears acted swiftly, signing him to a seven-year, $126 million contract with $54 million in guarantees over the first three seasons.
In a league that offers year-to-year, pay as you go options — like the franchise tag — yet, Emery swung and missed with the Cutler extension. Prior to the contract being signed, Emery talked about the franchise tag ($16.192 million) being a prohibitive number and it didn’t allow for proration of guaranteed money.
Yet in the end, Emery signed a deal that was both more lucrative than the franchise tag that included no prorated money. Emery front loaded Cutler’s deal with guaranteed money via salary, triggered by him being on the roster as of specified dates.
Cutler has already pocketed $38 million for 2014 and 2015 — $22.5 million in 2014 and $15.5 million in 2015 — just by being on the roster this season. The remaining $16 million hinges on what the Bears decide to do with him this offseason.
Thus, Emery essentially gave the Bears 15 months to make a $54 million decision, painting themselves into a corner should things go wrong with Cutler in 2014, which they certainly did. The Cutler situation now becomes the biggest decision for the next administration.
Combine Emery’s questionable contract extensions with the fact that his draft classes have borne little fruit, and it becomes apparent just how far he was in over his head.
Emery discussed building a young foundation via the draft, yet in three draft classes, the Bears have three players they can count on in the future, one from each class — wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, guard Kyle Long and cornerback Kyle Fuller.
The reality is, the Bears played the 2014 season with the league’s third-oldest roster and the lowest number of homegrown talent (players drafted or undrafted rookies signed). Once again, the end result was completely antithetical to the very plan Emery said he was operating by.
The Bears have no identity. The disconnect between Emery’s vision and Trestman’s execution was crystal clear during their mid-season state of the union. Emery stated the Bears’ identity was being “physical up front.”
Yet Trestman orchestrated the league’s second-most imbalanced offense, throwing the ball on 63 percent of the team’s snaps.
Once again, the league caught up to Trestman’s tendencies and he never adapted.
Add it all up and it’s clear how far the organization is from legitimacy. No in-season identity or accountability was ever established. There was no synergy. The process led nowhere.
While it’s reassuring for fans to know ownership saw the product through the same lens, what assurance can be given that they will get the next set of critical hires right? Who in the organization is currently qualified to make such hires?
Will they utilize a search firm to assist with their search, as they’ve done the last two passes? Or will they shift the paradigm and establish a true football operations function that delineates the football and finance arms of the organization?
These are the crucial decisions which carry no margin for error.
George McCaskey is hero for a day, but what he does tomorrow and beyond will determine the fate of the franchise.
Dan Durkin covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @djdurkin.