The revelation came subtly Monday from Chicago Bears chairman George McCaskey.
Bill Polian was tagged to… jump in the driver’s seat for the upcoming searches for coach and general manager. And, boy, were Halas Hall’s key leaders pumped.
“Bill Polian,” noted McCaskey, “is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his success as a football manager, including the hiring of two head coaches, Marv Levy and Tony Dungy, who are themselves in the Hall of Fame. He is well regarded in competition circles and has many contacts. We consider ourselves extremely fortunate that Bill is helping us in our search.”
Still, McCaskey also seemed to suffer from a bit of selective amnesia. He couldn’t remember exactly when Polian had joined the team.
“At some point during the season,” McCaskey said. “I can’t remember when.”
A little while later, McCaskey got another chance to refresh his memory. Just “called him out of the blue,” he said.
But when specifically?
“Like I said, I can’t remember the exact timing,” McCaskey said. “It was sometime last season.”
It was at some point during this past season that McCaskey collapsed, when he and team president and CEO Ted Phillips were upset enough by the Bears’ failure on the field to seek outside advice on what to do with coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Tempo.
Polian wasn’t the only independent consultant they approached. Only the only one they feel comfortable with, given his leadership role in the new quest.
Yet Polian isn’t just steering the hunt for a new GM and a new coach. He was also influential in the franchise’s decision to pull the plug on the Pace-Nagy union. At some point this season, Polian’s overview of the Bears’ struggles became prized research that McCaskey and Phillips used to conclude how they could link ramifications to the team’s fifth double-digit losing season in the past eight years.
“We’ve asked Bill to help us evaluate our GM and head coach and make a decision to keep or replace,” McCaskey said. “And when we moved to a replacement situation, (we asked him) to help us in our search for the replacements.”
That seemingly minor revelation — that Polian was needed to help the Bears get past the “keep or replace” fork in the road — was noteworthy for several reasons.
For starters, it was McCaskey’s latest admission that his confidence in his own football acumen remains minimal – surprising for a leader entering his 12th season as chairman and now with the heightened responsibility of having the final say on hiring a general manager. as well as conducting regular GM performance reviews.
In an even more damning quote on Monday, McCaskey offered this self-deprecation to revise his credentials: “Well, I’m just a fan. I’m not a football judge.”
But perhaps more annoyingly, for at least a handful of people in Halas Hall, the surprising revelation was that Polian had been in the shadows for much of this season, judging the team’s failures for the men who called him out of the blue for assistance.
For Nagy, who received almost no support from above during an excruciating five-game slip from mid-October to the end of November, it’s possible he wasn’t as enthusiastic in his continued praise for the “open and honest” relationship he had with his superiors if he had known that another undercover football judge was judging everything.
A league source with connections to Halas Hall said Nagy was never aware of — or at least was never mentioned with those close to him — Polian’s involvement. Not that it would have mattered much. With the direction the Bears season was heading, McCaskey and Phillips could have consulted a former Hall of Fame GM like Polian or the manager of the local Jewel-Osco and come to the same conclusion that Nagy should be fired.
The Bears’ brains seemed to have a much harder time deciding what to do with Pace after seven seasons, with information from various leagues suggesting throughout December and through January that Pace might get a chance to stay in some capacity. .
However, Polian provided input that helped the Bears move to the “Replace” chapter of their Choose Your Own Adventure expedition.
Hardly anyone in the league has labeled that move wrong or unfair or even remotely premature. But within Halas Hall, there are some new questions about the trust factor. Some in the building were thrown out to learn that Polian had overseen the 2021 season, while also annoyed that neither McCaskey nor Phillips had the football wisdom to make such important decisions with confidence and without outside consultation.
And how, some wondered, exactly was Polian able to remotely conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the Bears operation without knowledge of the front office power structure or an understanding of the inner workings of Halas Hall? How complete would his assessment have been had he not spoken to those under McCaskey and Phillips – from executives to coaches to support staff?
Where it goes from here is a mystery. But Polian’s influence is now paramount.
In the details
Monday’s moves to cut ties with Nagy and Pace were widely praised by Bears fans when announced. But by sundown, after McCaskey — and to a lesser extent Phillips — got through an hour-long state-of-the-team speech, concerns about the lack of vision and direction were rekindled.
For some with close ties to the franchise, the sense of embarrassment that accompanied the infamous January 2021 McCaskey-Phillips news conference was pushed aside by another depression, almost a demoralizing acceptance that McCaskey’s football evaluation chops contained chops and a necessary lack of level of detail.
Sure, the Bears could be a successful GM coach this month. Or maybe not. Most unfortunate, some in the league see this next shot as little more than a blindfolded three-quarter strike.
When asked directly Monday how he analyzes whether a GM is performing his duties successfully, McCaskey noted that it would be based largely on wins, losses and playoff success. Which is of course a solid starting point. But to stop there is also neglecting so much nuance and neglecting so many important details.
McCaskey offered a little more on Monday about what he looks at to evaluate general managers.
“The number of difference makers and the number of quality players you have on your team,” he said, “the core of the team and how the team is composed are all factors that are taken into account.”
He even cited the contents of Polian’s 2021 book, “Super Bowl Blueprints,” as information that will guide him this month in his search for new leaders.
Polian, McCaskey emphasized, writes in his book “about decisions he made as CEO that were considered hugely unpopular at the time. But in the end they paid off, and you have to be willing and willing to make what may be an unpopular decision if you’re convinced it’s best for the Bears.”
That was almost a warning for Bears fans to fasten their belts.
“Why does he think he will do well?”
The Bears’ union with Polian has received mixed reviews since its unveiling. Polian’s credentials during his 28 seasons as league director are undeniable. First as general manager of the Buffalo Bills and later as GM and president of the Indianapolis Colts, Polian helped his teams to six Super Bowl appearances, including the Colts’ victory in Super Bowl XLI over the Bears.
However, opponents point out that Polian was also sacked by the Colts 10 years ago after a long stint when the team couldn’t get much good in the design and owner Jim Irsay decided a change in management was necessary.
Polian’s pre-concept assurance as an analyst in 2018 that Lamar Jackson would fit better in the NFL as a receiver rather than a quarterback has been widely panned, with suggestions exposing his lack of sense of how the game has evolved.
A year earlier, Polian boldly named Chad Kelly the most talented quarterback in a 2017 draft class that spawned Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, and, yes, even Mitch Trubisky.
Like any experienced football judge, Polian has flaws as well as great achievements.
The Bears have now given him authority to support their revival efforts by directing their search process.
However, once the hires are made, Polian will continue down the same path that Ernie Accorsi took after serving a similar advisory role for the Bears in 2015. organization and such important decisions without skin in the game and without consequences if they don’t work.
However, McCaskey remains confident that the process will be solid.
“Frustrated bears (fans) may be thinking, ‘Why does he think he will do it right this time?'” he said Monday. “Well, we are confident that with the experience we have gained, and with the composition of our search team, we will find a CEO and a head coach who will lead our Bears to the success that all our Bears fans deserve. ”