In early May 2001, Chicago Bears CEO Ted Phillips and the late Mark Hatley, VP of Player Personnel from 1997-2001, sat at the Halas Hall podium. The meeting was to announce a “mutual termination” of Hatley’s contract less than a month after he ran the 2001 draft for his now-former team.
A member of the Chicago media asked Phillips if his organization was “in disarray.” Phillips angrily responded that “he didn’t know what they meant by disarray.” Interestingly, this May 7, 2001 article from the Chicago Tribune talks about the backlash from that press conference. In the article, which is a great historical read, Phillips contends that the situation at that time was not his fault, having been on the job for just two seasons. At the end of the article, Phillips is quoted saying “until the organization produces, I’ll be criticized for a lot of things.”
Oh Ted. Here we are 14 years later, as hard as that is to believe. And guess what, the organization you have led for 16 seasons is not only in disarray, it is a shambles. Your organization is the laughing stock of professional sports, and the amazing thing is with each week that passes, the organization’s ineptitude surpasses itself exponentially.
So let’s take a little walk back in time to contest your theory that the organization was not then (and I’m sure you would claim is not now) IN DISARRAY.
- How did Phillips become President and CEO of the Chicago Bears? George S. Halas Jr., (“Mugs” as he was known) son of the legendary owner, player and coach, was seniors’ hand-picked successor to become the next Halas to lead the team. But junior suffered an untimely death in 1979 at the age of 54. Following Mug’s death, after several years of introspection (and several years of watching his team crumble under the leadership of Marc Trestman-like coach Neill Armstrong), Halas took charge. The media thought he went senile, but in 1981 the 86-year-old owner fired Armstrong and hired Mike Ditka to bring back discipline and passion to his demoralized team. Following the legendary 1983 draft that netted Covert, Gault, Duerson, Richardson, Thayer, Bortz and Dent, General Manager Jim Finks stepped down after being pushed away by Halas and Ditka. Ditka ally Jerry Vainisi took over for Finks.
- Following Halas’ death on October 31, 1983, without “Mugs” Halas around (and Mugs’ children being bought off in a 1981 reorganization of the business), control of the team landed in the laps of Mugs’ sister Virginia, her husband Ed, and their many children. Anyone that wants to know Halas’ true feelings for Ed should read Papa Bear by Jeff Davis. Suffice to say, Halas wasn’t a fan. It has also been written in several books that on his deathbed, Halas said “please, anyone but Michael,” referring to Grandson Michael McCaskey when discussing who would take over the reins of the business. As we know now, Michael it was.
- The Chicago Bears, led by Vainisi and Ditka, built by Halas and Finks, dominated the NFL in 1985 as one of the best teams in history, then lost in the playoffs in 1986 due in large part to instability at the quarterback position, the most important on the field. Within a month, Michael McCaskey fired Vainisi and took over direct management of football operations. Within two years, McCaskey refused to pay talented players such as LB Wilber Marshall and WR Willie Gault, and despite being loaded with draft picks failed to replenish the teams’ talent. Contrast this with the San Francisco 49ers of the same era. After winning two Super Bowls in the early 80′s, the 49ers hit gold in all rounds of the 1986 draft to restock and win another two championships in the decade.
- McCaskey fired Ditka following the 1992 season, which was only his third losing season in eleven. The Jerry Jones-style team President hired coach Dave Wannstedt, then quickly dismissed long time personnel VP Bill Tobin. Tobin had been on staff all the way back to the Finks’ years, and went on to build an Indianapolis Colts team that went to the 1995 AFC Championship game. Those Colts were led by quarterback Jim Harbaugh, who was cast off by Wannstedt and McCaskey, despite by all reports being a darling of the McCaskey family at the time. Then for the next five seasons, Wannstedt and McCaskey drove the Bears into less than mediocrity, finishing 4-12 for two straight seasons before McCaskey finally dismissed his hand-picked coach.
- McCaskey bumbled his way into a new stadium impasse with the City of Chicago due to his intractability, and turned the hiring of Wannstedt’s replacement into a fiasco of epic proportions by shattering the prospects of hiring former Bear assistant Dave McGinnis. In his final move, McCaskey quickly and suddenly hired fellow Yale alum Dick Jauron. Several weeks later, in February 1999, Virgina McCaskey announced the “promotion” of McCaskey to Chairman of the Board, to be replaced by Phillips.
- Phillips’ first order of business was to secure a new stadium deal with the city, which he did within 18 months. The brilliant agreement was to build the NFL’s smallest stadium in its second largest market. On the field the Bears finished 6-10 and 5-11 in Phillips’ first two seasons, leading to Hatley’s “mutual termination” for not being successful at building talent for the team. Ironically, or suspiciously, Hatley went to work for the Green Bay Packers within months. Hatley died of a heart attack in 2004.
- After the Bears’ organization claimed for years that a General Manager of the team was not needed, Phillips announced the organization was hiring an executive search firm to recommend a list of candidates for the position. Tampa Bay player personnel boss Jerry Angelo was hired in June 2001. Angelo came with a very mixed record from Tampa. he had helped build a recent perennial playoff contender, but also presided over years of horrible drafts.
- Angelo fired Jauron after three seasons, then bungled the process of finding Jauron’s replacement. He finally selected Lovie Smith, formerly an assistant on the Tampa staff. Smith became the third winningest coach in Bears history, took the team to a Super Bowl and lost, and actually outlasted Angelo, who was fired following the 2011 season. Phillips and new Bears Chairman George McCaskey hired a new General Manager in Phil Emery prior to the 2012 season. Emery was a career scout, formerly employed by the Bears. He was responsible for scouting and drafting Brian Urlacher and Mike Brown. But he also was responsible for scouting and drafting Michael Haynes and Rex Grossman. Emery’s edict was to “close the talent gap in the division between the Bears and the Packers.
- We all know the rest. Emery drafted defensive end Shea McClellin, a failed lineman who is now a failed linebacker. The only other player left on the team from the 2012 draft class of six players is Alshon Jeffery, who appears to be a gem. The jury is out on five of the six players from the 2013 class, with only guard Kyle Long playing consistently. It is too early to judge the 2014 draft picks. Along the way, Emery hired Trestman as head coach after alienating 2012 NFL Coach of the Year Bruce Arians during the interview process. Rather than franchising mercurial quarterback Jay Cutler for a prove it year, the organization gave him $54 million guaranteed on a seven-year contract. Major money was invested in DE’s Lamarr Houston and Jared Allen along with WR Brandon Marshall in an extension, all with little return. Not only have Emery’s Bears not closed the talent gap between the Bears and Packers, they have now fallen behind the Lions and Vikings as well.
It will be interesting to see how the organization handles this mess following the Bears’ final game at Minnesota on December 28th. Luck will probably have it that they will win, which would be meaningless and cause their current #7 overall draft pick to fall to #11.
Will Phillps again be allowed to hire a search firm to pick another General Manager? Will Phil Emery stay among his ashes and be allowed to hire another coach? Another coach that undoubtedly will be cut from the McCaskey mold, quiet and reserved? Who will ultimately be tasked with tearing this mess of a house down and trying to build it back up, which will take years?
Disarray. Whether Ted Phillips agrees or not, it has been the Chicago Bears way since November 1, 1983.