I guess it was 19th century Spanish philosopher George Santayana that said “Those who can not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Which turned into “Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to fail.”
Anyway, in my opinion, this fits with what is going to happen with the 2010 Bears. (The epitaph is already written on the tombstone of the 2009 Bears, so might as well jump to talking about how bad the upcoming years are going to be).
What’s the past the Bears organization is not learning from, you ask?
- In 1998 the Bears were coming off two losing seasons, the second being a dismal 4-12 finish. Dave Wannstedt had two years remaining on his contract. Rather than getting a head start on the rebuilding process that would inevitably come, the Bears hired their first legitimate personnel boss to reign in Michael McCaskey (in 1997) in Mark Hatley. The Bears braintrust figured they would turn things around without having to pay Wannstedt two years of salary after they fired him. As we know, the Bears then finished 4-12 in 1998, after drafting a running back (Curtis Enis) that fit Wannstedt and Matt Cavanaugh’s offensive system but was nowhere near a fit for the next coach they would hire (Dick Jauron’s) offensive system. The fallout from this? Had they not had Enis, who would ultimately flame out, they might have been the team to trade for Marshall Faulk, whom the St. Louis Rams STOLE from the Indianapolis Colts for only 2nd and 5th round picks. Additionally, let’s consider that when Hatley was hired in 1997, I believe (my research tells me that) Bill Polian was unemployed and available. Who is Bill Polian? He’s the executive that had built a four-time Super Bowl winner in Buffalo, then built the Carolina expansion team that reached the NFC Championship game in their second season of existence. McCaskey, who was still running the team at that point, probably didn’t want a Polian that would have demanded complete authority over the team President. And what has Polian done? He only drafted Peyton Manning after being hired by the Colts, and has built the winningest team for a decade in NFL history over the last 12 years.
- In 1999, Mike Holmgren was available to take over a franchise, and left Green Bay for Seattle where he would be given full control. But again at the time McCaskey was not willing to cede power to anyone, and the owner hired fellow Yalie Dick Jauron to coach his team. Holmgren went on to lead the Seahawks successfully and develop a sixth-round quarterback in Matt Hasselbeck to being a multiple Pro Bowler.
- Following the 2000 season, it was becoming clear after only two seasons that Jauron and his combination of Gary Crowton and John Shoop at offensive coordinator were not going to get it done. Following that season, the Cleveland Browns fired coach Chris Palmer after only two seasons. The Bears? They announced a “mutual parting of the ways” with Mark Hatley, and hired their first General Manager since Jerry Vainisi in Jerry Angelo, a long time personnel executive with Tampa Bay. Angelo did have a part in assembling resurgent Buccaneer teams of the late 1990′s, but he also had a part in assembling teams that were horrible for over 10 years. For the record, given the choices at the time, I did like Angelo. Then after Jauron had one successful season in 2001, instead of looking for another strong season for Jauron in his lame duck year of 2002, the Bears gave him a three-year contract extension through 2004. We know what happened then-the Bears stumbled to a 4-12 record in 2002. In 2003, instead of getting another early start on rebuilding, Angelo gave Jauron Kordell Stewart and an implicit “playoffs or bust” ultimatum. Following a 7-9 season, Jauron was fired and Angelo embarked on a whimsical coaching search in which multiple college coaches turned down the opportunity. St. Louis defensive coordinator Lovie Smith, an Angelo associate, did not.
- In 2005 and 2006, Angelo and Smith’s team played strongly thanks to defensive players that were hitting their primes at exactly the right time (Tommie Harris, Brian Urlacher, Adawale Ogunelye, Charles Tillman), a lightning-in-a-bottle offensive line, and shrewd free agent signings (Thomas Jones). Following the 2006 Super Bowl loss, instead of allowing Smith to have at least half of one more season to prove himself, the Bears gave Smith a four-year extension on top of the one year remaining on the original deal, guaranteeing him his salary through the 2011 season. Now, following three non-playoff seasons and hope diminishing faster than stocks of Christmas lights, word has it that the Bears organization couldn’t possibly afford to let Smith go.
This despite the Browns hiring Mike Holmgren, probably firing coach Eric Mangini after one season.
This despite Buffalo firing Dick Jauron just a year after giving him an ill-advised contract extension.
What is the failure the Bears will be doomed to repeat? It appears to me that they’re planning on making offensive coordinator Ron Turner the scapegoat for all that has gone wrong in 2009. And they will sell to the fans that this time around it’s the new offensive coordinator and renewed promises from Angelo and Smith that will turn the Bears around quickly.
Who knows who this new offensive coordinator will be that would be crazy enough to take a job with a lame duck head coach headed out the door. If it’s Mike Martz, 2010 will be even more comical than it would be under Turner. Martz’s offense is based around long drops by the quarterback, and this is exactly why he wasn’t successful in Detroit and San Francisco with poor offensive lines. The Bears’ line is the reason why the Bears can’t even unleash Jay Cutler’s arm under Turner!
So to me, the way it appears is Mike Holmgren will land in Cleveland, clean house and get started with the rebuilding there. Mike Shanahan will take over in Buffalo. And Bears fans will be handed the notion that Jerry, Lovie, and mystery-meat offensive coordinator will turn things around quickly in 2010.