- Jon Greenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHICAGO -- Jim McMahon doesn't watch much football -- too long, too boring, he said -- so his annual NFL intake mainly consists of catching highlights. Thus, asking the 2010 McMahon to break down the 2009 Bears' struggles is like asking the 1985 version not to thumb his nose at the establishment. But it's still fun to listen to what he says.
"I know the quarterback struggled," he said. "The few clips I saw on ESPN, they showed where he's throwing the ball. You can't just rely on your arm; that can get you in trouble. ... If everyone's not on the same page, the offense is not going to work. Obviously they're missing a few pages right now."
McMahon, who recently sold his suburban Chicago house and moved to warmer pastures, mostly keeps up with his friends' teams, like his former college tackle Andy Reid in Philadelphia, and ex-Bears linebacker Mike Singletary in San Francisco, and hot defensive coordinators Leslie Frazier in Minnesota and Ron Rivera in San Diego.
"Why they don't hire those guys here is beyond me," he mused of his former teammates.
For that matter, I asked, why didn't they keep Rivera in the first place?
"I have no idea," he said. "I told you guys 30 years ago [sic] what an idiot that owner [Michael McCaskey] is, and maybe you guys have finally realized it."
McMahon was in town along with a handful of 1985 Super Bears alums doing what they do best: Making money off being themselves.
"Until they win again, it's pretty easy money around here," he said, adding, "if you want to be here in this weather."
McMahon obviously didn't watch the Bears' dog and pony news conference from Tuesday, so I told him the Bears considered firing Ron Turner and a bunch of assistants "massive change." McMahon is no fan of Michael McCaskey, so he liked that one.
"Massive change," he said. "The only massive change they'll ever have is if they ever sell the team, and that ain't going to happen. While they're still there, they ain't going to win."
McMahon's penchant for punky nihilism aside, I asked a few ex-Bears from the storied '85 team what they thought of the 2009 season and what they think needs to change for their former team to return to glory.
"I was very pleased when they got a quarterback, but of course, they got rid of receivers before they got a quarterback, and it became a protection thing," he said. "It was one of those years I thought they could do something, but they're close. They're on their way."
Gault said he didn't want to "Monday morning quarterback," but the first thing he would do, if he were a coach, is move Devin Hester back to a full-time returner.
"The guy's the best thing since sliced bread at kickoff returns, and you take him off?" he said. "I know the coaches are saying, 'We don't want him get hurt and not be able to play receiver.' But that's what he does. He's a kickoff and punt return specialist. That's it. It's like taking a drummer and getting him to play the sax."
Legendary defensive end Richard Dent, who lives in Chicagoland and has a luxury suite at Soldier Field where he entertains clients by watching non-entertaining football, laments the sloppy tackling he sees on a regular basis.
"They need to work on fundamentals," the former Super Bowl MVP said. "When you're not playing well, the first thing you should do is work on fundamentals. But if you don't have fundamentals to revert to, you're pretty much out of luck.
"There's some talent there," Dent added, "but it's not being used properly.
"Cutler could probably be a good quarterback, but he's got fundamentals problems, too."
Otis Wilson, another Super Bowl vet who lives in Chicago and goes to every home game, also was alarmed at the defensive lapses he saw on a regular basis. Jacked as ever, the ex-linebacker looks like he could still strap on a pair of shoulder pads.
"You want to see an aggressive type of defense," he said. "From my end, personally looking at it, you don't see that intensity level. You only see it in a few guys, but you've got to have 11 guys with the same attitude, the same fight. So two or three guys ain't going to do it."
Dent said he believes Smith deserves to return as head coach, but feels like the decision was more based on the reality of the NFL than Smith's promise as a coach.
"If you look at the situation they're in, there might be a lockout in a year, so if you go get a new coach, not know if you're going to play in a year, it would probably be foolish," Dent said. "I would say he probably deserved a chance to come back. Every coach is going to have some bad years and some good years. He had some good ones and this bad one, so let's see if he can turn it around in a year or so."
With the team courting offensive coordinators like USC's Jeremy Bates and passing guru Mike Martz, Da Coach Mike Ditka said it isn't as important to hire a coordinator just because he can work with Cutler as it is for the Bears to figure out what kind of offense they want to run.
"Forget the coordinator," he said. "What do you want to do philosophically? Where are you going with this team? Do you want to open it up, go to three-four wide receiver sets? Or do you want to be balanced, run the ball with a good running back?"
Ditka said the prototypes Smith and Jerry Angelo need to look at are in New England and Green Bay. The Patriots because they control the pace with a passing attack -- "They choose to throw the football, they don't throw the football because they have to," he said -- and the Packers, because of their fairly balanced offense, with Aaron Rodgers and Ryan Grant.
With all the problems of 2009 still fresh in everyone's minds, Ditka remains publicly positive. The Bears have a decent foundation to build on, he said.
"There's a light at the end of the tunnel," he said.
We'll trust you on that one, Coach.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.
5dDavid M. Hale