Commentary

'Major' decisions, minor results

Offseason moves may not cure what ails the Chicago Bears

Updated: January 5, 2010, 11:07 AM ET
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

We hope no valuable time was wasted drafting the silly, suck-up "letter" to Bears fans that appeared in the local papers Monday thanking you for demanding "the same excellence this organization demands of itself."

It might be the first time a football team has shown gratitude for booing and general disgust.

Assuming that nothing regarding their coaching staff and front office was determined until postseason evaluations were made -- because general manager Jerry Angelo told us so several weeks ago -- the Bears' brain trust has been very busy the last 24 hours.

On Tuesday at a 2 p.m. news conference, they will presumably emerge from their meeting rooms in Halas Hall and inform us of decisions that they will undoubtedly assure us will have very important implications for the future.

The odds favor Lovie Smith's return as Bears' head coach -- but with substantive changes to his staff. In other words, there is no reason to expect the Bears to improve and no reason to believe the team's management really cares.

Smith
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesLovie Smith will reportedly be back next season but with changes made to his coaching staff.

Oh sure, they might get better. Maybe Angelo will sign another player of questionable character in Brandon Marshall -- though he will be a restricted free agent if next season is uncapped as expected, meaning Denver can match any other team's offer. Such a move would certainly shore up Jay Cutler's receiving corps.

But what is more likely to happen is similar to what delayed the franchise's progress when Dick Jauron was hired before Angelo, and they were subsequently never on the same timeline contractually or on the same page philosophically.

The organization will be a hodgepodge of coaches and coordinators and scouts who are potentially at cross purposes and on different tracks. Or if they are on the same wavelength, it won't necessarily be a good one.

While we can assume that hiring a new defensive coordinator -- the fourth in seven years -- could be OK with an overburdened Smith, we also know that under Smith, the same scheme will be employed. While this may make sense in the short term given the Bears' current personnel, what's the point of hiring a new lieutenant for Smith other than to shift the blame?

And unless the entire secondary is overhauled and they can find someone who can get to the quarterback and Tommie Harris comes back at full speed, can the return of an older Brian Urlacher really make that much of a difference?

As for offense, we have been led to believe that when a new coordinator comes in to correct all of Cutler's bad habits, that person also must be tough enough to get in the quarterback's face but diplomatic enough not to alienate him in the process.

This new coordinator obviously has to be experienced and innovative, and yet not be such a threat to Smith's job that he becomes constant fodder for rumors to that end and a source of disruption. He also must be ambitious, yet secure enough to enter into this situation willingly. He must also understand that everything could change in a year and a new head coach could replace him.

Oh yes, and while other coaches like Mike Shanahan and reportedly Brian Billick are busy assembling staffs, the Bears will piece things together over time as they always have, get the best candidates, and find the perfect equation.

Just trust them. Winning, as the letter told us, is their "top priority." So what if the Bears' 2010 schedule features eight games against playoff teams, including Dallas, Philadelphia, the New York Jets and New England?

Talking to players serves little purpose in this whole exercise.

For example, pay no attention to those who defend Smith. Very few players will tell large groups of reporters that they want their head coach fired. And in most cases, they do not want them fired, particularly affable coaches like Smith.

"Just because he's not a screamer and a guy who's not going to rant and rave a lot does not mean he's not a tough coach," Hunter Hillenmeyer said Monday. "He demands certain things of his players that tough coaches do, and if that's what people are worried about, that perception of him is wrong. He's a guy who knows it is more important to be respected than liked."

I believe Hillenmeyer. I'm sure Smith demands certain things of his players. But nine out of 16 times this season, they did not listen. Or they listened and it did not matter. And if Hillenmeyer thinks Smith is tough, it may be because he has never played for a coach whose players do not routinely refer to him as a gentleman.

After the major decisions have been made, it will undoubtedly be obvious that financial reasons are behind them. And who are those of us who pay for the tickets, concessions, merchandise and parking and fuel television revenue, to argue? Indeed, if an extension to the collective bargaining agreement is not reached before March and a lockout occurs in 2011, the Bears are looking at potentially paying the salaries of two non-working coaching staffs.

We understand.

So how do the successful teams always seem to figure these things out?

Melissa Isaacson

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for espnW.com, ESPN Chicago and ESPN.com. The award-winning writer has covered Chicago sports for most of her 31-year career, including at the Chicago Tribune before joining ESPN in 2009. Isaacson has also covered tennis since 1986.

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