Commentary

The right fit?

Martz an intriguing choice for Bears' OC, but he brings baggage -- and criticism

Updated: January 6, 2010, 10:01 AM ET
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

There was a fair share of hemming and hawing and talking around the issues Tuesday at Halas Hall, but general manager Jerry Angelo was emphatic when it came to the hiring of the Bears' new offensive coordinator.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
Michael Sackett/US PresswireHow would Jay Cutler get along with Mike Martz, who criticized the Bears quarterback after his four-interception season-opener against Green Bay?

"This is a very important decision," Angelo said. "It's probably the biggest decision that we've had to make since I've been here, other than hiring a head coach. It's something we're going to look at very hard, and I feel confident that we're going to get it right."

Getting it right begins with hiring the best candidate, but hardly ends there when it comes to shaping a new offense around the team's talented but temperamental franchise quarterback.

Mike Martz said Tuesday by phone that he would be interested in rejoining his old pal and former defensive coordinator Lovie Smith as the Bears' new offensive coordinator. "Oh absolutely, of course I would," Martz said.

Asked about working with Jay Cutler, the former head coach with the Rams and offensive coordinator with St. Louis, the Lions and 49ers said he interviewed the Bears quarterback when he came out of Vanderbilt but was hesitant to elaborate.

"The hardest thing about this right now is that I haven't talked to anyone with the Bears, so without being contacted and with all the speculation, I just feel it would be inappropriate to say anything more," Martz said.

"It would be unfair to Lovie to jump ahead in any process and be involved in it. We'll just wait and see whether things develop. [But] if it develops, I do have interest."

Expect names such as Charlie Weis, Jim Harbaugh, Broncos offensive line coach Rick Dennison, perhaps Miami receivers coach Karl Dorrell (who also worked under Mike Shanahan in Denver) and Falcons quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave to circulate.

Smith said he has candidates in mind for his coaching openings.

"This is a perfect opportunity to look at young minds, old minds, guys with different ways of doing things," he said. "Do I have people in mind? Sure, you always have people in mind that you know, you've worked with or you just admired their work from afar.

"We're going to take our time. We're not under the gun to make any quick decisions. We're going to make the right ones and go from there."

Martz is an obvious choice for many reasons.

He and Smith are old friends and colleagues dating back to their coaching days at Arizona State in the late '80s and early '90s. As head coach of the Rams in 2001, Martz gave Smith his first big break, hiring Tampa's linebackers coach as his defensive coordinator, and in their first season together, St. Louis returned to the Super Bowl. Martz eventually named Smith assistant head coach in 2003, a position he held until coming to the Bears in '04.

Martz, 53-32 as a head coach, is innovative, one of the brightest minds in the game, the architect of the Super Bowl XXXIV-winning "Greatest Show on Turf," a Rams unit that featured Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk and receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt. Martz-coached offenses have been ranked lower than the top 10 in the league just once.

But he would not come without baggage.

The three-headed Rams front office of Martz, Jay Zygmunt and Charlie Armey clashed bitterly over control issues, the conflict coming to a head publicly during the 2005 season, when Martz took a medical leave of absence and was prevented from calling plays into a game by phone. Martz was fired after that season.

Most players sang his praises. But so acrimonious was the split that Armey, retired and living in Arizona, had this reaction Tuesday when asked about Martz's qualifications for the Bears' job.

"I don't think Martz would work well with Jay Cutler at all," Armey said. "He's a terrible ... coach, and he would ruin that kid like he ruined Kurt Warner and drove him out of St. Louis. He's the worst thing that could happen to any young quarterback."

At the same time, Armey said he expected Martz to end up in Chicago.

"I would guess Lovie would hire him because there's a lot of loyalty there," Armey said. "But I think it would be an absolute mistake, and it would shorten Lovie's career."

Martz's next stop after St. Louis was Detroit, where the Lions' offense ranked seventh behind journeyman quarterback Jon Kitna, who threw for more than 4,000 yards. But the following season, Martz was fired, with even players complaining that the team was passing too much.

[+] EnlargeMike Martz
AP Photo/Paul SakumaMike Martz said he would be interested in becoming the Bears' next offensive coordinator, but not everyone thinks Martz would be a good fit.

Martz was then hired in San Francisco, where he was expected to pump some life into Alex Smith and the 49ers. But Smith would miss the entire 2008 season with a shoulder injury, and after Mike Singletary was hired as head coach, it was clear the two had philosophical differences and Martz would not return.

He has been described as high-maintenance and high-strung. He is also demanding, a tough-love kind of coach who is very precise with his expectations for players.

Martz, who was an analyst for the NFL Network this season, focused his critical eye on Cutler after the Bears quarterback threw four interceptions in the season-opening loss to the Green Bay Packers. Cutler's body language and comportment after the game were seen by some as immature.

"He just doesn't get it," Martz said on the NFLN show. "He doesn't understand that he represents a great head coach and the rest of those players on that team ... somebody needs to talk to him."

Will the temperamental Cutler remember those remarks and campaign against Martz if he's being considered by Smith and Angelo?

And quarterbacks aren't the only ones to feel the heat in a Martz system.

"When he wants a 10-yard out route, he doesn't want 10 yards and 2 feet," said one close observer.

If players make stupid mistakes, they can expect a very intense reaction. But if they prove themselves, all is good, both with Martz and the team he is coaching.

For Cutler, whoever is hired would be his third offensive coordinator in three years, a situation Angelo quickly admitted is not a positive.

"We want to get out of that business," Angelo said. "When you look at all the good quarterbacks historically, they've had the familiarity of the system, the same coordinators. That's a real problem. We do not want to get into that handbasket."

And with Smith still preaching the run game, a partnership with Martz would not seem to be a happy marriage, and yet, the two like each other. And if the Bears are successful, everyone will be happy. That much was clear Tuesday.

"It's no surprise, no matter who comes in here, we're going to have to run the football," Smith said. "That's not going to change. I think you can still run the football and have success. [But] the last two weeks that we played, everybody was pretty happy with the team we had out there [and] we were more of a passing football team.

"We just want to have a team that can do what they need to do that day to be able to win the game, whether it's run or pass."

Angelo said he is not worried about bringing coaches into a situation where the head coach may be viewed as a lame duck.

"I don't foresee us having problems getting coaches here," Angelo said. "In fact, I don't really see us going out to recruit coaches and having to sell them to come to Chicago. I think, given the fact that we feel very confident we're going to win and given the fact that we're here in Chicago, I think we'll have a bevy of coaches wanting to be here, and I feel that sincerely."

Whittling that bevy down to the right candidate is the tough part.

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

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.