Commentary

Bears' success story written by players

Talent -- not the GM, coaches or adversity -- restored Chicago back to respectability

Updated: January 6, 2011, 9:22 PM ET
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- It was a conciliatory and, yes, gracious Jerry Angelo who addressed the media Thursday at Halas Hall, which was a far cry from a year ago at this time.

It was then, you may remember, that the Three Bears -- Angelo, CEO Ted Phillips and head coach Lovie Smith -- acted as though reporters had eaten their porridge, broken their chairs and ransacked their bedrooms.

[+] EnlargeJulius Peppers
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireAdding talent such as Julius Peppers, who should get some Defensive Player of the Year consideration, went a long way in restoring the Bears to a division winner.

After firing six assistant coaches on offense, the obvious conclusion to be drawn, aside from appeasing the angry masses, was that Angelo had determined that player development, not his own personnel decisions and Smith's game-time decision-making, was the Chicago Bears' biggest problem.

Thursday was a chance for Angelo to gloat, particularly in a room with at least a few people who still think the Bears could do better than him. And he did, though let's just say in a restrained sort of way, something just short of gracious and far shy from standing on a chair and telling us to kiss his division championship cap.

It is, after all, a little soon for that.

"There's a perception coming out of the last few years, and we weren't getting it done," Angelo said. "I know we lost some credibility, and I'm sure people looked at us going into the year that we were going to be a hopeless team and it was only a matter of time when the ship would sink.

"We never felt that way. We knew what we had to do. We were very confident that we could get it done. We had to have some things come together for us ... but we felt very strongly about our plan, about our football team."

The plan, after trading away two first-round picks, a third-rounder and Kyle Orton for Jay Cutler two years ago, has not always been easy to discern. More accurately, good things resulted this season largely out of desperation.

Smith gave up his job as defensive coordinator, which had been spreading him too thin. Angelo took a chance on hiring Mike Martz, who was clearly not his first choice for offensive coordinator, and hired Mike Tice, who personally does not appear to mesh with Martz, to whip together a troubled offensive line situation.

Smith demanded more accountability from his players, whether he was willing to admit it or not, and ultimately made sure that Martz didn't literally throw the season away with his own stubbornness.

While Smith was probably not nearly as close to being fired as Phillips hinted a year ago, he sure acted like a coach with his job on the line. And Angelo?

Oddly, Angelo said he did not "see this team as a team of great talent."

Angelo I see this as a team that played well together and really responded to the adversity that every team goes through. I know the word 'resilien't has been used several times ... and I think that really is a good word to define this team thus far, and hopefully we'll continue that resiliency going into the playoffs.

-- Bears GM Jerry Angelo

"I see this as a team that played well together and really responded to the adversity that every team goes through," he said. "I know the word 'resilient' has been used several times ... and I think that really is a good word to define this team thus far, and hopefully we'll continue that resiliency going into the playoffs."

The 2010 Bears were resilient, though that word better fits an injury-riddled team like the Green Bay Packers than an 11-5 outfit that was healthy, at times lucky and anchored by a legitimately top-tier defense.

Make no mistake, it was talent that carried them through. Talent in the very large form of Julius Peppers, who in his first season as a Bear, instilled confidence with his enormous skill. Talent in the comeback of returner Devin Hester and continued development of Hester as a receiver. Talent in Matt Forte, who shook off an injury-plagued second season and picked up where he left off as a rookie, only getting stronger and more elusive.

Brian Urlacher showed how much he was truly missed in '09, Lance Briggs had another Pro Bowl-caliber season and Cutler approached his potential, flashing more talent at the quarterback position than Bears fans have seen in a very long time.

Very.

It is too early to determine whether Angelo deserves to truly gloat. But he should certainly feel good about the development of players such as Matt Toeaina, Henry Melton, Israel Idonije, Danieal Manning, D.J. Moore and Tim Jennings, and the promise of players such as fourth-rounder Corey Wootton and seventh-rounder J'Marcus Webb.

"We felt good about everybody we brought in from players to coaches," Angelo said. "The unknown was how quickly is it going to come to fruition. In our case, it came together pretty quickly. We didn't see it in preseason. I know a lot was made about that, but you have to be realistic. With all the changes, we didn't look at that as an omen of what the season was going to be. We just knew it was going to take time, and it did take some time. All in all, when you look back on it it was pretty remarkable."

Angelo raved about the chemistry (but really, would it have mattered that much if Peppers was a jerk?) and even threw out a candidate for next year's training camp T-shirt:

"I had this mantra," he said. "It starts with team and it ends with team. Anything else in between is losing football."

Clearly, he was on a roll, calling this his best football team in his 10th season with the Bears "because of how the deck was stacked against us."

All that was missing at this point was the violin.

But Angelo was gracious Thursday. And more importantly, he was realistic.

"In our business, it's all about credibility, and I felt we lost some," he said. "We did. It just goes with the territory. We weren't getting the job done. In terms of how I felt about Lovie, how I feel about the staff, I've always felt good about that. But the bottom line is the bottom line.

"You've got to win football games. You've got to win your division. That's what creates credibility. It's not personality. It's not how I feel about anybody. ... It's not a testament to your character. ... You've got to win football games, and we all understand that."

Some seasons better than others.

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.