Sign up for a free Courant newsletter for a chance to win $100 P.C. Richard gift card

Once-patient Bears organization now expects excellence in a hurry

Bears break from tradition as George McCaskey charts new direction for organization in search for GM, coach

It was with a nod to the franchise's past and year of inception that George McCaskey changed the address of Halas Hall to 1920 Football Drive in 2011 shortly after taking the reins of the Bears as chairman of the board.

He's still trying to point the organization in the right direction.

The Bears charted a new course Monday — a day after a tumultuous 5-11 season came to an end — by firing general manager Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman. It came at an unprecedented cost in the history of the organization, with both men signed through the 2016 season and every assistant but quarterback coach Matt Cavanaugh owed money through 2015. They are the second GM and head coach to go since McCaskey replaced his older brother Michael after the 2010 season — the last time the team reached the playoffs.

While the Bears insisted it was team President Ted Phillips that axed ex-GM Jerry Angelo after the 2011 season, multiple sources insist it was George McCaskey's doing. Emery, a year later, ousted Lovie Smith and now the team is seeking a new duo at the top as it missed the postseason for the seventh time in eight years.

Welcome to a new way of doing business at what was previously 1000 Football Drive. Those who didn't want Emery to make a call on the club's next coach will now wait on McCaskey and Phillips to handpick the next GM or coach with guidance from Ernie Accorsi, the 73-year-old former GM of the Giants, who has been hired as a consultant.

The Bears are seeking a complete overhaul as things disintegrated with players under Trestman. Multiple sources told the Tribune veteran defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff was removed from the practice field Friday for causing a disturbance. He played in Sunday's loss at Minnesota. Maybe it was the final reminder of how far things unraveled for the coach.

What's most fascinating here is the Bears are transforming from an old-school operation with great patience for coaches and front office workers alike to an operation where performance is demanded. McCaskey made it clear the family maintains "complete faith" in Phillips. Some characterize him as a player in business matters only, but when it comes time for major football decisions, he has a hand in the action.

The Bears have long been compared to family-owned teams like the Giants and Steelers because of their deep roots and place in the fabric of the game and also because of their patience. Mike Tomlin is the third coach the Steelers have had since 1969 and the Giants ensured Tom Coughlin will return in 2015 for a 12th season. He is the fifth Giants coach since 1983 and the Bears are seeking their seventh since 1982 and third in four years.

A departure from the way the family business has operated is a good thing if it sparks a turnaround for the NFC North last-place finisher, a team that looks further away from the Packers than at any time since Brett Favre arrived in Green Bay more than 20 years ago.

McCaskey spoke with passion about the history of the club and even said his 91-year-old mother Virginia was "pissed off," something most Bears fans can relate to.

"She's been on this Earth for eight of the Bears' nine championships, and she wants more," McCaskey said. "She feels that it's been too long since the last one (1985 season), and that dissatisfaction is shared by her children, her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren. She's fed up with mediocrity."

When the Bears fired Angelo, Phillips spoke of a need to close the talent gap in the division, and while he wouldn't say how much ground is remaining to be covered, it's clear the Bears aren't close enough. Emery whiffed big time on Trestman and ultimately that was a miss he couldn't overcome. The contract for quarterback Jay Cutler, who McCaskey once compared to his grandfather George Halas in terms of leadership, is burdensome.

But there is talent on the roster that with an infusion of a quality draft class and a plan to restore the offense, the team can be competitive in the near future. McCaskey dismissed the suggestion the presence of Cutler could dissuade potential candidates with his history of quickly running through coaches.

"We feel this is a prestigious position," McCaskey said. "We've already had inquiries from people who want to be involved with the Chicago Bears and we think this is a prime destination."

Ultimately, it's up to McCaskey if the Bears are going to be restored to the heights he longs for. Coming off a miserably dysfunctional season, there is a long way to go.

bmbiggs@tribpub.com

Twitter @BradBiggs

Copyright © 2017, CT Now
22°