The actions of This Week in the NFL – the New York Giants firing GM Jerry Reese and coach Ben McAdoo on Monday, the Cleveland Browns firing EVP Sashi Brown on Thursday (but not coach Hue Jackson) – were noteworthy as much for their timing as for their result, that of pushing out high-level individuals in their respective organizations.
The word for it is “accountability,” and the question that it all immediately calls to mind is: What is the accountability plan of Chairman George McCaskey for the Bears, short-term and longer-term?
The short term accountability passed this week when no changes were made in aftermath of a four-game nadir since the off-week (the one-score loss at New Orleans before the break was at least respectable, with 300-plus yards, three scoring drives of 65 yards or longer, against a very good team). One scenario might have been a dramatic statement stroke to make clear exactly how unacceptable the last four games have been. But the Bears stayed their traditional franchise course of no in-season coaching changes, which is of course not to say that something precipitous couldn’t happen if there are embarrassments at Cincinnati or vs. Cleveland.
The longer Bears accountability term will be determined by the results of the next four games, collectively or individually. No one admits to dealing in hypotheticals, but no one at the coach, GM, president or chairman levels DOESN’T deal in hypotheticals in the form of planning if-then scenarios. Mock drafts are hypotheticals; does anyone think those are the only ones?
The Bears obviously won’t make a cataclysmic move just because the Browns and Giants did. But it’s a small NFL football universe, and “copycat league” doesn’t refer just to offensive or defensive schemes. And GM Ryan Pace and coach John Fox have dramatically poorer results over three years than McCaskey’s two previous GM’s had before they were fired.
Whether McCaskey is inclined – again – to move to unwind his most two biggest football hires is simply speculation around the NFL at this point. But McCaskey was installed as chairman in May 2011 and changed out general managers in January 2012. Interestingly perhaps, with what the Giants did this week, in the course of firing Angelo, McCaskey said, “look at the Giants. They had confidence in their people, their coach, their plan, and it bore fruit."
The Bears have imposed accountability on their football operations. But it is a history with sometimes erratic applications of “accountability,” sometimes to the point of “it-ain’t-necessarily-broke-but-we-fixed-it-anyway.” It is a history marked – marred? – by inconsistency, which in this sport is perhaps the cardinal sin and harbinger of failure.
If the past is any sort of prologue, precipitous firings have occurred with considerably less on-field miseries than the current three-year run under Pace and Fox.
McCaskey fired Angelo after a .500 season in 2011, one year after the Bears coming within a touchdown in the NFC Championship game of upending eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay. The Angelo firing came after a season in which the Bears were 7-3 when they lost quarterback Jay Cutler for the season and fell to 8-8 under primarily Caleb Hanie. The Cutler injury did not temper McCaskey’s dissatisfaction.
McCaskey OK’d the hiring of Phil Emery to succeed Angelo and signed off on firing Lovie Smith after a 10-win 2012 season. Emery and coach Marc Trestman were jettisoned after an embarrasciubg collapse in 2014, one year after an 8-8 mark in 2013 and starting out 2-1 and 3-3 in 2014.
Looking back further organizationally, Mike Ditka was fired after one bad season (5-11 in 1992) that had been preceded by two playoff seasons, one (1990) that included a postseason win.
The Bears played near-toxic hardball with Dick Jauron after Jauron taking the 2001 team to 13-3 and the postseason. Angelo had been hired to replace Mark Hatley in 2001 and inherited Jauron coming off six- and five-win seasons. Angelo expected to be allowed to replace Jauron, but an unexpectedly trip to the postseason complicated matters. After some extremely acrimonious negotiations, Angelo and the Bears were stuck with Jauron for two more losing seasons.
Cleveland, New York templates
What the Browns did – firing the personnel boss but keeping the coach – goes against the notion that the incoming GM will want to hire his own head coach. But in fact, looked at another way, that new football boss will have a year to assess Jackson and presumably have the juice to go another direction after 2018 if he doesn’t want Jackson for performance or any other reason. Not ideal, but it does some form of twisted internal logic.
Unless of course Jackson leads a turnaround/up-surge, which actually wouldn’t be all that difficult from where the Browns are. Then the new GM might want to consult and commiserate with Angelo.
The Cleveland and New York firings do allow them to begin executive searches openly, without offending incumbents. Look for lines to form for Philadelphia’s Joe Douglas, who came out of the Baltimore with a personnel pedigree from the Ozzie Newsome tree, spent a year as college scouting director with the Bears before going to the Eagles as VP of player personnel.
Best guess is that no decision has been reached at Halas Hall, with four games remaining. A finishing kick could reflect the kind of progress McCaskey laid out as his requirement of staff for 2017. A finishing tailspin confronts him with the need to impose accountability.