When Phil Emery discussed the firing of Lovie Smith during his press conference on New Year's Day, the Bears general manageralso said he was open to possiblykeeping some members of the coaching staff.In recent days, there has been a feeling that Emery would maybeopt keep some members of the defensive coachingstaff. Several players have publicly stated their fondness for the scheme and the coaches they worked with on a daily basis. There are no doubt some good teachers on that side of the ball, most notably defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and secondary coach Jon Hoke.Retaining the defensive staff may look good from the outside looking in, considering the success they have had, but it istypically not a good way to move forward. There will be potential head coaches that willnot want the job if they are forced to keep current members of the staff.Everyone knows the Bears system defensively has worked and they have the personnel to fit it, and thatmany of the players are loyal to it . However, there are bigger issues with the arrival of a new coach.Head coaches want to choose their own staff. They want guys that they have worked or share the same philosophies with, not people forced upon them. The biggest reason is loyalty. If the defensive coaches are retained, who are they loyal to? Not the head coach, but thegeneral managerand front office that showed thatthey had the power to keep them at Halas Hall. A new head coach needs everyone on the same page. Think ofBill Belichick and Nick Saban--two coaches that have showed that long-term success is almost always predicated on everyone doing it one way, and only one way.Another problem involves the players. If the Bears keep Marinelli and others, the defensive players will favor the staff on their side of the ball and may not give full respect to the new head coach. If times get tough, who will they lean on? Certainly not the new guy. It's a sure-fire way to fracture a team and in many ways undermines what a new coach is trying to do. If the Bears want change, it has to be a full and complete change.If the Bears force their new coach toretain several assistants,it is likely there will be candidates that will remove themselves from consideration or view the job as less appealing. Why would an offensive coach,who hasworked withquarterbacks andserved asa coordinator, want to keep quarterbacks coachJeremy Bates--who may have a different style, set ofbeliefs and philosophy? No coach wants to begin a job feeling thathis hands are tied.
The news on Tuesday wasn’t really any sort of surprise: Brian Urlacher being selected as a semifinalist for the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Some of the immediate thoughts were, however, for one writer who covered Brian from the day he was drafted on through the unpleasant end of his 13-year career as a Bear.
Good thoughts, though. Definitely good.
The first was a flashback, to a Tuesday in late August 2000 when the ninth-overall pick of the draft, who’d been anointed the starting strong-side linebacker by coach Dick Jauron on draft day, was benched.
It happened up at Halas Hall when Urlacher all of a sudden wasn’t running with the 1’s. Rosie Colvin was in Urlacher’s spot with the starters and would be for a few games into the 2000 season. I caught up with Brian before he walked, in a daze, into Halas Hall after practice and asked about what I’d just seen.
"I'm unhappy with the way I'm playing and I'm sure they are, too," Urlacher said. "I don't think I've been playing very well so that's probably the cause for it right there. I just don't have any technique. I need to work on my technique, hands and feet mostly. I've got to get those down, figure out what I'm doing. I know the defense pretty good now, just don't know how to use my hands and feet."
Urlacher, an All-American safety at New Mexico but MVP of the Senior Bowl in his first game at middle linebacker, had been starting at strong side, over the tight end, because coaches considered it a simpler position for Urlacher to master. But he was not always correctly aligned before the snap, did not use his hands against blockers effectively and occasionally led with his head on tackles. His benching cost him the chance to be the first Bears rookie linebacker since Dick Butkus to start an Opening Day.
It also was the first time in his football life that Urlacher could remember being demoted.
"It's not a good feeling," he said. "I definitely don't like getting demoted but I know why I am. I just have to get better."
Coaches understood what they were really attempting, subsequently acknowledged privately that the SLB experiment was a mistake. While the strong-side slot may have been simpler than the other two principally because of coverage duties, "we're trying to force-feed the kid an elephant," then-defensive coordinator Greg Blache said.
"So you see him gag and what do you do? You give him the Heimlich maneuver, you take some of it out of his mouth, try to chop it up into smaller pieces. He's going to devour it and be a great football player. But he wouldn't be if we choked him to death."
Urlacher didn’t choke and eventually became the starter, not outside, but at middle linebacker when Barry Minter was injured week two at Tampa Bay.
We sometimes don’t fully know the import or significance at the time we’re witnessing something. Urlacher stepping in at middle linebacker was not one of those times – you knew, watching him pick up four tackles in basically just the fourth quarter of a 41-0 blowout by the Bucs.
That was the beginning. Over the years came moments like Urlacher scooping up a Michael Vick fumble in the 2001 Atlanta game and going 90 yards with Vick giving chase but not catching him. Lots of those kinds of moments.
And then cutting to the ending, in 2013, when he and the organization came to an acrimonious parting after GM Phil Emery managed to alienate the face of the franchise both with the one-year contract offer and the way it was handled. Butkus had a nasty separation at the end of his Bears years, too, and Bill George finished his career as a Los Angeles Ram after creating the middle linebacker position as a Bear. Maybe that’s just how Bears and some of their linebackers wind up their relationships.
In any case, while there is no cheering in the pressbox, the hope here is that Brian goes into the Hall in a class with Ray Lewis in their first years of eligibility. Somehow that just seems like it all should close out for that confused kid from New Mexico who lost his first job out of college, but responded to that by becoming one of the all-time greats in his sport.
Mark Potash (Chicago Sun-Times), Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000) and Kevin Fishbain (The Athletic) join Kap on the panel. It’s another losing season for the Bears. So who deserves the most blame: Ryan Pace, John Fox or the players? Plus Mark Schanowski drops by to talk about the Bulls future and if the Celtics will win the East.