Ben Roethlisberger

'Fit' looms as tipping point in Bears search for new head coach

'Fit' looms as tipping point in Bears search for new head coach

The word “fit” flies around anytime an NFL coaching situation is discussed. Exactly what that means is rarely understood in full. But it is potentially the most important element in the Bears’ coaching search, not just another platitude, like “go in another direction.”

It has been a tipping point in recent Bears coaching hires, for better and worse. More on those cases a little later.

“Fit” in the Bears’ coaching search will apply to fit above – how the individual fits in vision and temperament with GM Ryan Pace – and below – how he and Mitch Trubisky connect. Indeed, the fit of the next Bears coach into what Pace has put in place will be critical, beginning with but not in the least limited to quarterback Trubisky.

Specifically: Will the head coach expect to bend Trubisky to his system (Lovie Smith fitting a reluctant Brian Urlacher into Smith’s Tampa-2 defensive concept), or bend his system to fit the player/Trubisky (career-4-3 coach John Fox becoming a 3-4 Denver coach realizing what he had in Von Miller)?

The incoming coach obviously won’t be “incoming” unless he establishes to the satisfaction of Pace (and Chairman George McCaskey and President Ted Phillips) that he is a mesh with Trubisky. Not necessarily himself; a defensive coach won’t work directly with Trubisky in daily practice sessions as much as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach will.

But the successful coaching candidate will be one who has a vision in phase with the capabilities of both Trubisky and his surrounding personnel. That’s been the hallmark of defense-based coaches like Bill Belichick in New England, Ron Rivera in Carolina, and John Fox and Lovie Smith; they are typically in on the game-planning strategically (“ball control, if you please”).

“Fit” is a funny thing, though. What Pace and Bears officials will want from their coaching hire is a clear sense of the offense as it will look with Trubisky. Subsets of that assessment will be run-blocking scheme and its fit for core elements Charles Leno, Kyle Long and Cody Whitehair, only less ensconced as franchise fixtures than Trubisky; and passing game, vertical-based or West Coast. The latter of those, the passing concepts, realistically will be influenced by the incoming offense, given that the Bears were going to make over the wideout group anyway, and a new offensive leader will guide that.

Better to fit scheme to player? Or mold player to scheme?

The fit of head coach/coordinator and quarterback or other player is the stuff on which franchises can turn. Conventional thought is that the successful adjusts his scheme to best utilize the skills of his players.

The Bears have seen those fits work well, and decidedly not so well.

Where it worked to fit player to scheme:

Urlacher loved the two-gap 4-3 scheme of Dick Jauron/Greg Blache; a jumbo front four (Phillip Daniels/Bryan Robinson/Keith Traylor/Ted Washington) engaged whole offensive lines and allowed Urlacher to roam sideline to sideline unfettered. Urlacher went to four straight Pro Bowls (2000-03) and was initially not at all enamoured of Smith’s speed-based one-gap 4-3 that tasked him with more gap responsibilities.

Smith, however, knew what he had in Urlacher, that being a prototype middle linebacker with elite coverage skills. Urlacher was remade into the Smith model and became NFL defensive player of the year in 2005.

Fitting scheme to player can work:

Besides Fox converting from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4 with personnel like Von Miller in Denver, Adam Gase tweaked his offense when he took over as offensive coordinator, Gase researched and found that Jay Cutler was a poor decision-maker. Accordingly, Gase dialed back the quarterback flexibility he’d used in Denver with Peyton Manning, the consummate decision-maker.

The result was Cutler’s best full season for completion percentage, interception percentage and passer rating.

QB fits

Whether the enforced presence of Trubisky on the roster is a positive or negative with coaching candidates will likely remain between Pace and the candidates; best guess is that a candidate doesn’t get on the interview list without some up-front Trubisky-approval vetting by Pace.

But while the move by Pace to target and draft a perceived franchise quarterback was a long-overdue move by Bears personnel chiefs going back more than a decade, it remains to play out whether inheriting a quarterback is a plus for the incoming coach.

Head coaches hired with quarterbacks in place routinely work out pretty well, based on this year’s playoff participants:

Coach                                  Inherited  

Doug Marrone, Jaguars    Blake Bortles

Sean McVay, Rams            Jared Goff

Dan Quinn, Falcons          Matt Ryan

Mike Tomlin, Steelers      Ben Roethlisberger

Sean McDermott, Bills     Tyrod Taylor

But coaches involved in acquiring their own quarterbacks have had arguably greater success:

Coach                                 Brought in

Bill Belichick, Patriots       Tom Brady (inherited Drew Bledsoe)

Mike Mularkey, Titans      Marcus Mariota

Sean Payton, Saints          Drew Brees

Doug Pederson, Eagles    Carson Wentz

Andy Reid, Chiefs              Alex Smith

Ron Rivera, Panthers        Cam Newton

Mike Zimmer, Vikings       Case Keenum

The Bears’ coaching search was set in motion last week concurrent with the firing of Fox. “We’re going to get into [criteria] as we go through the interview process, which’ll be thorough and extensive,” Pace said. “I don’t want to get into the exact details. It’s a competitive market but you can bet that we have criteria in mind that’s very detailed and I’ll feel very confident when we hit that.”

Beginning with a thing called “fit."

Combating divisiveness, Steelers opt to skip national anthem in display of team unity

Combating divisiveness, Steelers opt to skip national anthem in display of team unity

All eyes were on the NFL Sunday afternoon after President Donald Trump told his supporters at a rally on Friday night that team owners should fire any "son of a bitch" who protests or takes a knee during the National Anthem.

The remarks fell on deaf ears as the Pittsburgh Steelers took a stance against President Trump before their 23-17 overtime loss to the Bears at Soldier Field.

In a display of unity, the Steelers were one of three teams on Sunday — along with the Tennessee Titans and Seattle Seahawks — who remained in the locker room during the national anthem in an attempt to combat divisiveness.

The Steelers decision was agreed upon during a players' only meeting at the team hotel on Saturday night.

"You know, by no means, no way shape or form, was there any disrespect intended towards our troops and those that serve this country," Steelers quarterback and team captain Ben Roethlisberger said. "We all have the utmost respect for them obviously. They give us the freedom to play this game. Last night, obviously with all the issues going on if you will, we had a players' only meeting after the team meeting last night, we decided we were going to talk about what we were going to do because we know some guys wanted to take a knee, guys wanted to stand.

"We said whatever we do, we need to make sure we are unified as one group because that is what we are about and that is what it should be about. Staying together as one unit, one group, one brotherhood, things like that so rather than having one guy kneel, one guy stand, the conclusion was made by everybody that the best to do was to stay in the locker (or in the tunnel if you will) and show respect that way."

When the Steelers ran out of the tunnel following the anthem, they were met by a chorus of boos from the Soldier Field crowd

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, who revealed in a pregame interview on Sunday that the team wouldn't be taking the field during the national anthem, made it clear that the most important aspect of the team's decision was to stay united

"They were not going to be disrespectful during the anthem so they choose not to participate during the anthem, but at the same time many of them were not going to accept the words of the President," Tomlin said. "So, we decided to sit out and not take the field, to remove ourselves from it, so we could focus on playing football. Those were our intentions."

While nearly every member of the Steelers organization stayed in the locker room during the national anthem, one player stood in front of the tunnel.

Steelers offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva, a former United States Army Ranger and Captain who served three tours of duty in Afghanistan, was seen in the tunnel with his right hand over his heart.

Villanueva wasn't available for comment following Sunday's game, but his teammates made it clear that they had no problem with his decision to distance himself from the rest of the team.

"Al is a hell of a man and I appreciate everything he does," Steelers defensive lineman Cameron Heyward said. "This man went over and served our country like no other and we've commended him every single day." 

In addition to the support of their head coach, the Steelers had the backing of team President Art Rooney II for their decision.

While President Trump may not agree with the displays around the league as evidence by him going on another Twitter rant about wanting to see the NFL change its policy regarding the national anthem, commissioner Roger Goodell doesn't plan on fining any players for their Week 3 protests.

If that's the case, would these displays continue throughout the entire season? Possibly.

"It isn't just one day," Heyward said. "We're out in the community. We're trying to make changes, not by just one person but as a team. It doesn't matter what goes on. We're trying to build a better society, a better city and a better America for everyone."

What Mitchell Trubisky learned in that pre-draft workout with Ben Roethlisberger

What Mitchell Trubisky learned in that pre-draft workout with Ben Roethlisberger

Ben Roethlisberger came away from his pre-draft workout with Mitchell Trubisky — the two share the same agent — impressed, an opinion which the longtime Pittsburgh Steelers detailed on Wednesday. The feeling was mutual for Trubisky. 

“Yeah, Big Ben’s awesome,” Trubisky said. “It was really special and really a privilege to learn from him. … “I’ve really looked up to him ever since he came out because he’s an Ohio guy as well. He came from Miami, Ohio. And it’s unique he was able to have success early on in his career and that’s what you try to duplicate as a quarterback coming into this league, and just how he carries himself, how competitive he is. I just try to take those things and hopefully add them into my own game as well.”

Roethlisberger — who went to high school in Findlay, Ohio, which is about two and a half hour west of Trubisky’s hometown of Mentor — won every game he started his rookie year and won his first of two Super Bowls a year later. Beyond his success quarterbacking the Steelers over these last 14 years, though, Trubisky felt he could learn something from how Roethlisberger has been a leader in Pittsburgh’s locker room. 

“(He) owns the locker room, no matter where you’re at,” Trubisky said. “I think it’s just the type of person you are. You’re competitive. You’re an alpha. You know how things are supposed to be done and you won’t settle for anything less than what has to be done. You’re settling for nothing less than excellence. That’s what he strives he for and, I mean, that’s what we’re all striving for.”

Eventually, the Bears expect Trubisky to command the locker room in the same fashion (he certainly has the self-belief and confidence to do so). And perhaps he'll have the same kind of trophy-driven success over a long period of time enjoyed by Roethlisberger, too. While Trubisky isn't in control of his career just yet, that was another lesson he took away from Roethlisberger.

"One of the big pieces of advice he gave me was really take control of your career," Trubisky said. "And I think that's kind of how he instills how he carries himself in the locker room, on the practice field, at the line of scrimmage. The play is going to go how he wants it and that's really how I want my career to go. Just exactly what you dream of, and take control and get everyone to buy into the same plan. I think that's how you create a winning culture -- really taking control, really taking ownership and hopefully that trickles down through the rest of the team."