Five coaching search questions Ryan Pace and the Bears addressed on Black Monday

Five coaching search questions Ryan Pace and the Bears addressed on Black Monday

Looking at a few important coaching topics that came up during Black Monday’s media sessions with various players, Ryan Pace, Ted Phillips and George McCaskey…

1. Who has the final say on the coaching hire?

“I just have a very good understanding of our roster right now, just the inner workings of our team,” Pace said. “I feel extremely prepared right now. It will be a collaborative effort with George, Ted, myself, with me spearheading that effort and me ultimately making the final decision on this.”

This coaching search is Pace’s show to run, but Phillips and McCaskey will still have input.

“Ted and I are both available to Ryan as sounding boards, to play devil's advocate, to make sure that he's considering all aspects of a particular candidate's makeup, approach, strategy, philosophy,” McCaskey said. “Making sure that we're looking at every candidate that may be available and making sure that we leave no stone unturned to get the best possible head coach for the Chicago Bears.”

Pace has to be the one to make this hire, though, given he’s hitching himself to whoever he hires. While Phillips and McCaskey will be part of the process, this group positioned Pace as *the* guy.

“He’s going to lead the search,” McCaskey said. “He’s going to make the decision.”

2. How does Pace’s contract extension affect the coaching search?

While Pace, like John Fox, has a 14-34 record to his name with the Bears, he was rewarded with a two-year contract extension while Fox was fired. Phillips and McCaskey, though, espoused the benefits of continuity with Pace, despite the poor record.

“I think any head coach, you got to have that relationship with the general manager to even want to come into the organization, and to know the organization is behind the general manager is critical,” Phillips said. “I approached Ryan because I thought it was important. He’s a humble guy, so he never talks about his own situation. But I thought it was important and he deserved it.”

There’s validity to this thought process — Pace, prior to his extension, only was under contract though 2019. Stability is important, especially when it’s easy to see with the Indianapolis Colts, Detroit Lions and New York Giants, among others.

“We wanted to make sure that we presented the best possible landing place for any candidate, and we thought that was appropriate,” McCaskey said.

3. Will Fox’s buyout affect how much the Bears can pay a coach?

The Bears still owe Fox upwards of $4 million for his 2018 salary. Not all coaches who’ve been connected to the team will make more money than that, but some — like New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels — could command $5 million or more, potentially, per year.

McCaskey, though, said the money owed to Fox is “not at all” a factor.

“We’ll be competitive, and we’ll get the right guy for the Bears,” McCaskey said.

4. Does the next coach have to be an offensive mind?

As of Monday night, the Bears reportedly have requested to interview four coaches: New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, Philadelphia Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo and Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks. While 75 percent of those coaches are from the offensive side of the ball, Pace didn’t want to give off the impression he was only interested in offensive minds.

“I don’t want to paint ourselves in a corner,” Pace said. “We’re looking for the best coach, best character, best leadership. So I don’t want to paint ourselves into offense or defense. It’s going to be a broad, thorough search and I can tell you we have not officially sent any requests in.”

Pace may have been playing coy with that last line, given the various reports out there that the Bears have indeed submitted requests for interviews. But Pace was effusive in his praise of Mitchell Trubisky on Monday, and it’s clear he sees the 2017 No. 2 overall pick as the most important player on the team.

“With his work ethic, his professionalism, the intangibles he has, I’m very confident he’s only going to improve, especially going into the offseason as the guy,” Pace said.

So that seemingly would indicate the Bears will look to pair an offensive coach with Trubisky. We’ll see.

5. What about Vic Fangio?

If the Bears don’t go with an offensive coach, Vic Fangio could merit a look. He’s a popular figure in the locker room who’s had success developing the Bears from being one of the league’s worst defensive units to a solidly top-half group.

While Fangio is 59 and has never been a head coach before, a number of his players said Monday he could succeed in making that leap.

“He’s a great coach,” linebacker Lamarr Houston said. “He teaches you a lot about football. He’s very methodical in his teaching. He wants you to understand, and he holds you to a standard that you have to meet every Sunday. You can appreciate that as a player. … Even though we didn’t have the best record, the defense did have a lot of good stats. That goes to show his worth as a coach.”

Added defensive tackle Eddie Goldman: “He's smart enough to be a head coach.”

While Pace was complimentary of Fangio’s work in three years as the Bears’ defensive coordinator, he declined to say if he’d be considered for the job.

“We’re not going to get into who’s candidates and who’s not,” Pace said. “I have a lot of respect for Vic. He did a great job with our defense over the past three years. But we’re not going to get into who’s on that list or who’s not right now.”

Bears receive Sports Illustrated's top offseason grade in NFC North

Bears receive Sports Illustrated's top offseason grade in NFC North

The Chicago Bears are less than one month from the start of training camp, but the praise for general manager Ryan Pace's offseason continues to pour in.

Pace and the Bears received an A for their offseason -- the best grade in the NFC North -- from Sports Illustrated. A big part of the perfect score was the overhaul at wide receiver.

Chicago had one of the weakest receiving groups in the NFL last season—the team ranked dead last in passing yards per game (175.7)—so that position was clearly an area of focus this offseason for general manager Ryan Pace. The additions of Allen Robinson from Jacksonville, Taylor Gabriel from Atlanta and Anthony Miller via the draft will boost a stagnant group, assuming Robinson returns fully healthy from last September’s ACL tear. If 2015 first-round pick Kevin White can stay healthy for a full season for the first time in his ill-fated career, it’s an added bonus.

Much is expected from the revamped group of pass-catchers even though none of them have an overwhelming history of production. Robinson had a dominant season in 2015 (1,400 yards, 14 touchdowns), but his last two seasons involved mediocre production in 2016 and a torn ACL in Week 1 last year. Gabriel's never topped more than 621 yards in a season and tight end Trey Burton has been a backup his whole career. Miller has yet to play a snap in the NFL and White, now entering his fourth season, is still looking for his first touchdown catch.

Mitch Trubisky has a lot of work to do once training camp kicks off. Not only must he master coach Matt Nagy's offense, but he must do so while building chemistry with all of his new receivers. Growing pains will happen, but the upside and expectations for the Bears in 2018 are higher than they've been in many years, and it's all because of a great offseason had by the front office.

Bears shut out (again) in NFL Network players’ poll naming Top 100 players of 2018


Bears shut out (again) in NFL Network players’ poll naming Top 100 players of 2018

No NFL season is without its snubs – Pro Bowl omissions, (insert job)-of-the-year head-scratchers, endless “rankings” of units and individuals based on some sort of logic or arcane analyses that challenge credulity.

But the Bears have received a group snub for the second straight year, something that, even discounting personality factors, can be considered a cause for concern, and escalating concern at that.

No Bear is among the Top 100 NFL players as voted on by those NFL players, in the results of the annual poll by NFL Network/ The final 10-1 selections air Monday night on NFL Network, but any suspense involves only whether Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers is the players’ choice for the No. 1 player in their game, or how the Bears can possibly match up with the L.A. Rams this season and beyond with three in the top 38 and all young (Aaron Donald, Todd Gurley, Jared Goff).

This year’s blanking follows a shutout in last year’s poll, which represented returns from more than 900 players. This year the number was more than 1,100, making the rankings more than simply the opinion of an individual or even small group.

Making them more disquieting from a Bears perspective is the fact that this marks a de facto third consecutive year that the Bears approach a season without a player whose peers rate him among the top 5 percent in the game. Because the 2016 survey (coming out of the 2015 season) listed running back Matt Forte (No. 90) as the lone Bear, and he was on his way to the New York Jets by the time his number was called.

Rankings based on opinions can skew strangely. Akiem Hicks’ absence from the top 100 is more puzzling than his finishing out of the Pro Bowl money. Same with Eddie Goldman, maybe even Leonard Floyd, to name a few.

But they aren’t there yet. And whether the Bears are bottom-third in pass protection, Nick Kwiatkoski is top-five inside linebacker, or who has a high rating in Madden ’19 can all be classed as cred-lite.

Not so easily dismissed when the evaluation is the aggregate take of nearly two-thirds of the league.

More to the concerning side, some correlation may be drawn between that index of star power and team performance, either cause or effect, or both. The last time the Bears had more than Forte representing them in the Top 100 was 2014, meaning coming off the 2013 season. That Top-100 included Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Tim Jennings and Forte – from the last Bears team (8-8) to win more than six games in a season.

Enough fingers were pointed at Marc Trestman and then John Fox for what happened on the field. But the New York Giants (2) and Houston Texans (4) had fewer wins than the Bears last season but still were represented on the players’ honor roll.

“I need to point the finger at myself as well,” GM Ryan Pace said in the wake of firing Fox. “Our record is a reflection on me as well. But I feel good about where we’re at right now. I feel much better about where we’re at right now than at this time last year and that starts with the quarterback position. We have a 23-year-old quarterback that we feel very good about that we need to build around. We need to build upon that core and fortunately we have the resources to do that.”

One of Pace’s mandates has been to bring Bears talent to a level competitive with at least the NFC North. The more than 1,100 players canvassed don’t think it’s happening: The Bears are one of only four teams (plus Indianapolis, Tampa Bay and the Jets) not represented in the top 100, while Detroit (2), Green Bay (7) and Minnesota (5) have multiple selections. Even the 0-16 Cleveland Browns boast a pair – wide receiver Jarvis Landry, running back Carlos Hyde) by virtue of their offseason moves.

Getting down to Bears cases

The Bears may be convinced that Mitch Trubisky is a franchise quarterback, but his 12 starts apparently didn’t show enough for his peers to vote him into elite status. Deshaun Watson (No. 50, six starts) and Jimmy Garoppolo (No. 90, five starts) fared better in the balloting.

Trubisky goes into 2018 as the fourth-best quarterback in a four-quarterback NFC North. Player voting pretty much confirms that, leaving him off a list that includes Kirk Cousins in Minnesota (No. 94), Matthew Stafford in Detroit (No. 31) and Rodgers (top 10). And Trubisky knows he’s got some catching up to do.

“I just feel like I know what to expect more on a day-to-day basis,” he said during minicamp. “What I need to do, how I can make my teammates' job easier — and just continue to set goals. Weekly goals, short-term goals, continue to meet those goals, keep raising the bar and get better each and every single day.”

Jeffery and Marshall are Bears no longer, but Allen Robinson is, which Pace has wagered heavily will be a very good thing. Robinson’s peers in the past have agreed: Robinson was pegged at No. 31 in 2016, coming in off his 80-1,400-14 season of 2015. He came back to produce 73-883-6 in 2016 but finished off the list, perhaps not entirely surprising after his Jaguars went 3-13 in 2016. The Bears are gambling that Robinson will return to his elite form from last year’s torn ACL; the rest of the NFL has effectively said “prove it.”

Jordan Howard’s fit in the offense of Matt Nagy/Mark Helfrich has been and will be debated until he proves himself conclusively as a receiver. And Howard and Tarik Cohen may be popular among rankers of backfields.

But not yet with their peers. Neither made the players’ list, while New Orleans placed Alvin Kamara No. 20 and Mark Ingram 43rd among the top six running backs, which include Kansas City’s Kareem Hunt.

Floyd, Goldman and Hicks? Too many Pro Bowl selections ahead of them, at least at this point.