Takeaways from Brian Urlacher becoming latest Bears HOF selection

Takeaways from Brian Urlacher becoming latest Bears HOF selection

Takeaways from Hall of Fame selections the night before Super Bowl 52. Well, one in particular.

Brian Urlacher going into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot does have a certain right resonance to it for this reporter. Having had the good fortune to cover pretty much every snap of his career, sitting in golf carts chatting with him in different training camps over the years, a lot of impressions, snapshots run through your mind.

Remembering the bewildered, obviously a little devastated young rookie going into the Halas Hall back door after the 2000 preseason practice at which he’d lost his starting strong-side linebacker job…

…The very principled guy who held out for a reworked contract early in 2008, sticking up for all players who held out, telling me, “Teams can demand you take a pay cut and then even cut you, even though you have a contract; why are players the bad guys when they demand the teams change that contract, too?” (Bears GM Jerry Angelo thought Brian’s requests were fair and the Bears did re-do his contract)…

…The hurt and angered veteran feeling spurned when the Bears GM hard-balled him in 2013 about one final contract and Brian left the Bears, bitter…

…And finally the nervous guy in his Minneapolis hotel room with his family when the Hall of Fame President David Baker came to inform him that the kid from New Mexico was going into the Hall of Fame. “I heard that knock on the door and everything just settled down after that,” Urlacher said in an interview at the Super Bowl. “I was excited…. Just glad it was over after that.”

[RELATED: Brian Urlacher elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame on first ballot]

The middle linebacker position got its start in Chicago when Bears nose guard Bill George stood up and began operating in a way unlike what the NFL was used to in the middle. So on Saturday it felt somehow as it should be when Brian Urlacher, who redefined the position in his 13-year Bears career, was voted to join George, Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary in the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

He’s one of the best pure football players this reporter has ever seen, which might be a little obvious, given that the 48 Hall of Fame selectors just sent him into Canton along with Baltimore Ravens legend-at-the-position Ray Lewis, who played the same position but not the way Urlacher did (and vice versa, to be fair).

Maybe the measure of the man is how much he told me last week that he was anguishing over who’d be his choice to deliver his induction speech at Canton. Far from getting ahead of himself in the process, and laughing that it’d probably jinx things to talk about who his Canton presenter would be – Brian was just genuinely pained at the prospect of being forced to choose just one individual to keynote his HOF moment, because he wanted to share the honor and the moment with so many, and to repay what they’d given him.

“We don’t do it on our own,” Urlacher said after the selection.

Teammates said and will say so many glowing tributes to Urlacher, but it was what was said and done on the football field that formed the greatest testimonials. Defensive end Alex Brown held his feelings back all through a poor 7-9 season of 2009, a season that effectively ended just before halftime the first week when Urlacher suffered a season-ending wrist injury. When the year ended, Brown said what he knew would sound like an excuse but was the truth, that losing Urlacher gutted the team before it really had a chance to get started.

In the defensive huddle between plays, a lot of nasty talk goes on. The late Bryan Robinson, one of Urlacher’s protectors through the latter’s first four seasons, said all the grousing, talking and everything else came to an immediate stop when Urlacher came into the huddle and said one word: “Listen.”

Now he’s in the Hall of Fame, clearly having made a definitive impression on 48 selectors who include some of the most distinguished observers of the sport. Urlacher’s selection did not come easily, with him needing to finish among the top five, along with Lewis, receivers Randy Moss and Terrell Owens, and safety Brian Dawkins, in a class from which as many as 10 more will eventually go into the Hall of Fame.

Urlacher becomes the sixth Bears linebacker to earn entry in pro football’s most honored circle, a group which includes Butkus, George, Singletary, George Connor and Clyde “Bulldog” Turner (who led the NFL in interceptions with eight in 1942).

But nobody played the position, or any of the linebacker positions, like this guy.

Charles Leno, Jr. on Harry Hiestand: 'He's getting us better'

USA Today

Charles Leno, Jr. on Harry Hiestand: 'He's getting us better'

Chicago Bears left tackle Charle Leno, Jr. has outplayed expectations after joining the Bears as a seventh-round pick in 2014. General manager Ryan Pace rewarded Leno for his play with a four-year, $38 million extension last offseason, committing to the former Boise State product as the Bears blindside protector for the immediate future.

Leno joined his teammates at the team's annual Bears Care Gala on Saturday and said new offensive line coach Harry Hiestand is going to make the group better.

"We love Harry, let's just get that out of the way," Leno told 670 the Score's Mark Grote. "Harry is a great coach. I saw what he did for guys that he coached in college and the guys that were before us here in Chicago. He's getting us better."

Hiestand's efforts at Notre Dame produced four first-round picks: Zack Martin, Ronnie Stanley, Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey. He brings a no-nonsense coaching style back to Chicago, where he last served under Lovie Smith from 2005-2009. 

STANKEVITZ: In Harry Hiestand, Matt Nagy hits a home run on his first swing at Bears' coaching staff

Leno enjoyed the best season of his career in 2017. His 80.4 grade from Pro Football Focus was the best of all Bears linemen and his highest overall mark over the last four years. He finished 15th among all tackles graded by PFF last season.

Regardless, Leno still has to impress his new coach just like every other offensive lineman on the roster. The Bears haven't added any competition for Leno, but his fate as the team's long-term answer at left tackle could be decided by Hiestand.

Matt Nagy is winning over his players by being himself

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Matt Nagy is winning over his players by being himself

Despite losing 34 of his 48 games as the Bears’ head coach, John Fox’s players generally liked him and were disappointed to see him fired on New Year’s Day. That’s not to say they were blindsided by it — losing leads to people losing their jobs, even if the culture at Halas Hall had changed for the better following the disastrous end of the Marc Trestman-Phil Emery era. 

It was with that backdrop that Matt Nagy was offered and accepted the position of Bears head coach a week after Fox’s firing. Four and a half months later, Nagy has seemingly made a strong first impression on his new team, with one reason standing out among many: He’s genuine in who he is and what he does.

“I would say Nagy can be stern, and he can be playful also,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “I think when you’re a first-year coach, you want to win (over) your guys, and you want to be firm, and he’s doing that. You can’t really tell he’s a rookie coach or whatever. I feel like he was born for this, and he’s doing a great job.”

Granted, no player is going to publicly blast their new boss — especially not before he’s even coached a game yet. But veteran players also aren’t oblivious to who can and cannot work out as a head coach, and there haven’t been any “damning with faint praise” types of comments that were more common five years ago at the beginning of the Trestman era.

Will this win Nagy any games come September? No. But consider this sort of like team chemistry: It won't win a team anything, but if a team doesn't have it, it can be costly. 

“He’s a cool coach, man,” linebacker Danny Trevathan — who played for Fox in both Denver and Chicago — said. “He’s always giving us little details and smiling but we know he’s a hard worker just like we are. He’s up there working just like we are. He’s always putting us in the right position and he takes care of us. On the back end, where I come from, you take care of coaches like that. You go out and make plays for those coaches.”

From an observational standpoint, Nagy comes across as genuinely excited not just to be a head coach, but the head coach of the Bears. Players respect that approach — he's not coming in acting like a hired gun, and he's shown through these OTAs and practices that he cares about them, even if they haven't spent much time together yet. And he's also not strutting into Halas Hall every day with an over-inflated ego based on his promotion. That resonates, too. 

“I like the way he came in,” Trevathan said. “He came in humble but he was hungry. He came anxious, moving around in the meetings. I like that. That gets me fired up. I feel like we’ve got a good leader up here in the head coach.”