Tom Brady is nothing if not versatile, with multiple uses as an object lesson or template. The temptation can be to over-apply him: You can get a franchise QB with a late-round draft pick. You need a tall guy back there. You don’t need a speedy, mobile guy to win big. Stuff like that.
But amid the too-convenient applications of Brady are a couple that relate to where the Bears are and possibly are going with Mitch Trubisky.
This is not even remotely a Brady-Trubisky comparison. It’s an assessment of what Trubisky gained from his one year with John Fox as his head coach, of what worked for Brady that is analogous with Trubisky’s situation – and why ultimately the most important individual responsible for Trubisky is not his head coach, offensive coordinator or QB coach, but the general manager that landed him.
Last point first: Ryan Pace made the final call on the player, and the player is the sine qua non in all of this. Coaches can develop and even maximize talent but they can’t install it. Bill Belichick (the decision-maker in the 2000 draft) hit on Brady, otherwise...
The talent base was/is clearly in place. Assume for analysis purposes that the same at some level is true for Trubisky. Why that’s of note is because Brady has labored under a defense-based head coach and a succession of offensive coordinators. For Jay Cutler, for instance, that was an excuse (whether he was the cause of or the under-achieving result of coordinator turnover), but not for Brady over his New England time: Charlie Weis (2000-04), no official coordinator (2005), Josh McDaniels (2006-08), no official coordinator (2009-10), Bill O’Brien (2011), back to McDaniels (2012-present).
Point being: It’s not about the coach.
Trubisky comes into 2018 under his third offensive staff in three years – North Carolina’s, the Fox/Dowell Loggains Bears, and now the Matt Nagy/Mark Helfrich administration. But what Trubisky, a self-described gunslinger by orientation, took away from his Fox year was what Brady developed under his own defense-based head coach: Protect the football.
Brady had an interception rate of 4.3 percent at Michigan. In his first six seasons under Belichick, he was better but not good, never above 2.9 percent but never below 2.3 percent. Early on, Brady was careless with the football, to the point of at one point being schooled to keep two hands on the ball at all times in the pocket. Belichick wanted ball security as the first absolute, demanding a West Coast variation that eschewed risk, fine with more horizontal than vertical passing.
The concept took root, to the point of being the foundation of Brady’s game. Over last nine years, Brady only once was as high as 2.3 percent interception throws and was sub-2.0 in seven of the seasons. Fox didn’t have a good run obviously, but Trubisky got it as far as ball security and has credited Fox and Loggains, both of whom drilled that into him, as Belichick and his offensive staffs did Brady.
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Very likely that this isn’t totally unusual in spasms of coaching turnover, but isn’t it a little curious how many of the new hires are coming into their jobs off poor performances?
This doesn’t obviously include New England coordinators Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia, who are finishing out their Patriots careers with one last trip to a Super Bowl before presumably heading to Indianapolis and New York, respectively.
But Matt Nagy owned his of the second half in the Kansas City Chiefs’ playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans. Pat Shurmur was available to take the New York Giants job because his Minnesota Vikings offense went eight possessions after an opening-drive touchdown without scoring a single other point. One-time secondary coach Steve Wilks takes over as Arizona coach after coordinating a middling Carolina Panthers defense (26th in interception percentage, 20th in yards per pass attempt).
Mike Vrabel’s Houston Texans defense sans J.J. Watt ranked 29th in yards allowed per play, 20th in yardage, 26th against the run and 21st in sacks.
Also: The NFL has had its share of good-ol’-boy networks. One seems to be out of fashion, this offseason at least, and the Bears are part of the change.
Notably, in the 2018 head-coaching hires, the majority of new field bosses are first-timers in that job. Not all; Jon Gruden is going back to Oakland, and ex-Browns coach Pat Shurmur is getting a second chance with the Giants. Same for McDaniels, by all reports to be bound for Indianapolis where the Colts believe he is rehabilitated from his Denver debacle.
But more veteran coaches with two or three coaching billets are being supplanted by first-time head coaches:
Team Exiting coach Was HC at: Replaced by
Cardinals Bruce Arians Colts (interim) Steve Wilks
Lions Jim Caldwell Colts Matt Patricia
Bears John Fox Panthers, Broncos Matt Nagy
Titans Mike Mularkey Bills, Jaguars Mike Vrabel