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'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."

For Bears, Super Bowl teams provide templates for multiple franchise quarterback decisions

For Bears, Super Bowl teams provide templates for multiple franchise quarterback decisions

The tagline for the Bears going into the 2017 offseason has been evident for some time, ever since Jay Cutler made it painfully clear with his injuries and performances that he is not the quarterback answer for the Bears. The natural storyline became: “The Bears have to get a quarterback.”

That’s not exactly right. In point of fact, the line confronting GM Ryan Pace and staff, coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains is more specific than that.

The Bears have to get THE quarterback.

The reason for the refinement to the mandate is right there in Super Bowl LI. Reasons, plural, actually.

It is beyond obvious that the quarterback situation involves several layers, with increasing levels of importance. First is the decision on Cutler, which, as Fox and coaches everywhere hold to, is a decision the player makes himself. Cutler has.

After that is the “bridge” quarterback decision, which may have been between Matt Barkley and Brian Hoyer at one time, but, again, Barkley made that decision for the Bears. Camp competition with Connor Shaw, maybe, but anything beyond that will be a surprise.

After that it becomes more interesting, which is where the object lessons provided by the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots come in.

The Bears hold the No. 3 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. That was the slot the Falcons owned in 2008 when Matt Ryan was in the draft pool. Selecting Ryan was not a terribly difficult call for the Falcons, since the Boston College standout graded out as worthy of the spot. (Then again, so did Blake Bortles in 2014, Joey Harrington in 2002, Akili Smith in 1999, Heath Shuler in 1994, and… you get the idea).

The 2008 draft also included Joe Flacco, who the Baltimore Ravens took at No. 18, which actually netted the Ravens a Super Bowl and playoff success faster than Ryan has gotten the Falcons.

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But that draft also featured Chad Henne and Brian Brohm, who both went in the second round, the only quarterbacks taken before Kevin O’Connell went late in the third to the Patriots.

Point being: The No. 3 pick is where true elites live — Joe Thomas, Gerald McCoy, Larry Fitzgerald, Cortez Kennedy. The temptation may be to take best-available, always a sound, reasonable philosophy, and get a quarterback in the second round. Except that it didn’t work for the Miami Dolphins (Henne) or Green Bay Packers (Brohm).

No, it has to be THE quarterback, and if Deshaun Watson has a Russell Wilson (third round) or Flacco (mid-first) grade on him, and he is THE quarterback, should be an easy decision.

Which then turns to the final decision in the process. The “When.”

The Patriots had Drew Bledsoe in place when they drafted Tom Brady in 2000, and Bledsoe was still in place to start 2001. Then he suffered a serious chest injury in game two, whereupon the Brady legend commenced.

But there was a fork in the road, and Bill Belichick took the right fork, for the organization and history.

I was covering the Patriots-Pittsburgh Steelers AFC Championship game in 2001 when Brady was injured and Bledsoe came off the bench to get the Patriots through the Steelers and into the Super Bowl.

During Super Bowl week, THE question was whether Belichick would stay with Bledsoe, who’d been given a 10-year, $103-million contract just the previous March. Belichick matter-of-factly announced that Brady was his quarterback. Period. Bledsoe, who’d gotten the Patriots to the 1996 Super Bowl, was done in New England after that, playing five more years between Buffalo and Dallas.

But the final piece was the decision to go Brady, which just as easily could’ve gone back to Bledsoe, who’d just played well in the AFC Championship game. Just as it was this season with the Dallas Cowboys to stay with Dak Prescott over owner-favorite Tony Romo.

At some point, assuming it falls something like this, Fox and the Bears will need to make a choice between Hoyer (hopefully not involving any injury situation) and “The Kid.” That decision projects to be the pivotal last call in a decision process that the Bears can only hope turns out as well as that one did for the Patriots.

Fantasy Football Start/Sit: Week 14

Fantasy Football Start/Sit: Week 14

The playoffs have finally arrived.

Let's cut right to the chase and get down to business. 

If you have any questions, hit us up on @CSNFantasy and tune in to our weekly Fantasy Fix Facebook Live show.

And as always, Liam Neeson has a message for you:

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Jamison Crowder, WR, WSH (@ PHI) - Crowder is a stud: He's scored or tallied at least 88 yds in seven straight games, averaging about 7.5 targets per game in that span. He's Kirk Cousins' most reliable target in a pass-heavy offense going against a Philly D that has really fallen on rough times, especially vs. WRs. Yes, please. (Tony Andracki)

Andy Dalton, QB, CIN (@ CLE) - Most weeks I would stay away from "Big Red", but the Cleveland Browns are the one exception. The winless Browns allow the second-most points to opposing fantasy QBs, and Dalton has been a model of consistency as he's averaging 21.2 points per game this season. Go the safe route and stick with Dalton. (Scott Krinch)

Todd Gurley, RB, LA (vs. ATL) - The Falcons allow the third-most points to opposing RBs, but more than anything, they are getting killed out of the backfield - a whopping 94 catches for 779 yards, 5 TDs and no other team is even close. Gurley has obviously struggled this year, but he's clearly getting targets and touches and regardless of game flow, may be able to attack the Falcons through the passing game. (Andracki)

Brandon Marshall, WR, NYJ (@ SF) - This is a great matchup - the Niners among the worst vs. WRs and a terrible D overall - and yes Bryce Petty throwing is scary, but with no TE in NYJ, I have to imagine the inexperienced QB is gonna lean heavily on the reliable veteran in the passing game and that's Marshall here. (Andracki)

Malcolm Mitchell, WR, NE (vs. BAL) - Mitchell has come out of nowhere to lead the Patriots in snaps at the wide receiver position the last two weeks wth 86 percent (vs. 49ers) and 85 percent (vs. Rams). Mitchell has gained the confidence of Tom Brady as the future Hall of Famer has targeted his rookie wideout a tad under 8 times in three straight games. Look for Mitchell to continue his hot stretch against a leaky Ravens secondary. (Krinch)

Thomas Rawls, RB, SEA (@ GB) - Remember Rawls' late-season rise in 2015? It's happening again. The second-year back rushed for 106 yards and two touchdowns in a Week 13 victory. The Seahawks plan to increase Rawls' carries against a Packers defense which has allowed 100-plus rushing yards in three out of its last four contests. Rawls is a firm RB1 this weekend and for the remainder of year. (Krinch)

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LeGarrette Blount, RB, NE (vs. BAL) - I'm sitting every run-first RB vs. BAL each week. The Ravens run D is the best in the NFL and they've allowed a stable of RBs to top 20 fantasy points (PPR) just one time since Week 2. Blount has been a stud in 2016, but he's strictly a run-first guy and gameflow probably won't dictate a bunch of carries to run out the clock with a big Pats lead. (Andracki)

Devontae Booker, RB, DEN (@ TEN) - You can close the book on the rookie running back. The Broncos' addition of veteran Justin Forsett to their backfield raises major red-flags for Booker who is only averaging 2.8 yards per carry this season. Expect to see a timeshare going forward in Denver with neither back presenting much upside against a solid Titans run defense. (Krinch)

Blake Bortles, QB, JAX (vs. MIN) - Copy and paste what I wrote last week and the week before and the week before that. Bortles shouldn't be rostered on any fantasy team right now. His numbers in the first three quarters are comically bad, and hoping for garbage time points isn't the route you want to take in a playoff matchup. (Krinch)

Marcus Mariota, QB, TEN (vs. DEN) - The Broncos are such a good pass defense, they actually have two more INTs than TDs allowed (12 to 10). Five times this season, Denver has held an opposing QB without a TD pass and seven times has held a QB under 200 yards. I love Mariota overall, just not this week in must-win games. (Andracki)

Jordan Matthews, WR, PHI (vs. WSH) - Matthews has just one touchdown since Week 3, and has been hampered by injuries as of late. With the possibility of being shadowed by Redskins corner Josh Norman and possibly being slowed down by an ankle injury, I can't find any reason to play Matthews this week. (Krinch)

Dak Prescott, QB, DAL (@ NYG) - A common misconception about Prescott is he adds fantasy value with his legs and yes he has 5 rush TDs, but in the games he doesn't score a rush TD, he averages just 1 extra fantasy point per game on the ground. The Giants, coincidentally, have not allowed a QB to rush for a TD yet and have given up an NFL-low 44 rushing yards to QBs. With two straight games under 200 passing yards and only 1 TD in each outing, this just reeks of a disappointing outing for Prescott. (Andracki)