John Fox

'Grizzly' worst-to-first specialist Bobby Massie wants to stay a Bear


'Grizzly' worst-to-first specialist Bobby Massie wants to stay a Bear

Bobbie Massie went through down times--both as a Bear and before that--over four years as an Arizona Cardinal. He is at the end of the three-year contract that brought him to Chicago, and the time is coming for him (and the Bears) to determine whether he is a Bear or headed to become something else.

Massie has already made that determination.

“I’m a Bear. Grizzly as hell,” Massie said, laughing. “I am a Bear through and through.”

Massie still spends some offseason time back in Phoenix, training at LeCharles Bentley’s “LB O-Line Performance” facility, but “[Chicago is] a place I call home. This is my home. I would love to be back here.

“We’ve built something. I’ve been lucky enough to be part of a culture change, and it’s like night and day from when I first walked through the door to now. It’s an amazing thing to see, just to see players who’ve grown so much. I’ve had a chance to see Mitch [Trubisky] grow from day one to now. It’s just amazing.

“I am invested. I’ll just keep playing, doing my job and the rest’ll take care of itself.”

It has so far for Massie, who knows something about turnarounds like the one in process for the 2018 Bears. If anything, he could be excused for wondering why it took so long.

The Bears right tackle was drafted in 2012, into what would be Ken Whisenhunt’s last year as Arizona head coach, the Cardinals finishing 5-11. After suffering through that, he was part of the turnaround under Bruce Arians to get their record 10-6, then to 11-5 and a wild card postseason berth in 2014, and finally 13-3 and the NFC Championship game in 2015.

After that the Bears enticed him to Chicago with a three-year deal for $18 million, of which $6.5 million was guaranteed. The Bears were coming off a 6-10 first year under John Fox, improving by one victory over Marc Trestman’s final year, and Massie was part of a free-agency sweep that netted Massie, Jerrell Freeman, Akiem Hicks and Danny Trevathan, plus draft picks Leonard Floyd and Cody Whitehair and Jordan Howard – all players from winning programs.

The result instead was a colossal spiral downwards sparked by quarterback injuries, all cascading into 2017 and a deepening quarterback quagmire in the form of Mike Glennon. The tumbling led to the firing of two-time turnaround engineer Fox.

Massie had seen the turnaround impact possible with the right coaching hire, when the Cardinals went from Whisenhunt to Arians. He has seen it, and been part of it, again in the Fox-to-Nagy course correction.

“Fox was obviously defensive-minded and this thing was built around defense,” Massie said. “Nagy came in and if you really look at it, it’s the same team, just a few pieces here and there. No drastic changes, just little things.”

He paused, then laughed: “Maybe a little more passing.

“But it’s fun again. Guys here love coming to work, practicing to get better. And considering how long we’ve been going – we were the first team to start camp – we’re still hungry.”


Mitchell Trubisky establishing durability standard; Bears not quite taking shots back at John Fox


Mitchell Trubisky establishing durability standard; Bears not quite taking shots back at John Fox

Probably bad luck to mention this:

Mitchell Trubisky’s start last Sunday against the Detroit Lions was his 21st in a row, passing Jay Cutler (20) on the list of most consecutive starts by a Bears quarterback in the past 40 years. Among quarterbacks since George Halas retired, Trubisky can pass Vince Evans’ 26 (1980-81) and match Jim Harbaugh’s 28 (1991-92) if he starts the remaining 2018 games, but will need next season to catch Bob Avellini’s 42 (1975-78).

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If there was an underlying frustration in the wake of John Fox being ousted as Bears coach, it might best be described as a shadow of disappointment at what might have been. Or should have been.

“This may sound weird,” said left tackle Charles Leno, “but with the guys we had last year, moving on to this year, you knew the culture was changing. We just had to click. We have got a great group of guys in here, I'm talking all across the defense, all across the special teams. Great group of guys. We just needed an extra push.

“Matt [Nagy] brought this.”

Leno is qualified to render an opinion. He has been through three head coaches in five NFL seasons, drafted under Marc Trestman, becoming a starter under Fox, and then came this year under Matt Nagy. Meaning: Leno was inside Halas Hall when the organizational culture plummeted under an offensive coach, started to improve under a defensive coach, then stalled and now has undergone a culture re-launch.

Whether the culture has changed with winning, or the winning is a reflection of the change in culture is largely academic to a team that is 6-3 after a second three-game win streak in its season. But the winning has produced – and resulted from – a buy-in that was absent on the offense under Dowell Loggains the past two seasons.

“We got the right head guy in here,” Trubisky said. “Coach Nagy is definitely leading the charge and we just have the right guys in our locker room to change the culture around.

“Just the belief and the trust in each other and coming to work every day, putting the work in and then just going and executing it on Sunday to be able to produce wins. It's a great vibe around the building now. The culture has definitely changed and there's a better vibe around the city in how people view the Bears and how they see us.

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So-what award?

How much Trubisky knows about Georgetown coaching legend John Thompson, or the poetry of Rudyard Kipling, is difficult to pick up in a press conference. But the young quarterback subscribes to some of their thinking.

Thompson placed zero stock in awards that were voted on, vs. something that was won. Kipling’s poem “If” offered a guide to some level-headed thinking, famously noting that:

“If you can keep your head when all about you
         Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
         But make allowance for their doubting too… .

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster,
         And treat those two impostors just the same…

…you’ll be a Man (or NFL quarterback), my son.”

Trubisky on Wednesday was awarded the honor of NFC offensive player of the week, the week after he was roundly ripped by certain national NFL writers. He wasn’t particularly fazed by the negative and he wasn’t especially interested in the positive, either.

“I don’t know, really,” Trubisky said. “You get recognized, it’s cool, but people talked so bad about me last week, so why should this week be any different?

“So I got recognized for playing well."

'Rebuilding?' Tanking by any other name… . Bears set a better example

'Rebuilding?' Tanking by any other name… . Bears set a better example

As baseball moves toward its trade deadline and its annual “buyer or seller?” debates… .

Readers of this space know what your humble and faithful narrator thinks of organizational quitting – “tanking,” in current parlance, local case studies being the Bulls and White Sox, the latter being a particularly amusing example given what was going on there about a century ago. Those Sox were banned from baseball for throwing the 1919 World Series, while members of the current Bulls or Sox have their mindset questioned for trying to win, fouling up a draft slot for an organization trying to do anything but.

Now it’s the organization that does the quitting on a season, dressed up a bit by euphemistically cloaking it with a veneer of respectability in the form of the descriptor “rebuild,” which justifies quitting on the present behind a pretext of getting back in trade some prospects, who rarely if ever reach the levels of the talent being dumped.

Players are excoriated for not running out a ground ball. But the culture of quitting has made it organizationally acceptable for not playing out a season. Help me with the math on this one, please.

It’s acceptable for an organization to quit based on a pretext of acquiring a higher draft choice or prospects via trade for supposed future pursuits of championships, but not for a player to, say, pull himself out of a game trailing by X number of runs after so many innings to save himself for tomorrow? Help me with with math on this one, too, please.

It’s all some twisting of the sports ethic involving ends justifying means, which might work. But it ignores the law of unintended consequences, and that doesn’t. The Bulls and Sox may be “rebuilding” something, but the unintended consequence may ultimately be in fact building and cementing in place a culture of losing. The Sox may come up with a catchy “Ricky’s boys don’t quit” marketing slogan, but they do quit, and get benched for it, and you do kinda wonder if somewhere there isn’t some perverse bounty system paying off for sloppy pitching, hitting or fielding.

Then there are the Bears… .

To their credit, the Bears have not appeared to subscribe to the tanking strategy. Just the opposite, and that may already be poised for a payoff (pun intended).

The Bears did need to stanch the talent bleeding that gathered speed under the Marc Trestman/Phil Emery administration. As or more important, they needed to eradicate the culture of losing that was setting in and deepening by the week.

That culture makeover was the prime directive for John Fox and was accomplished, without ever tanking.

GM Ryan Pace cited that fact even as Fox was being dismissed. “[Fox] has been a tremendous force in changing the culture and the mentality in this building,” Pace said. “He helped set the foundation for this organization to go to new heights… .

“Our guys were playing hard, competing, and that’s a credit to coach Fox and what he’s instilled.”

Which brings the conversation back around to tanking, which was never part of any Bears plan, certainly not for Fox and not for Pace, who simply took the draft slot that the Fox play-hard teams left him (No. 11 in 2016, No. 3 in 2017) and made aggressive moves to trade up for targeted players Leonard Floyd and Mitch Trubisky.

From the standpoint of the core culture, hiring Matt Nagy wasn’t a repudiation of Fox so much as building on a core of Floyd, Trubisky, Akiem Hicks, Eddie Jackson, Kyle Long, Cody Whitehair and others, and on what Fox and staff put in place. The retention of coordinator Vic Fangio and virtually the entire defensive staff points back to the original hiring of Fox, Fangio and Adam Gase to reverse the Trestman/Aaron Kromer/Mel Tucker death spiral. Had management given Emery and Trestman another year or two, best guess is that the Bears would’ve played their way down to a No. 1-overall pick.

They almost made it anyway. But the team that Floyd and Trubisky came into wasn’t in quit mode and the Bears are the better for it. There’s a lesson in that.