(670 The Score) To hear Bears chairman George McCaskey tell it Wednesday, surviving a six-game losing streak proves a head coach’s value as much as avoiding one.
Which is ridiculous.
Nothing good ever comes from an NFL team losing six straight games after a 5-1 start. Sure, perhaps a skid that bad can reveal football character but it also can expose a flawed roster. It actually did both for the Bears but, frankly, neither development was worth celebrating the way the season ended. Yet, to a man – McCaskey, president Ted Phillips, general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy – kept talking about that six-game losing streak as if it was something worthy of a video and a special, defining stretch.
In reality, it was an ode to failure despite how much the Bears insisted on using it as the basis to find success. It’s fine for an individual player to figure out a way to turn an unexpected setback into career springboard, the way perhaps Mitchell Trubisky did. But for an entire NFL franchise to use it as justification to avoid change?
Teams serious about Super Bowls don’t think that way. Executives obsessed with championships don’t talk that way. Who talks that way after a season that included one victory over a team with a record over .500?
So if the Bears had gone 8-8 and alternated wins and losses each week, a change would've been made?
“There are a lot of teams that wouldn’t come out of the six-game (losing streak) we went through,’’ Pace said.
I'm old enough to remember when the goal was to be good enough never to lose six games in a season.
It frankly all sounded like a copout, a flimsy rationalization to explain the inexplicable decision to embrace the status quo. It fell flat, like so much else did during a 90-minute virtual media session that offered no real solutions. Face it, that was an unwinnable press conference for the Bears once they decided to bring back Pace and Nagy. Ownership’s inaction spoke louder than any words could, and the event lived up — or is it down? — to expectations. I suppose, applying the Bears’ logic on adversity, we should compliment the four men for enduring such an uncomfortable, unproductive ordeal.
There was a lot of talk about collaboration, very little evidence of imagination. The more they talked, the less confidence they inspired – and the more I realized that McCaskey and Phillips are bigger impediments to progress at Halas Hall than Pace and Nagy.
McCaskey lost the audience early when he referred to Phillips, the team president who has experienced only six winning seasons during his 21-year tenure, as “extraordinary.’’ That tone-deaf description increased the skepticism later when McCaskey claimed that lost revenues during the pandemic played no role in the decision to avoid an expensive organizational overhaul.
“It had no impact whatsoever,’’ McCaskey said.
Later with a deadpan delivery, McCaskey showed the self-deprecating humor that makes him likable when saying, “For the last couple weeks, I’ve been faithfully responding to my hate mail.’’ He also accepted criticism and tried to identify with the frustration of the fans he missed visiting before games last season in the South Lot of Soldier Field. But, speaking to the media crowd, he struggled convincing anybody the Bears could close the gap on the Packers without changing anything.
“We think the right thing at this time is continuity,’’ McCaskey said.
Naturally, Phillips echoed those sentiments but inadvertently made a strong case against Pace by asking rhetorical questions that damned a general manager still looking for his first playoff victory after six years.
“Have we gotten the quarterback situation right? No. Have we won enough games? No,’’ Phillips said. “But everything else is there.’’
What else, pray tell, is there that’s more important? That’s like a restaurateur admitting he hired the wrong chef and picked a bad location but expecting business to pick up anyway. It’s illogical.
Another memorably odd exchange came when the Bears refused to clarify the lengths of Pace’s and Nagy’s contracts, a reasonable question posed by 670 The Score football expert Hub Arkush. Truth is, the way the Bears have joined Pace and Nagy professionally at the hip, their futures will be intertwined even if their contracts aren't in sync. But, in sports, everybody knows GMs needing to win now can take different views on drafts and trades, so it was worth asking. Nonetheless, the Bears never budged or shared contract specifics, such as length and whether they included bonuses for surviving six-game losing streaks.
Everybody also universally praised the resilience that carried the Bears through that, but it wasn’t exactly the best time to brag about the cultural impact on the locker room. Just a few days ago, after the season-ending loss to the Saints, Trubisky openly questioned the culture the Bears cited as the main reason for keeping Nagy as coach. At some point, the Bears also will have to address whether Nagy’s culture of positivity also created a permissive mindset that can lead to undisciplined mistakes made by players who don’t fear repercussions. Or, is a culture that saw two Bears wide receivers get ejected for punching the same Saints defensive back two months apart one worth preserving?
Add that question to the growing list. Would everybody benefit from a change of scenery for Trubisky? Will the Bears draft a quarterback in the first round? How aggressive will Pace be in free agency or the trade market knowing the urgency of a season that could be his last? How attractive is the defensive coordinator job running an aging, underachieving unit now that Chuck Pagano has – ahem – retired?
And will the evaluation process for Pace and Nagy be just as vague following the 2021 season?
“The path to winning is rarely linear,’’ Phillips said. “Holding people accountable is much more than starting over.’’
Even if the Bears easily could've justified starting over.
There was no clear reason explaining why they didn’t. There's nothing ambitious or inspiring about the Bears bringing back Pace and Nagy, nothing that says they’re getting closer to a Super Bowl or even know the way. It merely suggests they accept mediocrity, feel immune to external pressure and value money over progress.
When the men in charge glorified a six-game losing streak to the extent the Bears did, it’s fair to wonder how urgent their demand is for winning.