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Theo Epstein May Be The Only Man Who Can Fix The Broken Bears

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The problem for the Chicago Bears isn’t that they don’t have a quarterback or a coach who can teach him. It’s not even that they don’t have a general manager competent enough to pick a coach or QB in the first place, although those things are all true.

Those are just symptoms of the problem, which is this: The Bears are a rinky dink, mom-and-pop organization, or Mama and Papa Bear. It’s not easy staying rinky dink after growing into a multibillion dollar operation. But the Bears are still just a family shop, built for the 1940s. It’s quaint to think they’re still the team of George “Papa Bear’’ Halas, founder of the Bears and co-founder of the NFL. But the truth is that even when he died, he was already way out of date, and that was 37 years ago.

So the Bears keep changing parts, but keep failing in the same way. The solution is right in front of them, and I’m not talking about Clemson’s quarterback. It’s former Chicago Cubs architect Theo Epstein.

The Bears need to talk him into being their president. Beg him into it. He left the Cubs a couple weeks ago and said he’s looking for a new challenge.

This is it. The Bears need Epstein.

Eight days ago, the Bears had a nationally embarrassing Sunday Night Football blowout loss to Green Bay, all with 97-year old Virginia McCaskey, Bears owner and also daughter of Halas, in the suites looking down on the team. Yesterday’s 34-30 loss to lowly Detroit was worse. 

They blew a 10-point lead in the final few minutes when Detroit drove 96 yards and then Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky fumbled while standing in the pocket. Trubisky is notoriously bad in the pocket, and no competent coach would have had him standing there at that moment. And no competent GM would have taken Trubisky in the draft over Patrick Mahomes. Trubisky hasn’t learned a thing in four years with the Bears.

So the outcry is to get rid of Coach Matt Nagy, GM Ryan Pace and Trubisky. But they’ll just be replaced by another Nagy, another Pace, another Trubisky. It’s the Bear Way.

The tricky part is to find the right replacements. The Bears wouldn’t know who they are.

I’ve written about this already, but the Bears should hire Jim Harbaugh as coach. He’s having a bad year at Michigan, but the bulk of his success as a coach has been in the NFL. He led San Francisco to three NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl. At the college level, he has never won a conference title. He’s a pro coach. He’s a former Bear. He develops QBs. 

Do the Halas/McCaskeys really have an interest in the nuts and bolts of football? They’re into protecting the family name and collecting checks.

I know Epstein isn’t a football guy, and you wonder if his knowledge of baseball analytics could transfer to football. That would just be a bonus.

What Epstein did in building the Cubs into World Series champions after a 108-year slump, was to professionalize the Cubs for the first time since the 1930s. They had been a rinky dink, family operation from the time Old Man Wrigley died and the family took over. The Chicago Tribune then bought the Cubs and operated from a boardroom with no heart. The Ricketts family took over and handed the keys to Epstein. The Chicago Blackhawks were a rinky dink, mom-and-pop deal too, until Old Man Wirtz died and his son professionalized things. The Hawks became a dynasty.

The best thing that could happen to the Bears now would be for the McCaskeys to sell the team. But let’s be realistic.

Epstein knows what a professional sports organization needs to look like. He’ll build one from the ground up, and the Bears will be good for years. He’ll find the right GM to pick the right quarterback.

The Bears already have a president in Ted Phillips. And two decades ago, the McCaskeys dumped an actual McCaskey, Michael, to put him in place. Phillips is a business guy who figured out how to get a billionaire family hundreds of millions of tax dollars from teachers and construction workers to get a stadium deal. 

The McCaskeys will be forever grateful. But they can give Phillips some made-up title and shove him out of Epstein’s way.

Just firing a quarterback, coach and GM won’t do it. They haven’t won the Super Bowl since the 1985 Bears. And since then, they’ve traded out plenty of parts at all three of those spots. 

The starting quarterbacks have been Harbaugh, Steve Fuller, Mike Tomczak, Steve Walsh, Erik Kramer, Rick Mirer, Steve Stenstrom, Shane Matthews, Cade McNown, Jim Miller, Chris Chandler, Kordell Stewart, Chad Hutchinson, Craig Krenzel, Kyle Orton, Rex Grossman, Jay Cutler, Matt Barkley, Brian Hoyer, Mike Glennon, Nick Foles and now Trubisky.

The one constant is Halas/McCaskey. Virginia McCaskey apparently wants to see just one more championship before she dies. She’ll be 98 in a few weeks. She’d better hurry and call Epstein before the family fumbles another one away.

Written by Greg Couch

Greg earned the 2007 Peter Lisagor Award as the best sports columnist in the Chicagoland area for his work with the Chicago Sun-Times, where he started as a college football writer in 1997 before becoming a general columnist in 2003. He also won a Lisagor in 2016 for his commentary in RollingStone.com and The Guardian.

Couch penned articles and columns for CNN.com/Bleacher Report, AOL Fanhouse, and The Sporting News and contributed as a writer and on-air analyst for FoxSports.com and Fox Sports 1 TV. In his journalistic roles, Couch has covered the grandest stages of tennis from Wimbledon to the Olympics, among numerous national and international sporting spectacles. He also won first place awards from the U.S. Tennis Writers Association for his event coverage and column writing on the sport in 2010.

2 Comments

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  1. Agree on Harbaugh as the best hire for da Bears. He’s not working out for Michigan, but knows what it takes to bring an NFL team from the dumpster to championships. He took over a 6-10 SF team, went to the NFC championship game 3 out of 4 years, got to a Super Bowl, turned Alex Smith from a really bad to a really good NFL QB, actually made Kaepernick a good QB while he was there, and runs the play action style offense Chicago needs. Chicago is no place to try to run a spread passing offense, because of the wind and weather. I like him with the Bears.

  2. Harbaugh wouldn’t be a fit for these Bears. The Chargers are in a better position for him to be successful. I agree this like many of the treadmill organizations in the NFL need to have a complete rebuild from the organization side going outwards. Just as sure as you can predict that Alabama, Ohio State and a winning Notre Dame team will always be in the College Playoff, you can take to the bank the decisions made by the Chargers, Browns, Lions, Bengals, Bears, Redskins and Jets will be the wrong ones. Those decisions start in the boardroom, and that’s where they need to be cleaned out. The generational ineptitude is staggering. I have no confidence that these organizations will do nothing but perpetuate the Jeff Fishers of this world.

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