Some tech problems for me delayed the bullets to this afternoon; my sincerest apologies. Black Monday certainly lived up to its name this year, as five teams axed their head coach. Seven teams fired coaches after last season, and four did the season before that. Plus Houston fired Gary Kubiak earlier this month. That means 17 teams will enter next season with a coach whose tenure doesn’t exceed 2 seasons. That’s an incredible amount of turmoil, even for a league that seems to pride itself on constant turnover.
- The firing with the most direct impact on the Bears? Easily the Detroit Lions canning of Jim Schwartz. I had a post on the Lions a few weeks ago, wherein I gave my thoughts on why I thought it might be time for them to consider a coaching change. They have a talented (and expensive) roster, but that talent wasn’t translating into wins. Combined with an apparent regression of Matthew Stafford and a continued lack of team discipline, and the Lions decided change was in order. As a Bears fan, I’d have been perfectly happy with Detroit continuing to underachieve. But there’s no guarantee they’ll be happier with the next guy.
- Cleveland certainly wasn’t, and I have no idea why. The Browns fired Rob Chudzinski after just one season in charge. The Browns were only 4-12, but they seemed to play hard, were competitive in many games (including against the Bears) and the roster was hardly built to win. There are rumors of some behind-the-scenes friction, as there often are; apparently Chudzinski refused to cut a player just to “make a statement”, which seems reasonable to me, but I guess that’s why they’re the Browns. Whoever they hire will be the fifth Cleveland coach since 2008. Romeo Crennel was fired in after coaching the 2008 season; he was replaced by Eric Mangini, who was replaced by Pat Shurmur, who was replaced by Chudzinski. Hey, here’s an idea: maybe all the turnover isn’t helping? It’s not like the Browns have had competitive rosters, and they certainly haven’t had decent quarterback play. And now, having seen the Chudzinski fiasco, why would anyone be excited to take the job? Why risk your coaching reputation by going there, if you’re going to be judged by wins and losses despite a bad roster?
- Also from Cleveland (and from Deadspin and @BS1999CLE) comes the world’s saddest protest, pictured above. One fan, a chair, and a paper bag. Worse, the Browns made him move across the street from his original location. (I imagine the “Charlie Brown Christmas sad piano” playing as he walks in that picture.) Stories like these make me appreciate that the Bears are at least competitive.
- Washington fired Mike Shanahan, and in typical Washington/Dan Snyder fashion, things did not go smoothly. As that Washington Post story detailed, Shanahan was stuck in the parking lot as team officials attempted to prevent media members from entering early. Then media members weren’t allowed to look through the windows, due to what the team said was a “security issue” according to the Post’s Kent Babb. FOX Sports and Deadspin both collected tweets from the media covering the debacle. Yikes. Once again, I’m reminded that there are a lot of positives for Chicago fans, chief among them the fact that Dan Snyder doesn’t own the team. (This isn’t to say Shanahan shouldn’t have been fired. From afar, it seems like it was a mess all around.)
- I said earlier that the Lions firing of Jim Schwartz had the most direct impact on the Bears, but they weren’t the only NFC North team to make a change as the Vikings fired Leslie Frazier. I think the Detroit’s move has more impact than Minnesota’s solely due to what I perceive as the talent level on the respective rosters. Frazier had coached three seasons in Minnesota, making the playoffs last year in fluky fashion. As with Cleveland, the roster (outside of Adrian Peterson) wasn’t one built to succeed, especially at the quarterback position. Frazier played for the Bears, suffering a career-ending injury on a freak play in Super Bowl XX. You could argue he overachieved by making the postseason in 2012, but apparently it wasn’t enough. Whoever the Vikings hire will have to get the best out of Matt Cassel or Christian Ponder. (Or, I guess, Josh Freeman, but that looks less and less likely.)
- Finally, Tampa Bay fired Greg Schiano in what I’d viewed as an inevitability. Most interestingly here, Lovie Smith will reportedly be the first to interview, and is considered by some as the favorite. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him land this job, and it might be a decent fit for him. I’m certainly pleased with the direction the Bears chose after last season, but that doesn’t mean I think Lovie is a terrible coach, or that he doesn’t deserve another chance.
- In Bear-centric news, the team has reportedly signed punter Drew Butler, according to ESPN Chicago’s Michael C. Wright. Butler punted for the Steelers last season before being cut this year. Adam Podlesh’s days were already numbered, and I’d think this is the first concrete sign that he won’t be back next season. Butler is the son of long-time Chicago kicker Kevin Butler, if you want an added kick of nostalgia to go with your dose of “Wow, I watched his father play” sadness. Time is certainly fleeting. (Drew Butler is only two years younger than me, and this still makes me feel old. I remember Kevin Butler. As a child, his name was the only context in which my parents endorsed my conversational use of “butthead.”)
- With the season over we can now officially kick off an Obsessive Jay Cutler Watch. On his ESPN 1000 radio show yesterday (podcast/stream available here), Cutler refused to get into specifics as to the impending negotiations. ESPN Chicago’s Jeff Dickerson has a solid rundown of his quotes on the topic here, if you’re unable to listen. Cutler said he’d be “disappointed” if a deal didn’t get done, and throughout he seemed like someone who very much wants to remain a Bear. Considering the various reports we’ve seen that the interest is reciprocated by the Bears front office, my guess right now is that he’ll be back. But things can change quickly, and it remains to be seen whether both sides are in the same ballpark financially.
- Finally, CBS Chicago’s Adam Hoge has a eulogy for the Bears season. His view is that they made significant progress as an organization, despite winning two fewer games than last season. He also has a rundown of key free agents; what caught my eye was his note that Matt Slauson and the Bears are already negotiating; according to Hoge, “a deal could come quickly.” Slauson was a nice find for Phil Emery, and as Kevin Fishbain and Matt Eurich noted on Twitter, he graded out very highly by Pro Football Focus’s metrics; he was the tied for second in terms of Bears offensive players, (tied with Alshon Jeffery, trailing only Brandon Marshall) and he was the sixth-highest rated guard in football. As an observer, I remember zero instances in which I was upset with Slauson. That hasn’t been the case in recent years for Bears offensive linemen (J’Marcus Webb was bad, but remember Frank Omiyale at left guard?) and I’d be very happy to see Slauson return. Jermon Bushrod is 29, and Slauson is only 27; combined with the youth on the right side of the line, and the Bears could be set up for a nice run of solid line play, though Garza remains a question mark, due to age, performance, and contract status. Plus, and perhaps I’ve buried the lead here, Matt Slauson has a great last name to pronounce while using a Superfan accent.
I hope everyone enjoys their New Year’s Eve.
I’m excited for what 2014 brings for the Bears, and I’m even more excited to talk about it with all of you.