In May 2016, Charles P. Pierce wrote about the Cubs winning the World Series as the last great American sports story for Sports Illustrated. It was the unthinkable dream that so many failed to realize over more than a century of futility. But finally, in November 2016, it happened with Theo Epstein calling the shots. It’s something I’ll never forget and will cherish forever.
Epstein resigned from his post last week, with his reign in Chicago officially ending last Friday. Moving forward, Epstein can do pretty much anything he wants. He’s 46, dabbles in all sorts of things, and figures to be highly sought after now that he’s stepped away from baseball. Based on his interests, part of me expects Epstein to pursue something outside of the sports realm (though he may be hoping to lead an MLB expansion team at some point).
But if Epstein is up for a different sports challenge, I have the perfect job for him.
Because if winning a World Series with the Cubs is kin to catching a white whale, then finding the Bears’ franchise quarterback is like stumbling across Big Foot.
No, this isn’t a Hire Theo Epstein Post Because He Did That Thing Once (twice). Instead, this is a pitch to re-form, re-organize, and modernize the Chicago Bears’ front office.
To be clear, I do not want to entrust Epstein with finding the quarterback on his own. Not that I don’t think he can’t do it. However, Epstein has no experience in scouting football talent. And no, that fantasy football league with Jed Hoyer and his other cronies doesn’t count. So it would be irresponsible to put the quarterback hunt solely on his plate.
Instead, my interest in hiring Epstein would be for him to recreate at Halas Hall what he did at Clark and Addison. Separate the business side from football ops. Turn Ted Phillips into football Crane Kenney with a fancy title that puts him at the top of the business side of things. Once that is settled, get to putting together a scouting and development machine that does it better than anyone else in the game. Build out a winning organization by hiring the best football people. Expand scouting and coaching departments. Get analytics people involved in all facets. Re-think football, because whatever the Bears have been doing hasn’t led to any period of sustained success since the 1980s. Clearly, something must change.
Let’s face it. The Bears have been around for far too long to not have figured out how to get it right at the most important position in the game. Everything they have tried has failed. Early-round picks? They haven’t gone down this road enough to properly address the position, but clunkers like Cade McNown and Mitchell Trubisky come to mind when thinking about the times they tried. Late-round rolls of the dice? Let’s not re-visit that cast of characters. Trade swaps? Jay Cutler being the best QB of the Bears’ modern era tells you everything you need to know. Free agents? I’d rather not think about those guys. So while Epstein’s arrival wouldn’t guarantee anything, better process and an upgraded organizational structure feels like a good place to start.
Chicago’s football team needs an organizational restructuring. Full stop.
Watching the Bears now reminds me of what I was feeling about the Cubs in 2011. And that feel undeniable feeling leads me to believe that fresh eyes on old problems need to make their way to Halas Hall. Moreover, it needs to come from the top and go all the way down to the bottom. Watching other teams while the Bears were on their bye was a cold reminder of how behind the times this franchise is, specifically when watching offenses elsewhere. At minimum, a much-needed modernization is required. There is no denying that much.
And then I think back to Epstein’s opening press conference in Chicago and realize the goals he set out for the Cubs back then can be applicable to the Bears now.
• Preserve the things that make the Bears special, while simultaneously building a solid foundation that ultimately delivers sustained success.
• Present a clear focus on scouting and player development. Hire “the best and brightest.” Unearth the next, great competitive advantage via research and development.
• Realize that there are no short cuts and that whatever happens moving forward is going to be a process. And be transparent about it.
If writing it made it so simple, everyone would do it.
But for the Bears, they need to put the wheels in motion instead of going back to the well they’ve been going to for decades. Do it to bring the organization up to modern standards. But also, do it to conquer the last great challenge in sports — finding the Bears an honest to goodness franchise quarterback. For that to happen, change at the top needs to be made. Is anyone up for it? Or better yet, is anyone up for asking someone who understands the process?