If you’re experiencing the feelings of ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ while following the “will they or won’t they” aspect of the Chicago Bears’ future, just know you are not alone. Not that you aren’t obsessing about what the Bears SHOULD do, but there is definitely a cloud of uncertainty hovering above Halas Hall. So much is muddied up right now, so let’s try and sort through it.
Bears at a Crossroads
The mere mention of “crossroads” put this song in my head. Good luck getting it out of that space.
Anyway … that’s where the Bears are right now. For the second time in as many years, January marks a place where Chicago’s football team finds itself at a crossroads. They need to take a firm stance and go convincingly in one direction. And yet – deja vu – the Tribune’s Brad Biggs hints at the team staying the course in one possible fashion.
“That is the undercurrent of discussion among folks around the league with speculation general manager Ryan Pace will remain employed,” Biggs writes. “There is no doubt from anyone Nagy will be fired — perhaps as soon as Sunday evening — but league sources have said for some time word is Pace will find a way to make it to an eighth season with the organization, and that buzz has only amplified the last two weeks.”
Of course, Biggs adds one sentence later that “nothing is certain” regarding Pace’s future until George McCaskey speaks. The Bears chairman hasn’t spoken publicly since January 2021, when he was trying to sell hope on the back of “collaboration” between ownership, management, a GM entering a lame-duck year, and a coach beginning the season on the hot seat.
The growing buzz that Pace will remain within the organization is wrapped up in additional uncertainty when it comes to his role. Is he getting the John Paxson treatment, broomed into a nice titled position, but without decision-making authority? That would keep him in the extended family, but out of direct football operations. Will they actually promote him and allow him to hire a GM? Would retaining Pace allow for the team to recruit a high-profile head-coach candidate who wants more of a Bill Parcells role in coaching while having a hand in player-personnel decisions? Or would it prevent the Bears from actually landing a top GM, since he’d know he wasn’t the top decision-maker?
There’s also the Ted Phillips stuff to consider. Is his role fundamentally changing, too? How does that coordinate with whatever happens with Pace?
In the end, it’s all a mess. Hence, the varying reports from many different corners.
Potential Scenario for House-Cleaning Still Exists
Much like yours truly, the Bears could use a thorough house-cleaning to really shake things up. So, part of me finds so much of this to be relatable (but in different ways, of course).
And while Biggs is on one side of the aisle, Jeff Hughes of Da Bears Blog is on the other end with a different perspective:
Huge Thanks to our guy @dabearsblog for Joining Us on the Show Today.
Jeff Broke a Little Bit of News on the Show 👀 with Regards To Ryan Pace's Future with the Bears.
— The Irish Bears Show (@IrishBearsShow) January 7, 2022
This is essentially the first word from any football thought-leader that both Pace and Nagy will be fired after the Vikings game. Hughes, a long-time fixture on the Bears writing scene, has come through with accurate reports in the past. Perhaps he is dropping another one in the clip above? In any case, it’s a situation worth monitoring.
Breer in the Middle
Albert Breer (Sports Illustrated) is stuck in the middle. Breer believes Pace has “a decent chance to survive” the winds of change, but isn’t emphatic in doing so. However, Breer comes off as having a stronger feeling as to what the Bears might do in terms of a head coaching search.
Pending Nagy’s departure, the head-coaching search feels like it will be more expansive than it was in 2018. Breer name-checks Colts Defensive Coordinator Matt Eberflus and Patriots LBs Coach Jerod Mayo as possible candidates on the younger end of the spectrum who could be Bears fits. There is also yet another mention of Leslie Frazier’s possible candidacy. And it comes with this nugget:
It’s also worth noting that owner George McCaskey has been very involved in the NFL’s diversity efforts, and the league has been bullish on the candidacy of Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.
That’s now not one or two, but three times this winter Frazier has come up in connection with the Bears gig this offseason. And it’s the first such occurrence that links George McCaskey, albeit indirectly. That the Bears’ chairman has an involvement in the league’s diversity efforts and has an easy connection to a top candidate is nice. But I hope – if they do interview Frazier – this isn’t one of those token connections, with skirting the Rooney Rules in mind.
As for some of the bigger splash names, Breer notes the Bears have come up in connection with Jim Harbaugh and Sean Payton, both of whose names would arrive in Chicago as top billing no matter who is in place as GM. But Breer hedges, adding he doesn’t believe the team would get in a bidding war for either’s services. Again, this remains a wait-and-see situation.
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Odds and Ends
• Jarrett Payton, a Chicagoland media multi-platform star and son of Bears legend Walter Payton, chimes in with some thoughts after speaking with a former NFL head coach:
— Jarrett Payton (@paytonsun) January 6, 2022
• On the one hand, Pace’s involvement could ultimately scare some folks away. But on the other hand, it’s tough to prognosticate who fits where and which coaching candidate would want what while not knowing what the power structure looks like moving forward. Then again, any candidate coming in will want to know — no matter what the structure looks like — what the 4-1-1 is during the interview process. Right now they’d be as unclear on the situation as we are.
• Notably known in some circles as a chief Bears troll, Peter Bukowski shares a nugget from Yahoo! Sports reporter Charles Robinson that could have varying impacts on the Packers and their rival to the south:
Charles mentions him as a great candidate in Chicago.
— Peter Bukowski (@Peter_Bukowski) January 7, 2022
• Nathaniel Hackett won’t be the sexiest name to surface in this hiring cycle, and because Matt LaFleur handles play-calling duties that are ultimately carried out by Aaron Rodgers, there will be ample push-back should he interview. But the diversity in Hackett’s background in terms of coaches he has done work under should work in his favor. Not only is he a branch on the LaFleur tree, Hackett has been under Jon Gruden (Buccaneers 2006-07), Dick Jauron (Bills 2008-09), Doug Marrone (2013-14), and Gus Bradley (2015-18). There is value in not being in just one system for a long time. *cough*
At minimum, picking Hackett’s brain as a fact-finding mission to get intel about the Packers should be something the Bears do this offseason.
• Guess we’ve gotta keep tabs on the Raiders again, as they’re the other team consistently mentioned in connection with Harbaugh:
My little birds are chirping. Could be an announcement on the next Raiders head coach sooner rather than later, depending on how the team does this weekend. And if the birds are correct, it'll be a HUGE move. pic.twitter.com/o5mxxv3LDw
— Michael Fabiano (@Michael_Fabiano) January 7, 2022
I believe so
— Brad Spielberger, Esq. (@PFF_Brad) January 7, 2022