Culture Club

I thought it was about time to get a post up to this blog before it dies. I haven’t posted anything lately mostly because this time of year all I ever get up are game commentaries (with a little bit of introduction). I haven’t even been able to do that with the last two games being in prime time.

A student asked me the other day how long I had been writing this blog. Thinking back on it, I realized that I had been writing it semi-regularly at one site or another since the late 1990s. That’s 25 years of mostly writing about losing football. So I think you guys will cut me some slack when I say that I don’t feel like staying up late on a school night to watch the Bears get embarrassed by the Packers yet again in prime time anymore.

Anyway, with a family function scheduled for tomorrow, this would have been the third week without an entry. So perhaps it was time for me to get something else up.

Merry Christmas to all of you. Go Bears!

This morning I was struck by this quote by an anonymous scout who was telling Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune whether he thought the Bears would have been better if they had pulled off the trade for Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson last March.

“It just depends on how [Bears head coach Matt] Nagy would coach him, if the Bears had gotten Wilson. Would he have been willing to adapt more of his offensive structure more to fit the instinctual traits of Russell Wilson? If he did that, yes, they would be better because they’ve been playing a rookie and Andy Dalton. There are a lot of factors that make this offense so poor. Will Fields get there? No one knows. They’re so bad on offense right now. They look disorganized.”

There’s a lot packed into this quote that will resonate with Bears fans. But I’d like to concentrate on the last sentence. “Disorganized” is one term you might use for the Bears. But my own preferred term is “uncoordinated”. When I have used that term in the past it has usually been to indict the offensive coordinator dating all the way back to the disastrous years of John Shoop, the offensive coordinator under then head coach Dick Jauron and still to this day the poster boy for Bears futility on the offensive side of the ball. Those of you who weren’t alive or were too young to remember those days should count yourselves lucky. Those were the worst offensive teams I’ve ever seen in the NFL anywhere at any time.

Nowadays the “offensive coordinator” is the head coach. I think I have made my thoughts clear on him.

I have stated before that what separates the Bears from good NFL teams is that they don’t execute. So I won’t belabor that point. But I would like to give some thoughts on what the root of that problem is. And its not really Nagy. Not at its core.

I was listening to former Bears center Olin Kreutz on the Hoge and Jahns podcast a couple weeks ago and I think he hit the nail on the head:

“The Bears have convinced themselves that they have a quarterback issue. They don’t. What they have is a culture issue.”

He’s right.

The Bears think that they have a quarterback issue because what they want is a quarterback who can do special things to bail them out when things go badly. They want a quarterback to hide all of the other issues that they have. But that’s not what they need. Or, more correctly, that’s not all that they need and its not the primary thing that they need. Because if they built themselves a team of winners who simply execute on the field, they wouldn’t have to rely on the quarterback to bail them out nearly as much. And when they did, they would have one.

Its not going to be a surprise when I say that the Bears problem is organizational and it starts at the top. If you ask the them – and the leadership from Bears Chairman George McCaskey on down have been repeatedly – they will tell you that they have a pretty good team culture. That’s because they’ve built themselves a team with a reasonably good attitude that tries hard and always says the right things, even in the middle of a tough season when they mostly lose. They are the kind of people who will always reflect well on the organization publicly.

The McCaskey’s are really nice people. Anyone could tell just by watching them. They’re obviously a close knit, affectionate family. I don’t pretend to know them but even from afar you can tell that they are the kind of people you would love to have living next door to you. And they’ve built themselves an organization full of really nice, hard working people who are just like them. That’s their definition of a “good culture”.

The problem is that isn’t the NFL’s definition of a good culture. Good culture in the NFL means a winning attitude where players and coaches do what is necessary to get the most out of themselves and those around them in order to win football games. Sometimes, in fact most of the time, that means that everyone has to, to some extent, do things that are outside their comfort zone.

In this regard, Adam Jahns at The Athletic brought something up that has been on my mind for a couple weeks now as he discussed the possibility that the Bears might alter their organizational structure after the season.

“With the assistance of Ernie Accorsi, a former GM who became an adviser for teams, the Bears chose [current GM Ryan] Pace over Chris Ballard (current Colts GM), Brian Gaine (current Bills senior personnel adviser) and Lake Dawson (current Bills assistant director of college scouting).”

“After Pace was hired, league sources said that Ballard wanted to change the power structure of the team if he were the general manager. He fell out of the running because of it.”

I would speculate that what Ballard wanted was to take team president Ted Phillips out of the loop so that he could report directly to McCaskey. Phillips is a businessman who isn’t what you’d call a “football guy”.

Regardless, Bears leadership took a pass on Ballard, who has quickly built the Colts into a consistent competitor, because he asked them to do something that made them uncomfortable to make the organization better.

But that isn’t really the best example of what I’m talking about. In order to get to the heart of the matter you have to go back to when they took a pass on Bruce Arians in 2013 and hired Marc Trestman instead. The tough and somewhat arrogant Arians has gone on to be a consistent winner as a head coach in Arizona and in Tampa Bay. Trestman tied to run the team the McCaskey way through peace and love for your fellow teammates and lost control of the team in his second year as head coach.

On the surface, the decision not to hire Arians was GM Phil Emery‘s. But the reality is that ownership always has to sign off on such hires and Arians is the kind of person who would made them deeply uncomfortable. Arians has a candid, down and dirty relationship with the press that gives you the feeling that you are never quite sure what he’s going to say. He isn’t over the top embarrassing. Just not the kind of nice, considerate family member that everyone loves in spite of his faults. And he probably told people in the front office some things that they didn’t want to hear.

Basically the Bears took a pass on Arians because his personality didn’t jibe with their idea of a good soldier. And it caused them to take a pass on a guy who might have helped them install the NFL’s version of a good culture, just as he did in Arizona and has done in Tampa Bay.

The truth of the matter is that if you want to be successful, sometimes you have to adapt to work with people that you don’t really like. A lot of football coaches are jerks. Sometimes that’s a part of who they are and what makes them successful.

If Pace could have brought Sean Payton with him from New Orleans, chances are that the Bears would be sitting in the middle of the playoff picture right now instead of already being eliminated. But would they have ever actually considered hiring the arrogant, trash talking Payton? Past history tells us that he wouldn’t have fit into the “culture” at Halas Hall. Here’s hoping that changes sometime soon.

3 thoughts on “Culture Club”

  1. Happy Christmas Dr. Shannon. Avid follower of the blog since the beginning of school. I hope in the new year the bears will make a roaring comeback the world deserves. See you in the rooms for the spring semester

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