Bears’ GM, coach searches could be out of order

It was a cringe-worthy moment in a press conference of cringe-worthy moments. When Bears chairman George McCaskey was asked what qualities would compel him to take the unorthodox route and hire a head coach before a general manager, he responded: “We’ll know one when we see him.”

Bears fans probably didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at that. The notion that McCaskey and the leadership group that had Bruce Arians in the building in 2013 and hired Marc Trestman has some kind of intuition about football coaches not only is unsupported by McCaskey’s record as the Bears’ chairman, it’s contrary to it.

Bless his heart, George acknowledges his lack of football knowledge — “I’m just a fan. I’m not a football evaluator.” But he still fancies himself as a manager when he is not. His right-hand man is president Ted Phillips, another nice guy who has had his own share of cringe-worthy moments at these season-ending press conferences, including the acknowledgement Monday that he doesn’t regret the hiring of Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy — after the Bears had one winning season in Pace’s seven years and won zero playoff games in Nagy’s four.

“I trust Ted implicitly,” McCaskey said, “because I have great respect for is judgment, his analytical skills, his instincts when it comes to the people we’re interviewing.”

The Bears plowed ahead Tuesday in their concurrent searches for a general manager and head coach. And while they hope to hire a GM before the head coach, they’re making no promises that they won’t do it backwards. Bears are gonna Bears.

A franchise in dire need of real football leadership at the highest levels probably should have fired Pace during the season to get a head start on hiring a GM who would then hire the new coach. There’s little cost in that — Pace’s work for the 2021 season was almost entirely done after he acquired kick returner Jakeem Grant in Week 4. All his work for 2022 is out the window.

Unless the Bears hire a coach who in effect is the GM — a Bill Belichick, Sean Payton or Andy Reid — it makes more sense to hire the GM first and let him or her conduct the coaching search. That’s standard practice. But this is Halas Hall.

Be that as it may, the Bears’ initial list of coaches they intend to interview — with Hall of Fame GM Bill Polian leading the way — is impressive: former Eagles coach Doug Pederson; Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier; Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll; Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles; Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich; Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus; Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett; Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn; and former Dolphins coach Brian Flores. Then again, Phil Emery interviewed 13 candidates in 2013 and chose Trestman over Arians, so you never know.

For reference, the candidates interviewed to replace John Fox in 2018 were Nagy, Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo, Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards, Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

Perhaps the Bears are just laying the groundwork for the new general manager to hit the ground running — as they did with Pace in 2015. When Pace was hired on Jan. 8 — 10 days after Phil Emery was fired — the Bears had already conducted interviews with Seahawks defensive coordinator Quinn and Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase. In fact, Pace interviewed Bowles the day he was hired. Five days later, the Broncos surprisingly fired John Fox and Pace hired him four days later after a whirlwind courtship.

The rest is Bears history, which has led them to a familiar place — searching for the right guy to find the right guy. Just not necessarily in that order.

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