Hall of Fame executive Ron Wolf has always had a healthy respect for the Bears organization despite his seminal role in the Packers’ 30-year dominance of the Bears-Packers rivalry.
“There are four jewels in the crown and the Bears are one of those jewels,” Wolf said. “There is no National Football League without the Chicago Bears. I would think that would be an ideal place to work for, because of the tradition and history of the game. You can do an awful lot with that. It’s just a marvelous place to be.”
Wolf might have a dog in the Bears’ side of that fight. His son, Patriots scouting consultant Eliot Wolf, has reportedly been asked to interview for the Bears’ general manager opening. Hiring the son of the man most responsible for the disparity between the Packers and Bears over the past 30 years to reverse that trend would be an intriguing development — especially after Eliot Wolf lost out to Brian Gutekunst for the Packers GM job in 2018. That’s a chip-on-my-shoulder story just waiting to be written.
“You have to understand that I’m his father,” Ron Wolf told the Sun-Times on Wednesday. “But let me say one thing: He is his own man. I’m delighted he’s going to get this opportunity and I know there are a lot of people also in line to get it. Does he deserve the opportunity [to interview]? I certainly think so. He’s paid his dues. It’s interesting because he kind of grew up in that division.”
Eliot Wolf, 39, never worked for his father, who retired in 2001. Eliot spent 13 years with the Packers’ personnel department, the last two as director of football operations in 2016-17. Since losing out to Gutekunst, he was the Browns assistant GM under John Dorsey — a Ron Wolf protege — and has been with the Patriots the past two seasons.
Being a part of the Ron Wolf’s family tree offers no guarantees, but for what it’s worth, Ron Wolf’s professional tree has been pretty productive. As the Packers’ GM, Wolf hired Ted Thompson, who drafted Aaron Rodgers; John Schneider, the current Seahawks GM who drafted Russell Wilson; Gutekunst, who hired Matt LaFleur; Dorsey, the former Chiefs GM who drafted Patrick Mahomes; and Reggie McKenzie, the former Raiders GM who drafted Derek Carr.
“I could only go on what people who have worked with him have told me,” Ron Wolf said, “people who have had success in the game and they’re very high on him. He’s had some good teachers: Ted Thompson, Reggie McKenzie, John Schneider — those are three pretty good ones.”
When Eliot Wolf was hired in Cleveland, the Browns were coming off an 0-16 season. He left after Dorsey was fired in 2019, but he helped acquire the talent that went 11-5 and made the playoffs in 2020.
“He has tremendous respect for the game and for the guys who played the game,” Ron Wolf said. “He knows pretty much something about everybody that’s int he game. All those things are beneficial.”
2. Speaking of Hall of Fame executives, while Bill Polian’s main job is to find a general manager, his impact on the coaching search already looks like an upgrade over Ryan Pace’s search for a successor to John Fox in 2018.
The list or reported interviews includes five former head coaches: Doug Pederson, Leslie Frazier, Todd Bowles, Dan Quinn and Brian Flores. And two hot coordinators in Byron Leftwich and Brian Daboll.
In 2018, the Bears interviewed Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards, Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo and Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy.
3. The firing of Mike Ditka in 1992 is a line of demarcation between Halas and McCaskey control of the Bears. Ditka — hand-picked by George Halas to become the Bears’ coach in 1982 — was the last major part of the organization with ties to Halas after general manager Jim Finks had left of his own accord in 1983 and his successor, Jerry Vainisi, had been fired after the 1986 season.
In 29 seasons of McCaskey family control the Bears are 217-248 (.467) — 21st in the NFL in that span. They have made seven playoff appearances — tied for 24th in the NFL in that span. They have four playoff victories — tied for 26th in the NFL in that span. And zero Super Bowls — tied for 16th in the NFL in that span.
4. Hiring a coach before a general manager would undercut the new GM from the start — unless the Bears stole Sean Payton from the Saints, or someone of his stature. Another possible exception is Jim Harbaugh, who checks the meatball boxes of being a former Bears player and having played for Mike Ditka, but also has a stellar resume, including immediate impact with the 49ers.
And with Vic Fangio available after being fired by the Broncos, a Harbaugh-Fangio package that worked so well with the 49ers, would be tempting for the Bears.
George McCaskey pushed back against the notion that he hires mostly people like himself — nice guys who get along and collaborate. “We don’t want somebody that’s always agreeing with each other,” he said. “We want vigorous debate.”
Hiring Harbaugh, who marches to his own, strange drummer, would prove he means it.
5. When Bill Polian was hired by the Colts in 1997, one of his first moves was to trade Harbaugh. It wasn’t a reflection on Harbaugh. The Colts had the No. 1 pick in the 1998 draft and knew they would have a rookie starter in either Tennessee’s Peyton Manning or Washington State’s Ryan Leaf.
Polian, in fact, did Harbaugh a favor — reuniting him with Ted Marchibroda, under whom he came one Hail Mary near-miss from the Super Bowl in 1996. And instead of waiting until June 1 to save salary-cap space he traded Harbaugh in February to give him time to get acclimated to his new team.
6. The Bears organization’s inability to communicate and manage public relations is one of the most glaring aspects of the dysfunction at Halas Hall. Chairman George McCaskey provided another example at Monday’s press conference when he addressed the “Fire Nagy” chants at Nagy’s son’s football playoff game for Lake Forest High School, with Nagy himself in attendance.
That happened on Nov. 20 and became a story on Nov. 23. George’s ire would have had a lot more impact if he addressed it then. Instead, it was just another awkward part of the dour press conference announcing the firing of Nagy and Pace.
7. Whatever happened to Tarik Cohen? Cohen’s knee injury could remain a mystery if the running back is not part of the new regime’s plans. Cohen surprisingly missed the entire 2021 season after suffering the injury in Week 3 of the 2020 season.
The irony of Cohen’s injury typified the star-crossed nature of the Bears’ offensive failure under Nagy. He suffered it on a play that is designed to avoid injury — a fair catch. But the aftermath was even more typical of the Nagy era — with Cohen never appearing close to returning and Nagy fumbling every question about a setback or complication with the rehab.
8. Is there a Halas Hall curse? It was a tough weekend for current and former denizens of 1920 Football Drive. Besides Nagy and Pace, Fangio was fired by the Broncos and former director of pro personnel Rick Spielman was fired as GM of the Vikings. And Brandon Staley’s Chargers and Chris Ballard’s Colts were eliminated from the playoffs in upset fashion Sunday.
Meanwhile, Dave Toub is merrily rolling along as the special teams coordinator of the Chiefs. That’s a coach who warrants a look.
9. Josh McCown Ex-Bears Player of the Year: Give Nagy credit for trying to utilize Cordarrelle Patterson’s versatility in 2019-20 after the Patriots role opened that door in 2018. But the Falcons did it much better in 2021.
Patterson gained 1,166 total yards and scored 11 touchdowns for the Falcons — with 153 rushes for 618 yards (4.0 avg.) and six touchdowns and 52 receptions for 548 yards (10.5) and five touchdowns.
Patterson, in fact, averaged 72.9 yards per game with the Falcons — more than four times his 17.2 average per game with the Bears.
10. Bear-ometer: 10-7 — vs. Washington (W); vs. Dolphins (W); at Lions (W); at Giants (W); vs. Texans (W); at Packers (L); vs. 49ers (L); vs. Vikings (W); at Falcons (W); vs. Bills (L); at Cowboys (L); vs. Eagles (L); at Patriots (L); at Jets (W); vs. Lions (W); at Vikings (L); vs. Packers (W). Playoffs: at Dallas (W); at Rams (L).
Note: These are the Bears 2022 opponents. The order of the games has not been announced.