The excitement of playoff time left me with a lot of extra Bear-related energy, and I was left without an outlet until reading the Sun Times article where Jerry Angelo admits that the team he constructed is not all that talented. Say what!?! Join me after the jump in an examination of Angelo and begrudged thanks to Lovie and his staff.
As we sit and await the Bears first playoff game since 2006, I've finally come to terms with the current structure of the Bears organization. I've never been a Lovie fan before, bemoaning ownership's desire to stay the course by keeping Angelo and Smith in charge after last season, but like an addict, I've come to terms with how things are, accepted the flaws and embraced the reality of the situation. Lovie isn't exactly the greatest, or even a really good x's and o's coach, at least in my opinion. But where Lovie excels is in teaching skills, motivation, and leadership. There's a reason why we've excelled this season, and why players love him. He's grown on me to the point that I accept his faults (blind faith in his defense, use of challenges and timeouts, and his zombie-like appearance during games) and praise his strengths; I'm on the bus with him, ready to run and defend in a soft zone shell. However, my scorn for our team has centered squarely on the head of Mr. Angelo, a man so incompetent he acknowledges that the Bears do not field a particularly talented team; despite the fact that he is primarily responsible for assembling said group.
As a Madden fiend, I've tried to duplicate the Bears' success this season in game-world, attempting to simulate my way into a recreation of this year's triumphs. However, Madden believes as Angelo does, that the '10 version of the Bears is not supremely talented; I've suffered through 4 out of 5 failed sim seasons, with the lone exception being a 9-7 first round exit. I couldn't believe I had that much trouble succeeding, but like Angelo, I came to realize just how poorly he had done creating this team, and what a great job Lovie and his coaching staff had done getting this group to perform.
General Managers usually occupy one of three groups: Great, Hit or Miss, and Terrible. Call these the Pioli (helped build Patriots and recreate Chiefs), Polian (has only 1 title despite best QB on the planet), and Millen (no explanation needed) groups. Angelo isn't terrible, as we'll describe below, but he's definitely in the Hit or Miss category. His ability to find success in the middle rounds of the draft is well known, but this ability also exposing his failure to find success in the first round. His self-proclaimed reliance on the draft (his spotty track record seen here) leaves the team vulnerable to filling holes in free agency or via trade, not because of his philosophy, but because of his success rate. Picks in the second (Hester, Tillman, Forte), third (Briggs), fourth (Brown, Orton) and fifth (Knox) rounds are negated by wholesale failures like second round busts Bradley, Tank Johnson, Bazuin, and third round misses like Okwo, Iglesias, Wolfe, and others. That doesn't even consider his first round picks, where GM's make their mark and usually define their job performance (in order: Columbo, Haynes, Grossman, Harris, Benson, Olsen, and Williams). I mean seriously, look at that group! Olsen is the closest to a Bear's success story we have; others have had decent careers with other teams or spurts of solid play, but nothing resembling a distinguished or solid Chicago career. If you want to partially blame Lovie, fine, but Angelo has final say and as GM, it falls on him.
These draft issues get exacerbated when you consider his refusal to invest in a respectful O-Line (one 1st, 3rd, and 4th rounder used since Angelo took over, other than 6th and 7th round hail marys), leading to an over-reliance on free agency (Omiyale, Tait, Shaffer, Brown, Garza - a mixed bag) and coaching (having to hire one of the best O-Line coaches in Tice to sort out this mess) to work the trench. The Bear's recent splurges have come from Angelo being backed into a corner because of his missteps. Peppers was a great signing, but was desperately needed because Anderson, Gilbert, Haynes, and Bazuin failed. The Cutler trade was great - regardless of the long term results - because it was a necessary gamble that could potentially take the team to new heights and fill a position void of a star for nearly sixty years. (Side note: Angelo was responsible for the Kordell Stewart-experience, plus wasting draft picks on Dan "Catch" LaFevour and Craig Krenzel). The Gaines Adams (RIP) trade was a poor idea from the start - it was like Angelo felt bad he missed a 1st-round bust like Adams in the draft, so he acquired him for a 2nd round pick to make up for his "mistake." Ogunleye was worth the 2004 trade and had a solid career with us, but again, Angelo has used almost ten picks on DE's during his time, with only Alex Brown contributing in solid fashion.
Keeping homegrown talent around with lucrative extensions has worked pretty well - Kreutz, Briggs, Urlacher, and others have led the way even in our darkest seasons - but also held us hostage at times (thanks Tommie and Nathan), clogging the field with overpaid, underperforming players that can't be replaced due to a lack of depth. Lovie and company seem to have a system set in place where it is a challenge for new players to come in and contribute right away - either through design or accident newbies bide their time, learn, then contribute (D.J. Moore, Bowman, Roach, Toeaina, Louis) or they don't (previously named laundry list of draft busts). As a young player, it takes time to contribute on a Lovie Smith team, which is a positive and negative for Lovie; that means his staff coaches players up and won't play them unless they're somewhat ready, but it also leaves the team vulnerable because of the gap between joining the team and contributing to the team. Veterans like Pisa Tinoisamoa, Anthony Adams, and Tim Jennings have helped this year because of their experience in a similar system and have been solid contributors, but two of our three free agent splashes (Taylor and Manumaleuna) have had a minimal impact. (Sidenote: Taylor officially had one of the worst years ever for a running back - glad it wasn't my money, but couldn't Kalil Bell have produced a 2.4 ypc average and 267 yards?) Manumanu was trumpeted as a major signing, but all we got was an overpaid, elephant-sized security blanket for Martz that doesn't catch balls and hasn't blocked nearly as well as advertised. Are you telling me we wouldn't have been better off or at least the same with Desmond Clark/Kellen Davis in Manu's role with his money going towards the offensive line?
In the end, my reasoning for writing this was not solely to blast Angelo (although, seriously, Dan Bazuin!?!), but to try and understand the motivation behind a man so fraudulently inept at his job to crow about how the team he constructed isn't talented. Does he think that reflects well on him? Is he trying to say Lovie is Knute Rockne reborn for succeeding with so little help from management? Or does he care so little about the fans that he can expound on his failings without consequence because ownership wouldn't fire him unless there were riots in the streets? I guess we should congratulate the coaching staff on a job well done this season, and pray that Angelo rides off into the sunset sooner rather than later. If anything else, I'll be cheering from home this weekend, but if the announcers pan over to Angelo and gush over him, I'll need to buy a new TV.