Finding a new Head Coach is difficult business, especially replacing one with as much success as Lovie Smith. Phil Emery's challenge to the Bears may have meant he bit off more than he can chew.
Blaise Pascal has always been a favourite of mine since middle school philosophy and mathematics classes. His writings to the scientific method, probability, and statistics. His knowledge and diversity always seemed to inspire new methods in so many areas. His background in analytics let him adapt to any situation he was in and develop his thoughts in whatever realm he wanted to, whether it be mathematics, analytics, mechanics, economics, writing or philosophy.
In a lot of ways, Blaise Pascal is a model for intelligence being applied to the situation at hand, and part of Pascal's genius lain within that flexibility. Being good at being well rounded often times allows you to adjust your talents for your position and bring creative fresh approaches to old problems. Sounds a bit like the current situation up at Halas Hall? Of course it does. We know the struggles that the Bears have faced over the past, oh forever, have been chalked up to a general organizational dysfunction when it comes to offense. Creativity has to be part of the answer. The Cubs are looking for it with Theo Epstien, the Bears started looking at it when they came to Phil Emery, these forward looking GM's who are providing fresh ideas to old organizations with a history of curious ineptitude.
After listening to Phil Emery's pitch on the direction of the organization, I was impressed by the way he characterized the organization, how he broke the important parts down and addressed them: the struggles with the line, to the failings of the offense, the difficulties of playing the free agency market, about utilization of personnel and the value of using external data in the trust, but verify, method of scouting. They are smart things, things I appreciate, things I think that make a great foundation in developing strong rosters and building resilient teams. Over the past year, I've seen his actions and his motions to solidify the same thing.
Emery's thoroughness is enlightening, it's a change of pace, but, I'm not going to tell you that throwing a million words out, regardless of how thoughtful they are, makes his decision making better or worse. Organization, motivation, and dedication are all positives, but they also can breed systemic issues if the calibrations are off. Like a compass that thinks that north is actually north-east, the consistency doesn't matter if you're not going the right direction. When Emery said he wanted a more media friendly coach, someone who has high energy and warmth. I started to worry a bit. Yes, it was sandwiched by leadership and intelligence, but, those words: 'media friendly', specifically, were words that caused me pause. Those words weren't necessary, they weren't forced, but they were purposefully placed there.
What makes a good coach? If you said 'media friendly', check yourself at the door.
Regardless of what appears to be George McCaskey's desire to open up the locks after nine years of shut-lipped Lovie Smith, nothing about coaching has to do with how you relate to the mostly abhorrant Chicago press cadets. All of the lauding that Rosenbloom, Telander, and Morrissey have done over Emery's ability to relate, and their constant poopoo-ing at Lovie's perpetual shunning of them reminds me how they shouldn't be there to appease them. Coaches and players shouldn't have to waste their time buttering up to media types to improve the standings of the organization. The Bears are, and have (mostly) always been, a highly respected organization with class and dignity. What's won is on the football field, and not in the pressers, and Emery's nugget there had me wondering.
Emery's a scout's scout. He's great with identifying weaknesses on the field. But we assume that these things translate over to being able to make organizational decisions. We can assume with fair certainty that Phil Emery is a smart, intelligent, 'football person', but does that mean he has the aplomb to transfer that to the various acts a general manager has to access? I have lofted praise on Emery for his work in building the team, for his efforts in scouting and drafting. But, we can't assume that that his skills, as we've seen, means he's going to find the right Head Coach for the Chicago Bears. Yes, he's going to put the time, the effort, the dedication in. But even when you have all of those, it doesn't mean you will make the correct choice. Look at Scott Pioli's track in Kansas City: would anyone believe that Pioli was somehow less of a hardworker, less detail oriented, or less devoted than Emery? How did Todd Haley turn out? Buddy Nix's choice of Chan Gailey in Buffalo? Nix had a great history in San Diego in scouting during the early parts of the 2000's (and some 11 of his drafted players made the Pro Bowl in a few years), came to Buffalo, installed his guy, his guy didn't live up to his billing. It's a different skill set. It's not like Buffalo or Kansas City have had bad drafts while they've been there, they've just had coaching that's been questionable, and that stems directly from the General Manager.
Moon Mullin mentioned on CSN Chicago, the Head Coach has to have the ability to work with Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall or else the task of rebuilding will be destructive and difficult. We look back at Todd Haley's first few years in Kansas City and his relationship with his key, veteran players, or Josh McDaniels in Denver to be even more stark, and any new coach walking into locker rooms with lots of veterans comes with a penalty of being an 'outsider'. When teams are primed for winning, like the Bears currently are, the right coach can't come in and have things 'their way or the highway'. It works when you're rebuilding teams from the ground up, like the Colts, where veteran leadership was cleaned out, you get these fresh, new players have a message you can build in them. This is an established locker room, and the job is the most attractive because it's established and talented in key areas. It takes a careful touch like Jon Gruden did in Tampa or Ken Whisenhunt did in Arizona to turn locker rooms filled with guys like Brad Johnson, Keyshawn Johnson, Ronde Barber and Derrick Brooks or Larry Fitzgerald, Kurt Warner, Adrian Wilson, and Karlos Dansby, into a team that works together without egos. When you can't harness it, you end up in situations where your key players start standing up, demanding trades, locker rooms become toxic, and players play down to their emotions. What makes the Bears great is their age and experience defensively, but the team has to improve offensively (as I mentioned earlier in the season) while the defense reloads as those great players start to decline.
If the Bears fail to improve offensively and a rift between the offense and the Head Coach appears, the Bears will experience long term struggle in trying to find new skill players on offense, and valued, impactful players on a rapidly aging defense. It'd makes Phil Emery's job extremely difficult to handle, in a situation where you 'can't miss' on multiple players to fill key roles on both sides of the ball in order to stave off full catastrophe. These next two years are extremely critical, and finding the right coach is the legacy that Emery provides.
Now, I've been more than critical about the timing of Emery's firing of Lovie Smith. I look at decision charts, and not just results, to try to form a hypothesis for Emery's logic here. Emery and I agree that in the metrics that most would point to on offense (the pressures and drops), don't correlate to success on offense. He noted that San Francisco is just a small margin above the Bears in pass protection issues (which I don't feel is surprising), and that other teams who are in the playoffs suffer from inconsistent drops as well. I'd contend that just having one or two of those back would have landed the Bears back in the playoffs for the second time in three years, and yet another week to stave off this conversation. Emery concluded "I still think it comes down to: how many playmakers do you have opposed to the team that you're playing?", which I agree with, on offense, the Bears' injuries and muted play calling have lead to the playmakers not having the same impact we saw at the beginning of the season against the Colts and Cowboys. But his conclusion was: Lovie Smith, regardless of circumstances, is unable to fix what ails Chicago, to effectively use the playmakers the Bears have and win games with them, with or without the help from himself.
I looked at it differently. I saw injuries. I saw a hampered, weak system that was done no favours by a line that could not run the ball. I saw an OC adjusting and adapting the line to try to improve the effectiveness of a QB that struggled with staying healthy. I saw an under-utilization of Matt Forte. I saw the struggles that receivers not named Brandon Marshall had for most of the season that can't all be attributed to poor play calling. But I also saw potential, loads of it, and that potential is there regardless of the coach at the helm.
I postulated the other day to Kev H, 'If Lovie stayed, how many times do you think he would have made the playoffs in the next, say, 4 years?'.
When you look at coaching changes, I feel you have to look at the status quo in all situations. You have to look at the trajectory, not just the past performance. You can't look and say, because he made 3 playoffs in 9 years (33%), he's going to probably be in the playoffs 1.33 times in 4 years (33%). Nor does that say anything of the quality of playoffs the Bears might possibly have. Given the talent, and the inconsistencies this year, if nothing was done next year other than 'stay healthy', the Bears would likely go 10-6 once again, maybe a little better when facing the 3rd place teams, and likely make it to the playoffs, and maybe have some success.
This brings us back to Pascal. One of Pascal's famous works was his Wager, a classic work that solidified the foundations of probability and decision theory. Applying that decision chart to the Bears situation, as of last week, I look at three possible scenarios that the Bears could be in the short term where we assume Phil Emery indeed is as good as advertised in talent acquisition, and one where he shows considerable flaws in talent acquisition over the next 2 years, and then where the Bears will be in the long term after such scenarios come to play.
|Decision Option||Solid Emery||Mediocre Emery|
|Keeps Lovie & Tice||Addresses the offensive line to allow Tice to call more consistant plays. Addresses Tight End to help Cutler attack the middle of the field better. Adds cornerbacks and and Linebackers to provide for smooth long term transitions. With enough talent on the offensive side of the ball, even I could produce something meaningful when paired with that defense.||I described this situation above with Kev, and how, assuming the Bears remain healthy, they're likely to do no worse than 10-6 next year, even with a weak influx of talent.|
|Prognosis||12-4, fairly deep playoff run||10-6, possible playoff run.|
|Fires Lovie, Hires the Wrong Coach||Addresses the same offensive parts necessary, and likely includes another wide receiver, less concern with the aging linebackers (because defensive transitions are likely). Few players leave/trade/aren't playing to potential. Defense regresses a bit or offense doesn't improve enough to balance the other..||Worst case scenario, where incoming talent doesn't match outgoing talent, coaching fails to develop and work well with current players. New schemes are implemented too soon, players have trouble adjusting, but there's still success because of talent. Line doesn't improve|
|Prognosis||Likely 10-6 again, still playoff potential.||10-6 or 9-7.|
|Fires Lovie, Hires the Right Coach||Addresses the same offensive parts, maybe less on the wide recievers (Emery did note that Bennett's potential was undeniable). Locker Room is stable and willing to play hard. Offense improves and Defense does not regress significantly and Emery is able to spend valuble picks reshaping the defense in the meantime.||Turns the organization into their image, complete with flaws, ends up much like the Giants, where they're in a tough division (like the NFCN) and might get streaky. Does the same, if not better than Lovie & Tice would have done with the same.|
|Prognosis||12-4+, fairly deep playoff run.||11-5, again, playoff contenders.|
|Decision Option||Solid Emery||Mediocre Emery|
|Keeps Lovie & Tice||Offensive woes continue, unlikely to be a top ten unit in passing, maybe top 10 in running. Some key pieces retire, but defense has young talent that is resigned and drafted.||Defense declines slightly, but seems not to be much worse than 2009 Bears, offense will probably not be in the bottom 5, but in the 15-25 range. Transition from old defense to younger without much fanfair. Like life with JA.|
|Prognosis||.500+. Better than it was under JA, more like this year.||.500|
|Fires Lovie, Hires the Wrong Coach||Full rebuilding mode, maybe a new coach is hired, team gets younger, new schemes are in place and the Bears are loaded with talent but struggling to turn the corner like the Lions.||Bears fade into the Dick Jauron years.|
|Prognosis||.333 or so. Maybe few 8-8/9-7 seasons.||You don't want to know|
|Fires Lovie, Hires the Right Coach||Bears improve dramatically on offense, and defense slips a bit from it's perennial top 5 ranking. Develops QB behind Cutler. Rivals Packers as best team in the NFC with balanced offense and good defense.||Bears develop some talent well on both sides of the ball and become slightly better than mediocre. Talent gap still exists between Bears and top teams that hampers their ability to win with consistency year in year out.|
Looking at these outcomes, even though they're a bit simplistic, leads out a few conclusions.
1) Firing Lovie right now may not make the team, results wise, better next year, if both rosters are added to appropriately.
2) Finding the right coach is imperative for the long term success of the Bears.
3) Going into full rebuild mode might be the modus operandi in 3-4 years if the Bears offense doesn't produce like a top 15 team on offense
It's puzzled, because on one hand, I think of Phil Emery as this guy who knows player talent, and who would be able to assemble the Bears a competent offense squad next year that would have developed into something that would actually be what Lovie coveted, that can run and set up the pass. While it may have not be explosive, it would likely be effective enough to sooth a lot of the offensive nagging issues of scoring points and converting easy third downs. But, Emery decided that he knows best, and takes what appears to be the safe bet, and casts it aside to go for the conversion on fourth down on your opponents 15 yard line over the sure points. We can criticize coaches for wanting to try for the conversion over taking the points. But, as always, there's things you have to account for before you make these decisions: What happens if you convert? What happens if you don't convert? What happens if you take the field goal? What happens if you miss the field goal? There's general odds that you can work out for each position, and there's the contextual odds you also have to look at, are you facing a team that has trouble scoring points? Or a team that's slow to gain points?
But really, the big question is this: How many more opportunities will you have to put points on the board?
With the team, as is, the Bears are going to be able to hand off to any coach, provided they don't blow it up like Josh McDaniels, and have the same success that we'd see under Lovie in the short term. The talent that made the Bears a 10-6 team is still in place and not going anywhere. The Bears with Phil Emery providing good talent to the roster, would be a force to contend with for quite a few years regardless of whatever action they took. Reaching the playoffs next year should be an easy goal, considering the Bears were inches away from the playoffs with an immature, under-developed, and under-utilized offense. But the real barometer of success for Phil Emery has to be not only will the Bears have success in the short term, but how much more success will they have over who they replaced, not just next year, not just the year after that, but for quite a few years. Because, if the firing of Lovie indicates anything, being consistent isn't the aim of the organization, winning nine games a season with good, but never the best talent isn't what the Bears are looking for anymore. Winning a Super Bowl is, regardless of any possible regressions at hand picking the wrong coach might entail.
And these thoughts, these thoughts give me pause when endorsing Phil Emery, that the man who we believe rational by all appearances, may be less certain in his coaching decisions than in his player personnel decisions. He may approach both in the same way, but if he handles himself the way he decided Lovie's fate, while correct in analysis of weaknesses and shortcomings, but incorrect in application of a fix, I have healthy concern about his ability to chose the next coach of the Chicago Bears.