Sports ownership: The foundation for success

Jonathan Daniel

Sports owners have been in the news a lot lately for a variety of reasons. For the first time in a long while it actually seems like the direction of the Bears ownership is in a very good spot.

The thing about owners is that they set the tone for the franchise, but they can do it so many different ways. They can be hands on and bad at it (Dan Snyder, Jerry Jones), they can be hands on and good (the late George Steinbrenner and Dr. Jerry Buss come to mind), or they can be hands off good (Rooney family, Robert Kraft) or hands off bad (The Tribune Company's time owning the Cubs, William Clay Ford).

Owning a sports franchise isn't necessarily rocket science; it takes a lot of money to get ownership but once you have ownership, so long as you hire good people around you and have a good sense of how the sport works, you can probably find success at it.

But there are a lot of bad owners in sports. Whether it's guys like Jones and Snyder, who for whatever reason think they have the knowledge and know-how to build a championship team, or guys like Donald Sterling who seem to show no interest in having a contender, being a bad sports owner isn't particularly difficult.

Which brings me to the Chicago Bears. In their entire history they have had only one ownership group: The Halas/McCaskey family (although it should be noted that Edward "Dutch" Sternaman was a partner in the team until the 1930s). But throughout the last 94 years they've gone through ups and downs, lots and lots of highs and some definite lean years.

Papa Bear Halas is a legend in his own right and his record speaks for itself. He oversaw the Bears winning eight championships and set them on the course for their ninth.

After Halas passed, ownership was passed to his daughter Virginia Halas McCaskey who still owns the team. She falls more into the "hands off" ownership category as she has left the actual operations of the team to her children.

The first post-Halas president was her son Michael, who oversaw the team from 1983-1999. Michael is, to put it nicely, looked down upon with distaste among most Bears fans. McCaskey destructed the dominating Super Bowl XX-winning Bears and over time let his relationship with coach Mike Ditka erode until it completely exploded. McCaskey then hired Dave Wannstedt, whose time as head coach was abysmal.

Because Michael was at the helm during the lean '90's years he is mainly seen as the guy who clashed with Ditka and is the man responsible for the "McCheapskies" label that is even still sometimes thrown around, no matter how wrong it is.

Michael sealed his own fate with the botched hiring of Dave McGinnis in 1999 and he was replaced with Ted Phillips, who was and is, still, largely a behind-the-scenes guys. Michael replaced his father, Ed, as chairman of the board. The invisibility of Phillips and the fact that he replaced a man as unpopular among fans as Michael meant that fans' mistrust of the organization remained in place into most of the last decade.

That began to shift, though, when Lovie Smith arrived and the Bears began to win more. Smith and former general manager Jerry Angelo were successful to a point, and started to at least turn fans' opinion of the front office. Michael was still chairman of the board and, with Phillips as president and the Bears still managing to miss the playoffs more than making them, fans' distrust continued.

Until 2010.

That was the year it was announced that Michael would step down as chairman and his brother George would take over in 2011. At first it seemed like more of the same, he said as much, but something has been different about George.

In mid-2011, T.J. Shouse wrote that it was time for McCaskey to make his mark. It was after that season he fired Jerry Angelo. On Dec. 27, 2012, Erik Duerrwaechter speculated, with solid evidence, that McCaskey could be itching to fire Smith. Four days later, Smith was out despite a 10-6 record.

Since taking over as chairman, George has been more visible than Phillips or his brother Michael are. He's done radio interviews, he helped decide to mend fences with Ditka and retire his number (quite enthusiastically if you recall).

Overall you get the feeling that he really cares about the franchise, he really cares about winning. Since he took over he's up-ended the status quo and brought in new-age minds like Phil Emery and Marc Trestman. And if you listen to all three of them talk, they all extend the same message: sustained, long-term success, building to win multiple championships.

Chicago has seen good and bad ownership. At a time when in owners are in the news for many of the wrong reasons, it's nice to think that the Bears are in good hands for a change.

How do you feel about the Bears' current chairman?

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