FanPost

In 1978 Jim Finks Got it All Wrong. Let's Hope Ryan Pace Does All Right.


As of this writing, I remain upbeat about Ryan Pace as the Bears’ general manager. This year he took a big swing, and whether he connected waits to be seen. If Mitchell Trubisky proves to be as good as Pace believes the young quarterback to be, it would go a long way toward making him the best personnel man in team history for two reasons. Every team is better if it starts a great quarterback, and if Pace got Trubisky right, it stands to reason he will get a lot of other picks right as well. Archie Manning stands out as a rare great quarterback drafted by a team that did nothing else right, although Andrew Luck seems to have no luck when it comes to the talent around him. Sustained excellence in drafting rarely happens, but an excellent draft or two plus a few good ones creates a Super Bowl contender. It wouldn’t take an awful lot for Ryan Pace to become the best Bears personnel man ever, but there are two other candidates.

If you asked Bears fans of a certain age to name the best personnel man to ever run the Bears, I imagine most would offer Jim Finks. In sad reality, of course, the front office history of the Bears hardly stands with the tall trees. George Halas ranks as the most important man in NFL history, probably followed by Pete Rozelle. In the thirties and forties Halas must have been doing a lot things right because the Bears kept winning, and the NFL managed to survive the Great Depression and World War II. From 1945 through 1975 Chicago’s player acquisition skills, whatever they once were, plummeted. The team continued to embrace three yards and a cloud of dust even though they rarely achieved the three yards. The team’s draft strategy revolved around drafting linebackers, defensive linemen, and running backs. They managed to eke out a championship with a negligible offense in 1963, and drafted both a Hall of Fame linebacker, Dick Butkus, and a Hall of Fame running back, Gale Sayers, in 1965. Mostly they just fielded bad teams, usually featuring a great defender or two. For most of the George Halas tenure, the Bears personnel moves were terrible.

Although they hired Jim Finks away from the Vikings in 1974, he hardly represented a profound change in management philosophy. Finks didn’t value quarterbacks all that much, and the organization continued stressing defense and running the football. Finks hired Jack Pardee and then Neil Armstrong (the football coach, not the astronaut) to run his team, two of the least imaginative head coaches you could imagine. Then, in his first draft with the Bears, Finks drafted Walter Payton and Mike Hartenstine with his first two picks, both great choices, and both exemplified the team’s dedication to defense and running the football.

As a drafter Finks tended to achieve all-or-nothing results. In his seven years running the draft he chose three Hall of Fame players, Payton, Dan Hampton, and Mike Singletary, as well as a few standout players like Hartenstine, Matt Suhey, Otis Wilson, and Keith Van Horne. He also clung to the belief that any warm body with experience could play quarterback. In a move that would haunt the Bears for more than a decade, Finks vetoed the scouts’ recommendation to draft Joe Montana. Since the Bears already had the veteran Mike Phipps, Vince Evans, and the kid, Bob Avelini, who led the team to the playoffs in 1976, Finks said "Let’s not confuse the quarterback situation further." So, in the same draft the Bears chose Dan Hampton, they could have landed Joe Montana, but went against their better judgement.

The trade for Mike Phipps actually damaged two drafts, the 1979 draft in which Phipps’s presence inspired the team to take a pass on Joe Montana, and the 1978 draft. In fact, 1978 proved to be the worst draft in Bears’ history. They had no first round pick because they traded it to Cleveland one year earlier for Phipps. The pick in question became the 23rd pick in 1978, and Cleveland used it to draft Hall of Fame tight end Ozzie Newsome. The Phipps trade was the trade that kept on taking.

The nine players the Bears drafted in 1978 played a combined seventy-eight games for the Bears, and eighty in the NFL. For the record, that’s not a very good result.

Last Name

First Name

P

College

PTS

AY

DY

AG

DG

SB1

ADCS

Shearer

Brad

DT

Texas

4

3

3

34

34

0

78

Skibinski

John

RB

Purdue

7

4

4

44

44

0

103

Ieremia

Mekeli

DE

BYU

8

1

0

2

0

0

11

Jones

Herman

WR

Ohio State

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

Freitas

George

TE

California

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

Martin

Mike

LB

Kentucky

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

Zambiasi

Ben

LB

Georgia

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

Underwood

Walt

DE

USC

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

Sibley

Lew

LB

LSU

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

192

Key:

PTS: All picks chosen between 1 and 20 gain the team one point if the player makes the team. Every twenty picks adds one point to the value of the pick.

AY: All years played in the NFL.

DY: All years played for the team that drafted the player.

AG: All games played in the NFL.

DG: All games played for the team that drafted the player.

SB1: Every time a player wins a Super Bowl ring, the team gets one point for every year of that player’s NFL service. Losing players earn one point each. Since Tom Brady played in seven Super Bowls, his chart goes from SB1 to SB7.

HOF: Any draft pick that makes it to the Hall of Fame gets 50 points.

ADCS: After Drafter Clock Score for each player. Consider this the number of points a team

earned for drafting the player in question. Greg Olsen and Kellen Davis amassed 237 and 233 points respectively, so far, but they’re still active. They are the best tight ends the Bears drafted since 1967.

The greatest draft in Bears history, the 1983 draft, occurred after Finks left the team. He resigned in 1982 when George Halas hired Mike Ditka to coach the team without first consulting Finks. In some ways Ditka was the perfect choice to bridge the gap between the boring running offenses the Bears used, and the newer passing offenses Bill Walsh and Don Coryell introduced into the league. Like political conservatives not complaining when Nixon re-established ties with China, football purists could hardly question Ditka’s smash mouth football legacy. Ditka brought a little of the Dallas razzle dazzle with him while maintaining the façade that nothing changed in Chicago.

The downside of Ditka’s hiring was that he did not possess a great football mind like Joe Gibbs, or Bill Walsh, or Bill Parcells. In fairness, those are three of the greatest coaches in NFL history, so it’s not so much a shot at Ditka as praise for those three. Ditka’s greatest asset at the time was Bill Tobin, the man who actually ran the 1983 draft. Tobin continued to draft well and surrounded Ditka with superior talent, talent that Ditka inspired to excellence. Tobin’s influence kept eroding, however, as first Mike Ditka, and then Mike McCaskey insisted a greater say in personnel. Draft day decision making was not Ditka’s strength, and I’m not sure Michael McCaskey had a football-related strength. As fans we all like to think we can outwit the pros who do the drafting, and McCaskey possessed no more insight than the fat guy sitting on the next barstool. Ditka and McCaskey would have been better served letting Tobin choose the players for them. I know Tobin tended to be arrogant, but just because you’re arrogant doesn’t mean you’re not good at your job.

Finks is often credited with building the Bears’ lone Super Bowl champion, but Bill Tobin played a bigger role, and was a better personnel man. Finks saw up and down results during his tenure. His highs were very high, but his low was the lowest in the team’s Super Bowl era history, 1967 to the present. Pace stands a reasonable chance to become best personnel man the Bears ever hired, but he hasn’t proven anything yet. On the other hand, his 2016 draft class already played in 101 NFL games, and his 2015 draft class played in 96 games. He’s beaten Finks’s 1978 class, so I guess that’s a start.

This Fanpost was written by a Windy City Gridiron member, and does not necessarily reflect the ideas or opinions of its staff or community.