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30-Day Challenge: The Coach Who Got Away

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Every day in the month of June, we'll ask a different Chicago Bears-related question to our readers. Make sure you guys participate the entire month, so we can all get to know the WCG community a little better. Today, we dig into which coach the Bears should not have let get away.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs Chicago Bears - December 17, 2006
This man should still be coaching the Bears
Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

The Chicago Bears have been going through a rough patch when it comes to coaches. After seeing Lovie Smith plateau and fail to assemble a truly complete staff, Bears fans suffered though the ridiculous failure that was Marc Trestman (paired with Mel Tucker to make things worse) and not the conservative and uninspiring John Fox.

It wasn’t always this way. The Bears have had some excellent coaches, and they’ve had the opportunity to have a few more. That is the point of today’s exercise. Who is the coach the Bears lost out on? It could be a coach they never hired though they had the chance and should have taken it (Bruce Arians springs immediately to mind), or it could be a coach they once had on their staff but then let slip away.

Some contenders seem obvious. Adam Gase was a great offensive coordinator in Chicago, and he seems to have done wonders for Miami. Could the Bears have eased Fox out the door to hang on to Gase? As mentioned earlier, Bruce Arians was on the list of coaches considered before Emery went with Marc “Invertebrate” Trestman. Either coach might have really done wonders for the development of Chicago’s offense.

There is also a strong argument that Buddy Ryan’s departure was what undid the great Bears of the mid-80s. The tension between Ryan and Ditka drove the 1985 Bears and the animosity created something legendary. While the damage done to McMahon in a cowardly illegal hit was real, could Chicago have held on to their edge if they had just kept Ryan another year?

However, most of these seem a little speculative. There is little reason to think that Gase would have succeeded with the depleted roster the Bears had to offer last year, and there is even less reason to think that Fangio would have stood by while Fox was shown the door for a different assistant. A much stronger argument could be made for Arians, and anyone who thinks the Bears should have found a way to keep Buddy Ryan will get at least my emotional (if not rational) approval.

My answer to this question goes back to the Lovie Smith Bears. The Bears should have never let Ron Rivera go. Bleacher Report (I know, I know) considers parting ways with Rivera to be Lovie Smith’s #1 worst coaching decision. Dan Hampton, quoted in Sports Illustrated, summarized the decision not to retain Rivera simply: “Lovie stabbed him in the back.” The article in question goes on to make a fairly salient point:

Back in ’07, Rivera was jettisoned to make room for one Bob Babich, whose thin NFL résumé was trumped by his long association with Smith. Alas, Babich lacked the right stuff. In his first year replacing Rivera, the Bears plunged from No. 5 to No. 28 in points allowed.

One needs to only look at Rivera’s body of work since then to understand that he has what it takes to coach at a high level in the NFL.

Perhaps more importantly, and perhaps speaking to why he was let go, Rivera’s continued presence on the Bears could have helped to insure the lines of succession. If Lovie did need to go at some point, the popular and cunning Rivera could have taken over. However, I think it is far more likely that with Rivera to guide the defense, the Bears manage to become far more regular playoff contenders.

To be clear, the Rivera/Smith relationship captured some of the tension of the Ryan/Ditka relationship, as the men had different philosophical approaches to the game. Rivera brought an aggressiveness to the defense that was lacking in Smith’s laid-back, patient style. He added an edge. In my opinion, the Bears have needed that edge ever since.

Now it’s your turn. Which coach should the Bears not have let get away? Let us know in the comments below.