An NFL regime has to possess a detached arrogance to justify its management. The people making the acquisitions, cuts, and draft picks know that they’re not inherently smarter or more calculating than their competitors. They understand they’re not reinventing the wheel, discovering fire, or inventing language past cave drawings and hieroglyphics. What they believe they’re doing is optimizing the very use of the wheel by placing it on three-ton hunks of steel, but differently. Fire used to cook the meat they no longer have to hunt for themselves burns, but stronger and differently. Epic books, plays, and essays of tragedy, policy and romance are crafted by them, but differently. And in each of these instances, their “different” is not only an unintelligible contrast in style, it’s also “better.”
A reasonable explanation for their efforts might not be possible (because it doesn’t exist), but yes, their process is more efficient and successful. Because it’s different, it’s better.
Everyone has a distinct, subjective definition of different, I suppose.
Ryan Pace’s Bears have always prided themselves on thinking outside the box. Not in thinking outside the box in a manner that’s productive, no. That’s a concept reserved for measured decision makers. The Bears of the last half decade believe they pioneered the concept of thinking outside the box in the first place. A means of conjuring a double cross for a conjured double cross, (as seen in “fired-up trades” for career backups). You have to do more than take the proper turn at the fork in the road. You have to
overthink and overanalyze prepare for the nightmarish possibility of someone pulling the rug out from under your base.
Reality is often disappointing.
The Bears of the past half decade stick to what they know. Pace and his subordinates carry themselves like subversive mavericks with their chests perennially puffed out, but it’s an image that couldn’t be any more false. This is especially true under Matt Nagy, Pace’s hand-picked guru and mentor. Spouting off platitudes doesn’t make you an industry leader. “Be You” and “Club Dub” become hollow social media marketing trademarks amounting to dirt and ash. Continually professing belief in a supposed winning process that unfolds too slowly in a league where half the postseason field turns over every winter, doesn’t make your precedent worth following. It puts you out of a job. (In a sane universe, anyway.) Making costly acquisitions for middling players, then justifying each swipe because “that was your guy, you couldn’t possibly let him slip through your fingers!” makes you shortsighted and ill-tempered, not a patient leader.
The Bears don’t veer outside of their comfort zone. Be it team or culture construction, like many of their professional peers, they fall in line to archaic tradition and rarely evolve. This acquiescence to what doesn’t work becomes their downfall, though they’ll never admit it. As is the case for many companies outside of the sphere of this $8 billion industry, they hire who they know. They do things the way they’ve always been done. The way everyone does. Due to bureaucratic constraints, it takes ages for them to self-evaluate and recalibrate. By the time they acknowledge mistakes in operation, it’s almost too late. Instead of making certain their shoelaces are tied properly to avoid more pain, they fall over, bruised and battered, wondering why the double bunny ear method doesn’t work. The way every egotist who falls flat on their face does.
If only someone had taught them how to tie their shoes properly. But then again, they already knew how. No assistance was necessary. They’re big boys now.
A lot of the attention on what the Bears have to accomplish this off-season will focus on whatever is inside their narrow bubble. An echo chamber crafted for their habitation, comfort, and nostalgia.
How will they catch division rivals like Packers and Vikings? Where can other NFC contenders such as the 49ers and Seahawks be matched, and with what the Bears already have in their possession? The words “retool” and “redemption” based on what’s in-house, will be thrown around on more than one occasion. To say this will be a gigantic misstep that misdiagnoses what ails the Bears, is an understatement.
If the Bears are to have a fruitful 2020 off-season, rethinking how they’re built is a first step in that process. Admitting that they literally don’t know what they don’t know is better than continuing a charade of overestimated football aptitude. Evaluating why they’re currently mired in no man’s land requires more than pulling themselves up by their boot straps. If they’re to be certain that the splendor of the 2018 season wasn’t a flash in the pan—a fluke, in less endearing terms—Pace, Nagy, and their contemporaries have to engage in meaningful introspection. Not the kind of introspection rooted in a room full of yes-men, either. Nor the iteration where they profess they’re thinking outside the box and considering every plausible outcome, but the situation itself remains static.
What fixes the Bears is reflection recognizing that square pegs don’t fit in round holes. It’s then finding the round pegs that fit through legitimate unconventional means. Looking under one rock and calling it a day won’t suffice anymore. And with one winning season since the start of last decade, humility is a prerequisite in this mission. What’s been orchestrated to this stage isn’t innovative. Recognizing little has been accomplished in accordance with their sham of innovation gives them a fresh, and needed start. Never has the Dunning-Kruger effect been more appropriate in the sport of padded gladiators.
No one detracts more from their own prosperity more than the Bears. No team 3-5 hours north or east of Chicago can profess to as many self-inflicted wounds rooted out of ego and complacency as the Bears. They are their worst enemy, as they have been for the past three decades. Until someone with an ounce of power recognizes this oversight, nothing will change at Halas Hall.
If “outside the box” continues to mean “the same, but branded in a more palatable fashion,” mediocrity prevails. If one soul sees this blind spot and acts, then maybe, just maybe, there’s hope yet for the Bears in the Pace era.
Robert wonders if Schrodinger’s cat also knew enough to think outside the box but didn’t know what it didn’t know. Yes, his brain hurts, too.
Follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski. You can’t take a picture of this, it’s already gone.