Last week, we took a big dose of copium, a small amount of evidence, and a dollop of wishful thinking to explore the idea that the Chicago Bears’ struggles all originated with the quarterback. However, that’s not the only path forward for Chicago. This next idea requires slightly more speculation but is not all that unrealistic.
What if Ryan Poles cleans house? Alan Williams is already gone, Luke Getsy’s offense is struggling, and Matt Eberflus runs a defensive system that is outdated and might not even be an ideal fit for some of the personnel. So, then, what if at the end of the year, Poles hits the reset button with a new coaching staff?
First, a couple of clarifications on how long rebuilds typically take before moving on to the exception. Starting in 2011, there have been 53 changes in “general manager” positions or the equivalent thereof in the NFL (this excludes the brief elevation of Chip Kelly within the Eagles’ power structure, because Howie Roseman was still in nominal power). Of those, 37 involved a GM taking over a team that had a net losing record over the prior two seasons, 24 of those 37 saw an immediate improvement in wins compared to the prior season (and 15 of those 37 actually saw a winning season in the first season under a new GM). Rebuilds tend to happen fast if they happen at all, with 8 of the 13 GMs to reach consecutive winning seasons doing so in the first two years and 9 of the 16 playoff-winning GMs hitting that mark within the first two years as well.
However, there are those other teams. What about the teams that took longer to rebuild under the same general manager. Three teams needed more than two years to reach a winning season and at least three years to win a playoff game. Those are the San Francisco 49ers under Scott Lynch, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers under Jason Licht, and the Los Angeles Rams under Les Snead. The 49ers were simply patient with their pairing of head coach and general manager, and it paid off for them in a run to the Super Bowl in year three.
However, the Bucs floundered under Lovie Smith and then Dirk Koetter, but when Bruce Arians was hired, the team went from running 5-11 seasons with an average point differential ranking 20th in the league to a 7-9 season (+2 wins) and a point differential ranking 13th in the league. That improvement came before the team landed Tom Brady and won a Super Bowl in Arians’ second year as a coach.
The St. Louis Rams became the Los Angeles Rams again under Les Snead, but they were going nowhere in the playoff race under defensive head coach Jeff Fisher. The team struggled with mediocrity and occasionally fell all the way to outright poor quality. Then, after Fisher was fired and Sean McVay was brought on board to replace him, the team went from 4-12 to 11-5, going from 30th in net point differential to 3rd. They then rattled off five winning seasons in a row with four playoff runs, including a Super Bowl championship after going through two new quarterbacks.
Thus, in two of the three “long rebuild” teams that did eventually make it there, the turnaround was catalyzed by a GM bringing in a new head coach (and, in both of these cases, an offensive-minded head coach).
What if the problem is Flus?
We will never “know” what percentage of the last two seasons’ struggles belong to the coaching staff. However, it seems obvious that “quick” rebuilds count on GMs getting a lot of moving pieces right. A few new GMs didn’t do that, but they did manage to get it right after replacing their prior choice of coach with a newer coach who was able to innovate on offense. These teams benefitted from some of the infrastructure that the GM had built up, but they also turned the corner in no small part on the strength of a strong head coach partnered with a change in quarterback.
The good news is that after this season, both of those changes will be well within the power of the Bears to make.