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This Is Not A Wake

January 4, 2012

By Ross Mitchell

When speaking to Vince, my fellow contributor/founder of The PUP List (or the other guy who writes for this blog, as you know him) I had laid out my plans to do a four part feature on the NFL playoff games scheduled this weekend. But once again Jerry Angelo had to screw it up. Actually, this may be one of the few occasions I have left to place blame at Jerry Angelo’s doorstep. As I woke up today, I was shocked by the news that the Chicago Bears had relieved Jerry Angelo of his duties as General Manager. Cutting ties with a General Manager (or head coach for that matter) with multiple years left on his contract is not customary at Halas Hall. Anyone who remembers the Dave Wansntedt era which lasted two years too long is nodding their head. My initial reaction was mild euphoria. Then a sad truth settled in; I need to find someone else to be mad at 360 days of the year.

(The playoff game previews are still coming)

I blame Jerry Angelo for nearly everything. The lack of talent on the Bears roster? Angelo. The recent revolving door in the Bears scouting department? Angelo. Their inability to produce a perennial winner? Guess who? Global warming? Jerry-A. Now he’s been taken from me, ripped from my grasp like a football cradled in Marion Barber’s arms during overtime at Denver. The whipping boy, the epicenter of my wrath. Oh Jerry, how little we knew of ye? Actually, how much we knew, too much.

For instance, we knew Jay Cutler would never have a reliable, credible, game-changing wide receiver with your refusal to admit the National Football League is no longer four yards and a cloud of dust. We knew that 90% of your draft picks would not live out their rookie contracts or find future success on rosters other than the Bears. We knew Cutler would be among the top-five most frequently sacked quarterbacks in the NFL behind a patchwork offensive line. We knew that you would be arrogant and at times abrasive with the media, the fan base, and anyone who questioned your superior intellect. We knew how little you thought of anyone not involved with the Chicago Bears organization. After all, you went to a Super Bowl. You drafted likely Hall-of-Famer Lance Briggs in the third round. You signed Julius Peppers and traded for Jay Cutler. Who else could have, would have, concocted such brilliant coupes?

I apologize for sounding sardonic. I am not celebrating a man losing his job. I do not mean to kick Angelo while he is down. I hope him the best, I hope his family the best, and I hope he continues to be involved in the game he loves, in one fashion or another. But if I sound puffy-chested, it is because so many times have I been privy to Angelo’s brashness, his refusal to initiate change, to admit mistake, to simply say he was wrong. Truth be told I am thrilled that the direction of the Chicago Bears will now (hopefully) be in the hands of someone more attuned with what it takes to win year-in and year-out.

Ask any fan of the franchise what the Bears need to fix, and 99% if not more will say, “Add a number one wide receiver and offensive linemen to keep Cutler from dying.“ For too long have I waited for the same glaring weaknesses to be filled. I compare it to this: when I was employed with a shipping company located in the northern suburbs, I would take Foster Street west to Interstate-94. And every day I would avoid the same pothole just east of Pulaski Road. I frequently found myself cursing aloud, “Fix that (expletive) pothole!” I knew it would never be done. Commuters could write thousands of letters, blow hundreds of tires, narrowly avoid dozens of accidents, Mayor Daley wouldn’t address it.

Then one day earlier this year I was taking part in my daily commute when I noticed a group of men encompassed in orange rubber cones. Apparently these men are called “Road Workers” and they “work on the road.” You might be familiar with them. They’re the men and woman the city assigns to the least convenient locations to bottleneck traffic in the highest populated areas. Long story short, after recovering from a shock induced blackout I realized that Rahm Emanuel had been sworn in as Mayor. Different regime, different results.

The key word here is “different”. I am not naive enough to believe all the Bears problems will magically be solved overnight. I do expect the new General Manager to make bad draft choices. I acknowledge there will be a handful of overspending and bad contracts given to free agents. But let them, just do it in good faith. Let them be failed attempts to address real team issues.

The Bears are not perfect, but Jerry Angelo wouldn’t hear it. He had his head in the sand. In his eyes the Bears had a number one wide receiver in Devin Hester. They had solidified their offensive line by drafting Gabe Carimi and signing Chris Spencer. They had their backup quarterback in Caleb Hanie and their third stringer in Nathan Enderle, who was such a good fit in Martz’s offense he was inactive for 14 of the 16 games this season. Nathan Enderle, a fourth round pick, selected one year after Dan LaFevour, who the Bears drafted in the sixth round of the 2010 draft and was cut before the 2010 season commenced.

Ultimately it was the 2011 season that did Angelo in. Let me begin by saying there is no case to be made with him being at a disadvantage due to the NFL lockout. Every general manager in the league was tasked with overcoming the same impediment. If anything Angelo had a great deal of factors working in his favor. He had minimal turnover in the coaching staff. They were equipped with a veteran core of players, led by Cutler and future Hall-Of-Famer Brian Urlacher. The Bears were coming off a season in which they hosted the NFC Championship game and won the NFC North Division crown. The Super Bowl was well within their grasp.

And then Angelo traded Greg Olsen. “We’re looking for Mike Ditka, not Kellen Winslow,” Angelo gushed after trading his first-round draft pick from 2007 for a third-round selection. His reasoning was Olsen didn’t fit into Mike Martz’s system. No coincidence that the day Angelo was relieved of his duties, Martz also parted ways with the Chicago Bears organization. Heading into the 2012 campaign, wouldn’t it be nice to have a pass-catching tight end for Cutler to go to in tight spots? Maybe the new offensive coordinator will encourage the new general manager to draft one. How does the third round sound?

Shortly after shipping Olsen off to former Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera‘s waiting arms, Angelo signed Roy Williams, Marion Barber, and Sam Hurd. One can’t catch a cold. One chose to run out of bounds when all the Bears had to do to beat Denver was run out the clock (instead they got Tebowed). And one was allegedly supplying product to the greater Chicagoland area. We’ll call it zero-for-three.

And then, for whatever inconceivable  reason he arrived at, Angelo let Olin Kreutz, a Bear for 13 years, walk away to a division opponent who was on the schedule because contract talks stalled a measly five-hundred thousand dollars apart (measly in sports terms). Did he learn nothing from the Greg Maddux fiasco of 1992? When the media and fan base alike expressed their outrage, Angelo took offense, chastising both groups with his infamous, “This is not a wake people,” retort. Well Jerry, this isn’t a wake either. It’s the first step (a long overdue step) in the right direction.

(I’m not touching the backup quarterback fiasco or the Forte contract debacle.)

As new Cubs GM Theo Epstein recalled in his introductory press conference, the great Bill Walsh stated that a decade is both an ample and fair amount of time for a general manager to spend in a single organization. Ten years. Angelo got eleven.

During his tenure the Bears won four division titles, three playoff games, and one conference championship. Decent but not good, certainly not great. During his time he has filled the Bears roster with a plethora of first, second, and third round busts, players who have no business being in an NFL uniform, misspent on free agency, and failed to capitalize on the most significant non-draft transaction in team history (if you ignore the 1921 one hundred dollar purchase of tackle Ed Healey from the Rock Island Independents. Healey was later inducted into the Hall-of-Fame, and at the time $100 was the fee the NFL charged to start a franchise. I have no point).

The transaction I am referring to is the 2009 trade for quarterback Jay Cutler when the Bears gave up two first round draft picks (2009 and 2010), a third round draft pick (2009), and Kansas City Chiefs starting quarterback Kyle Orton. I admit, I was in awe of Jerry Angelo that day. The Bears never go out and grab the gold ring. They tried a few times prior to the Cutler acquisition, most recently in the form of Muhsin Muhammad. All the Michigan State Spartan did in a Bears uniform was drop balls and be constantly out performed by fellow wide-out Bernard Berrian.

But the addition of Cutler (and the signing of Hall-of-Fame tackle Orlando Pace) came both a shock and glimmer of hope that perhaps, finally, the Bears were on their way. Instead, they have idled in mediocrity. Why? The Cutler trade was short sided. Angelo did nothing to help him develop. I have used this analogy for as long as I can remember:

Jay Cutler is a top-of-the-line private jet. He is a G6. He has a rocket arm and the mobility to escape pressure. He is unflappable and tougher than nails. He is unquestionably good enough to lead any franchise to a Super Bowl title. Only, any franchise (any other franchise rather) would surround their franchise quarterback with talent of the same ilk. Not the Bears. Not Jerry Angelo. He bought the plane but wouldn’t chip in for gasoline. He wouldn’t spend on a pilot. He thought it prudent to take his new jet-craft and tow it across the finish line. He spent over $100 million on the best pick-up truck in the business (that’s not a shot at Julius Peppers) but not a single red cent helping the plane soar.

Speaking of Peppers, there is minimal credit Angelo can derive from the defensive end signing on the first day of 2o1o free agency. It wasn’t Jerry Angelo who showed up at Peppers’s Carolina home the first minute of free-agency in 2010, it was Lovie Smith. It was Lovie Smith who said, “I’m not leaving until you’re on a plane with me back to Chicago.” Angelo was busy signing Chester Taylor and Brandan Manumaleuna to multi-year, multi-million dollar deals. Both players made minimal, if not negative impacts for the Bears organization and were released shortly after the NFC Championship game. Angelo shelled out $100 million dollars in Peppers‘s direction. I could sign anyone short of Albert Pujols to play football for the Chicago Bears for one-hundred million dollars.

So who would I like to see replace Jerry Angelo? This is a completely separate topic. I will say that I do want someone who has built a perennial winner over the past decade. Bill and Chris Polian are the first names who come to mind. But aren’t they guilty of the exact same predicament the Bears found themselves in after Week 11? Their franchise QB missed extended time. The rest of the roster was hindered by bad quarterback play and players who were liabilities on both sides of the ball. That was it, all she wrote. The Polians do have a reputation of being great evaluators of talent. But so was Jerry Angelo.

The onus now falls on Lovie Smith. He has to return to the Super Bowl this year, at the very least a deep playoff run. Smith is now on his second general manager, his third quarterback coach, and fourth offensive coordinator in nine campaigns. He gets the final say over all coaching staff acquisitions. If he can’t get it right this time, maybe another change needs to be made. It was quite telling today when both team President Ted Phillips and Bears Chairman George McCaskey said, “Lovie Smith is our coach for the 2012 season,” when Lovie Smith’s contract runs through 2013.

Whatever the future holds, it will be without Jerry Angelo. As I said before, and I meant it, I hope Angelo well. I hope him the best. Deep down I do not believe he is a bad person. I have disagreed with his philosophy vehemently, but he did love the Chicago Bears. He lived and died with the team. He roared and cheered with each success and gain, moaned and grimaced with each failure and folly. No one can question his loyalty, no one can question his dedication. His means and methods, sure. His results, absolutely. Ultimately they were not enough. All the same, he dedicated eleven years of his life to the franchise. He set roots here. He raised his family here. He called Chicago home. He was good to the people, good for the city.

But this is not a wake. It’s a transition, the flipping of the page. One chapter has ended, the next one awaiting to begin. Here’s hoping the next general manager writes the right one.

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