The Chicago Bears made the right move yesterday in releasing former general manager Jerry Angelo. After 11 years with the organization, his time had finally come. His job was to build a talented roster with the depth necessary to survive in today's brutal, injury filled NFL. After Chicago's epic collapse in the second half this year, it was crystal clear Angelo had failed again.
Free agency was always hit or miss with Angelo. He was the one who brought in Julius Peppers and traded for Jay Cutler, yet he also oversaw the signings of Chester Taylor, Adam Archuleta, Orlando Pace and Roy Williams.
Yet it was the draft where Angelo did his worst work. Always one to find gems in the mid-to-late rounds – Lance Briggs, 3rd; Core Graham, 5th; Earl Bennett, 3rd; Johnny Knox, 5th – Angelo was borderline awful in the first round. In fact, after 10 years heading up the draft for Chicago, not one of his first rounders was on the final active roster this season.
His draft failures are the reason the Bears were lacking depth this year; the reason they went 1-5 down the stretch; the reason the club has lost four straight to Green Bay; the reason Angelo was fired.
"Ultimately, we look at our division and say: ‘We need to close that talent gap.' And that's what we need to do. I think the way to do that right now is a fresh start and a new look at our team," Bears president Ted Phillips said. "Obviously, we want to do better in the early parts of the draft."
Phillips talked at length about the need to improve the team's ability to grade talent, both at the professional and college levels.
"Talent evaluation is going to be key," said Phillips. "Talent evaluation may be one of the top attributes that we need in a general manager, to be successful."
It appears the front office is willing to pin the club's recent failures purely on a lack of skilled players, and not the man in charge of said players, as the team will retain coach Lovie Smith. Reading between the lines, Bears brass believes that had Smith been given better talent the past four seasons, he would have been able to accomplish much more.
"Lovie Smith is going to remain as our head coach," Phillips said. "I'm proud of that. I think he's got a strong staff."
Phillips said chemistry with Smith will be key in deciding who will be the team's next GM.
"The one restriction that will be placed on any candidate will be Lovie Smith's our head coach for 2012. I'm going to lead that search and we're going to find the right person that's going to make a good fit with Lovie and the coaching staff and we're going to be successful in doing it."
Yesterday, once he'd been assured of his job status, Smith wasted no time in firing coordinator Mike Martz. The organization stated that Marts resigned due to "philosophical differences" but it was clear Smith sent him packing.
"That was Lovie's decision. He's always had the decision-making authority on his coaching staff and that's going to stay the same way."
Phillips said Smith will have input as to who the next GM will be.
"He's definitely going to obviously talk to the candidates when they come in, as will several other folks internally."
Not only does he have total control over his staff, now Smith gets to help decide who will be his next boss.
The events of yesterday have shown how truly powerful Smith is in this organization. To an extent, he's earned that. We talked in detail yesterday about his career with Chicago. By the numbers, Smith is easily one of the top three coaches in the history of this storied franchise. He's coached eight seasons here and has now accumulated the power that comes with such tenure.
Unfortunately, providing autonomy to his head coach could severely hinder Phillips' search for a general manager. NFL history is littered with GMs whose first order of business upon hiring was to clean house. The guy in charge wants to have his people working for him, the ones he believes can turn the club in the right direction. For whomever the Bears hire, that won't be the case, at least not for 2012.
Looked at subjectively, a candidate may see a team that has made just one playoff appearance since 2007, yet a front office that is forcing a coaching staff on him. There could be a franchise-altering candidate out there, one that could build an empire of success, that just isn't interested in working with Smith. As such, it's unlikely he will take the job. But to Chicago's front office, that's a risk they're willing to take.
"I think that there's a lot of candidates out there that would be proud to work with a coach like Lovie Smith," said Phillips. "And when they take a look at the staff he has and some of the success we've had and some of the players we have in place, I don't think it's going to be an issue at all."
With the smoke having cleared on one of the most significant days in recent Bears history, it appears Smith has come out of this not only untouched but also substantially more powerful. For most jobs, failing to meet your numbers in three out of four years would be grounds for termination. For Smith, it's grounds for advancement.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of Bear Report magazine and BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.