McCaskey's Bears legacy is on the line
When Marc Trestman ran onto the field at Metropolitan Stadium for the first time as a Vikings rookie free-agent defensive back in the 1978 preseason opener, emotion overcame the Minneapolis native.
Trestman made eye contact with his proud dad, Jerry, who was sitting in his usual seat, and suddenly the memories of all those games together as father and son watching their favorite team came flooding back.
“I will never forget the look on his face,” Trestman wrote in his book, “Perseverance.”
Again today at the home of the Vikings, albeit TCF Bank Stadium, family and close friends will surround Trestman a generation later for another profound, personal football moment he perhaps never will forget — as hard as he tries. The Bears will finish their most disappointing season of the post-1985 Super Bowl era in what figures to be Trestman’s final game as head coach, likely ending a two-year experiment that did little more than prove the value of experience on an NFL sideline.
Chicago anxiously awaits a Halas Hall overhaul, beginning with Trestman and perhaps continuing with general manager Phil Emery, depending on what Bears Chairman George McCaskey decides after ownership debated the GM’s future all week. The most obvious passion left in a football city is for significant change.
Under Trestman, the Bears culture slowly became too permissive, the offense too cute and the defense too soft. The so-called quarterback whisperer never raised his voice enough to make a difference in Jay Cutler, who, after two years of more coddling than coaching, remains the “same old Jay.” The Bears defense and special teams steadily deteriorated under coordinators Trestman allowed Emery to choose for him. The comparisons to Bill Walsh and Marv Levy seem pretty silly now for a Bears head coach who awkwardly fit a job that Mike Ditka and George Halas had held.
The news McCaskey must break to Trestman on Monday morning if the family truly considers the Bears a public trust reflects merely on Trestman the coach, but not the man. As an NFL head coach, Trestman was an exceedingly nice guy, but he never found a way to translate uncommon consideration into unparalleled success. He was hired in January 2013 to close the gap on the Packers. He should be fired, ultimately, for getting passed by the Vikings. Trestman inherited a 10-win team from Lovie Smith that, two dysfunctional seasons later, can smell its 11th loss.
At what point do you think the McCaskeys realized the Canadian Football League where Trestman succeeded as a head coach has only eight teams?
The irony is Trestman took the job intending to engage with every player on an individual, personal level and struggled largely because of his inability to connect deeply enough to create respect in the locker room. The latest example came when Trestman, asked about Lions center Dominic Raiola intentionally stomping on Bears defensive tackle Ego Ferguson’s ankle, passed on a chance to stick up for his player by offering a lame, “No comment.”
Players in today’s money-first, me-first age of professional sports took advantage of Trestman’s outwardly meek demeanor, from Lance Briggs skipping Labor Day practice before Week 1 to Brandon Marshall turning the season into his own 17-week reality show, and every undisciplined act in between. Undisciplined teams commit penalties, make mistakes and miss assignments — not to mention the playoffs. Mr. and Mrs. Grabowski, your 2014 Chicago Bears under Trestman.
How fitting that Trestman’s Bears tenure likely will end in his hometown, where it began to unravel Dec. 1, 2013, in an overtime defeat from which his credibility really never recovered. On that pivotal day, Trestman called on kicker Robbie Gould to attempt a 47-yard field goal on second down rather than improve the percentages with at least one more play. Fatefully, Gould missed. The loss, which essentially kept the Bears out of the playoffs, dropped Trestman’s record to .500 for the first time and preceded 12 losses in the next 19 games. That’s a trend McCaskey needs to stop immediately.
The Bears haven’t won a playoff game in almost four years — Jan. 16, 2011. Since the Bears’ last postseason appearance, the Packers have won a Super Bowl and the Lions and Vikings each have made the playoffs. Whatever it is they think they’re doing at 1920 Football Drive in Lake Forest, Ill. isn’t working.
Maybe the Bears quietly began exploring replacements for Emery this week, according to a league source, because they realize it. Maybe Emery signing center Roberto Garza to a modest one-year, $1.5 million contract signals he will keep his job or stay with the Bears in another role. Maybe McCaskey will emerge from his football bunker Monday morning with an appropriately strong message that enough is enough and the Bears are tired of being an organization nobody takes seriously as a Super Bowl contender.
Only McCaskey’s legacy as a football executive depends on him responding to a lost season with clear direction.