Saturday, January 24, 2015

Accorsi interview

I will be adding content through the day, but if you didn't get to hear the interview yesterday with Rich Campbell and Tom Waddle with Ernie Accorsi here it is through the Tribune ...  Tribune had a blocker on so did a copy/past

The optimism pervading Halas Hall these days can be traced to Ernie Accorsi, the consultant who directed the Bears' general manager search and oversaw new GM Ryan Pace's path to coach John Fox.
During the 19-day process, Accorsi guided the transition away from a dysfunctional 5-11 season using four decades of NFL experience. As former GM of the Colts, Browns and Giants, his relationships and knowledge differentiated this round of hiring from the GM and coaching searches Bears Chairman George McCaskey and President Ted Phillips conducted three and two years ago, respectively.
"He was invaluable," Phillips said. "He helped keep us focused. He helped keep that sense of urgency in the forefront of our minds. Going forward, if we have questions or Ryan has a question, he's just a phone call away."
Accorsi, 73, discussed his role and the results of the searches in a phone interview Friday.
Let's start with the end result. How do you see Ryan and John fitting together?
"Our whole belief was follow the process to lead you to the decision. Then, all of a sudden, everything changed when Fox became available. There had been some rumors, but I didn't think (he and Broncos would part).
"I was the only one (of us) who knew Fox (and) when we scheduled the interview, it was only three days after (his playoff loss). He came in and I wanted to let them do all the grunt work because I knew him and they had to establish whether they wanted to work with him or not. His record was obvious on paper.
"I thought the rapport between the four of them was instant. What was critical was Ryan. There's a big age difference (37 and 59) and I just let it play out. I participated in the interview and asked questions, and I didn't give him any breaks. I was pretty tough on him and, of course, I had that kind of relationship with him.
"(After) he left Wednesday — we always had an immediate conference after a candidate left — they were all positive. I looked at Ryan and said, 'What do you think?' He said, 'I really like him.' He said, 'You know what? I want to go out there and sit down with him, meet his wife and have a more in-depth conversation one-on-one.' I said, 'Great idea.' We talked it through. Fox was in the car on the way to O'Hare, and that's when Ryan said, 'You know what? I'm going to go out tomorrow.'
"So he went out and they had dinner Thursday night. They spent a lot of time together Thursday night. I had emailed him; I said, 'What'd you think? Do you have a conviction?' He emailed me back and said, 'I have a conviction.'
"I think it's a great combination. I really do. I don't think you have to have one of those two jobs with an older person. I always say this: (Don) Shula was 33. (Pete) Rozelle was 33. Chuck Noll was 35. John Madden was 32. Young people can do all these jobs. It has nothing to do with age. But he had to be hired because he was the best person. And if he was the best person, then that experience gives you a plus. No matter what Ryan goes through, John has seen it. That's a bonus.
"I've had those kind of people my whole career, and I've really relied on them. They've been through it, and when you go through something for the first time, they're going through it for the 10th time. I think it's going to be a great team. Then, the two coordinators, I was thrilled when I saw that we got those two guys. That's really the beginnings of a great staff, right there."
How did Ryan come to be on your radar? Did you know him before?
"No. It's interesting. I did a consultation, the same type of thing with the Panthers (in 2012). It lasted only three weeks and I only met with them twice and it was just the GM's job. I always look at who's making the player personnel decisions on a team, and do they have players they're getting in the middle rounds they're winning with? You have to do that today. You only have seven picks, and the draft is still your lifeblood.
"And I look at the Steelers — that's why I think (GM) Kevin Colbert is so good. They have third-, fourth-, fifth-, sixth-round draft choices that they're winning in the playoffs with every year. And New Orleans rebuilt that team in a hurry, and that's how they rebuilt it. Listen, (quarterback Drew) Brees was a big pickup and all. That's fine. But you look all through that line, and you have players playing all through those two lineups that they picked in the middle or lower rounds. So, on paper, I thought, 'Someone has to be making the right decisions here.'
"(Pace) declined an invitation to interview in 2013 with Carolina. He wanted to stay (with the Saints) and I don't think they wanted to lose him. Subsequent to that, the commissioner formed this career advisory panel where he has five former GMs and three former coaches — Madden, Denny Green, Tony Dungy, Carl Peterson, Ron Wolf, Bill Polian, Charley Casserly and me — and we have done a study on rising GMs and rising coaches.
"Pace kept surfacing from everybody, not just me. So when this came up, I called his agent, who I knew. I said, 'He's going to have to make a decision. Does he want to be a general manager or not? He can't keep turning opportunities down.' He said, 'No, he's ready. He didn't think he was ready two years ago. He's ready.' So we interviewed him, and he did really well right away."
What did you admire about Ryan?
"He's very bright. He has a good track record on player personnel. people can do well in the interview, but you look at their record of drafting and free agent signings. His grasp of the big picture was obvious. He has been trained well with (coach) Sean Payton and (GM) Mickey Loomis. Just everything about him. I did research on him. Hard worker. Everybody was high on him among the scouting community.
"I kind of describe him: he has that modern cutting edge expertise these young guys have today — how to use the computer and all these technological advantages. Not that they pick players for you, but they can find a player and a play at the drop of a hat. I couldn't do the job today. I had no clue how to do all that stuff. But I felt he had a modern cutting edge talent and ability, and he had a throwback's heart.
"He had a sense of history of the game. The Bears meant something to him, which meant a lot to Ted and George, and obviously it meant a lot to me. I'm a big historian, romantic, when it comes to the old franchises. He had a sense of history, and a lot of people today don't. When I was a young guy in the business, I had heard of Nagurski. I knew all about Nagurski. Today, a lot of guys never heard of Unitas.
"But he has a great overview of the big picture of the game, of the people who came before him. And I really felt the Bears meant something to him. He's from Texas, but he went to Eastern Illinois University, and his wife's from Illinois, so he had some connection. But I'm a big believer in that. I worked for the Baltimore Colts, Browns and Giants, so one of those things that appealed to me about this was that it was the Chicago Bears. That meant something to him, and that's important to hear.
"I always ask that question, and, of course, everybody who's interviewing is going to tell you that. It's your job to figure out how genuine it is and how much it really means to him."
What did you need to know or learn about the current state of the team to make sure you were equipped to find the right fit?
"Personnel, that wasn't my job. … I can't tell you I had great feel for the Bears. I didn't see them play (often), but that wasn't my job. I don't think it mattered. We weren't trying to tailor a coach to the players. That wasn't what our objective was. My job was to advise them.
"I had the benefit of this committee I'm on, so I had a lot of homework done already. It was to give them what they asked for, give them what they wanted. I gave them a lot of names. They had to pick who they wanted to talk to. Then I broke down who I recommended and rated them going in, and then we just were all immersed in the process. But I was always cognizant that I was just the counsel on it. I was not the decision maker. I knew my place.

"And I knew the people. I knew Ted for many years. I didn't know George personally, but I was really a good friend of his father's. (Ed McCaskey) was the one that was in charge of the whole (Brian) Piccolo situation, and Piccolo and I were dorm-mates in college (Wake Forest). So through Brian, I had talked to Ed a lot about it and spent time with Ed. So I had a good relationship with the family going in and with Ted going in. It was really a great experience."
Ted praised your ability to filter through the content of candidates' presentations to target the most important factors. What were the elements that really needed to be crystallized with Ryan in his presentation?
"Understand that today we're in a different world of interviewing. They all have agents; I never had an agent in my life. They're all well-coached. They're all well-schooled in interviews of what to say. You have to cut through somehow what it is they're saying that they want you to hear, and what do they really, truly believe.
"I wasn't smart enough to get into Harvard, but I do have an instinct with people. I can read people, and that comes from experience of years and years of being in this game. I'll listen to presentations and all, but they all know what questions you're going to ask, and I don't ask the typical questions. But my objective with him is: How are you going to build this team?
"I don't mean, 'Well, it depends what (draft) choice we have.' No, no. All things being equal: what's important to you? How are you going to build this team? What positions are important? What's your feeling about the quarterback position? Not this quarterback — that's not my business, OK? They did ask him about that.
"The one thing that was important is they all came in prepared to discuss our team. They knew they were coming here. They evaluated our team before they got here. That was important. But my thing was I want to find out what kind of general manager you're going to be.
"I've been in interviews where they've said to me, 'You know, the quarterback is not that important.' When I said, 'How can you say that?' And the answer was, 'Well, there are only four or five of them, so everybody else has to compete, too.' And my answer to that is, 'Well, you're being hired to go find one of those four or five. You have to find them.'
"Russell Wilson was picked in the third round. (Joe) Montana was picked in the third round. (Tom) Brady was picked in the sixth round. That's why you're being hired. So I want to hear what they're going to say about those kinds of positions and what they think are the most important ingredients. You're not going to have 22 All-Pros. It's stuff like that."
"I always think the GM's job is a personnel executive's job. It's not an on-the-road scout. You have on-the-road scouts. You have to run your organization from the office. You could go on the road, but you're the captain of the ship. He doesn't abandon the ship. He doesn't go off on a boat somewhere. He's at the bridge. That's how you have to be a leader. George Young (former Giants GM) taught me that."
When John became available, what did you want Ryan to know about him?
"I didn't want to say a word about John Fox to Ryan because I didn't want to in any way predispose him. I didn't want to make any bias in his mind, or 'Look for this. Look for that.' I wanted to hear what he had to say fresh."
What did you admire about John from your experiences with him with the Giants?
"His office (as defensive coordinator) was right next to mine, so we interacted. In a lot of places, the GM and the coach are at two different ends of the building. We were right beside each other, and (Fox) happened to be in the office next to mine. We interacted every day. First of all, he's just a great football coach. Second thing, he has a way with people. He's not going to lock himself in the office and draw up plays and be aloof. Players love to play for him.
"When we lost him, Mr. Mara actually said these words, and they were printed. When we lost him and he became head coach of Carolina, Wellington Mara said, 'I feel much the same as I did when (Vince) Lombardi went to Green Bay.' He said that.
"I'll just give you an anecdote about John. We're going to play Minnesota in the NFC championship game (in 2001). They have Randy Moss, Cris Carter, Robert Smith, Daunte Culpepper, and they're scoring a million points a game. Now, all week they already scored 50 touchdowns in my apartment while I was trying to sleep.
"Finally we get to Friday, and I bump into Fox, and Fox says, 'You've been ducking me all week.' I said, 'I don't want to talk to you. I'm afraid of what you're going to tell me.' He said, 'We may just shut them out.' And we did (41-0). I thought we had a chance to win because we could score, but I thought we were going to win 45-38. He said, 'We may just shut them out,' and we did. And John doesn't say that kind of stuff … to be boastful or bravado or anything like that."
What are the challenges for a new GM and coach to forge their relationship to the point they can honestly evaluate the roster?
"They're experts in their field. Then the obvious is, 'Who do you keep?' You have to make roster decisions about how to rebuild the team and whatever you're going to do. And they're both of the mind: Let's find out who's good here — because you don't want to go in and start just getting rid of players when you might have a lot of good players. That's one part.
"The key to the relationship is that they trust each other and that they can work together and complement each other, and there's no doubt in my mind that they will. You see model relationships. Kevin Colbert, I mentioned, with every coach he has had. You look at John Schneider and Pete Carroll (with the Seahawks). The successful tandems in the league, the ones that win, they're compatible. Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton, they work together and they help each other. Neither one wants the other's job. That's what you have to be, and if you have that, you have half the battle won. The business is the matter of judgment. You have to be able to make proper judgments on your acquisitions of players and your manipulation of the roster.

"The one thing that there's no question (about is) Fox will coach them. He'll get the best out of them. And to be honest with you, to me, it's even more important that he lost two Super Bowls. Because having lost one, I know what it's like. He knows. We've talked about it. The fact is that you never get that out of your system, and you can't sleep until you rectify that. He is possessed with going to the Super Bowl and winning it. I mean, he lost one by three points. He tied the game with 1 minute, (8) seconds to go, and the kicker kicked the ball out of bounds. So that's how close he came to beating (Bill Belichick and the Patriots). There's a drive and a hunger there that was obvious from the first time we even met."
How interested were the candidates in Jay Cutler, in particular?
"Well, they evaluated the team for everybody. John had the least amount of time for it because he had just coached on Sunday, but we understood that. We wanted to get him in there right way. I don't want to talk about what they said about the quarterback, but they evaluated the quarterback and gave their opinion on the quarterback. They're willing to make this work. All of them were. But that's for them to talk about. I'm not involved in that.
You functioned in New York, the biggest market out there. Do you think there's anything about the city of Chicago, the market here, the stage here that makes these jobs unique?
"I do. If you count these last couple of years as a consultant, I have 44 years in the National Football League. I have found that the bigger markets, I enjoyed the media more. Generally, when you're in a city like New York or Chicago or L.A., everybody aspires to work in those cities, so you're talking about the best, usually. Everybody wants to work in New York. Everybody wants to work in Chicago. That's what your goal is. I was a sportswriter. That's where I wanted to work. I never made it. I made it to Philadelphia. That's as far as I made it, which is a good place to work.
I never ever had a major problem with a member of the media anywhere, and I never even came close to having one in New York. And we had a couple of bad years, and they were tough, no question about it.
"But I think, first of all, John is exposed to all that. The other thing about today is every job has a national media now because of the Internet and social media. It's not like it used to be. You would be able to say something in Kansas City 30 years ago that never got out of there unless the AP guy got it and put it on the wire. Every fan is a reporter now because he has Twitter and he puts it out there, and the media people scan that to make sure they don't miss anything.
"John has been through it, plus John was in New York for five years. He knows. I think that they'll both be fine with it. I watched Ryan handle that first press conference. For a guy who had never had one in his life, I thought he did very well. I remember my first. I was a nervous wreck. You stand up there, it's intimidating."
Ted's role is a talking point here. Is there an important difference between a GM that reports straight to the owner and a GM with a team president who's over him, particularly in this case? Is there an important distinction with that structure?
"Well, I can't speak for other organizations, but after observing the relationship between Ted and George, they're almost as one. They know each other so well. They understand each other so well. It was so easy for me with the two of them because they were 1 and 1A, and all the communication was with both of them. They were so compatible and got along so well, understood each other so well and had such a great relationship. That is not going to be any kind of problem at all for Ryan. None at all."
"I told both of them, 'There is no better job in this league.' I said you have a family that owns the team, that their whole life's work has been this franchise. They founded the damn league. It's the same family. I said you have Ted Phillips, who's a great person, smart as heck, fits in just so perfectly with George. And you have the Chicago Bears.
"I'm not making this up, and a lot of it was Piccolo, but it was a thrill to walk in that building every day because it's a museum. I would look around, and I didn't miss a picture or a display because it's the Chicago Bears. I know I'm older. I followed pro football when there were 12 teams. I know how much they meant. It's just — you can't get a better job. I told those guys, if I was 35 or 40 years old, I would have been your first interview."

Friday, January 23, 2015

Bears focus on roster not the draft

John Fox locked in his two coordinators, Fangio on defense and Gase for the offense. Now over the next week or so, you will see the position coaches come on board.  Two Bears coaches are still on staff, Adam Groh (WR) and Paul Pasqualoni (DL), not sure of their fate but I would not be surprised if they stayed.  I know many are talking about a change in defensive scheme, what will the relationship between Gase and Cutler look like and also the draft.  I think before we dive into any of those topics, it will be more interesting to see what these new coaches think of the current roster.

The 2015 season begins on March 10th, that is the first day of the UDFA season.  There are 14 Bears that will be on the UDFA market. Briggs, Tillman, Conte, Britton, De La Puente, Paea and Clausen are some of the bigger names.  None of them are "break the bank" types so that does give Pace so leeway.  Right now, the Bears will have roughly $30 million to spend on re-signs and new players. Where it goes will depend on how committed Fangio is to the 3-4.  While Fangio can run a 4-3 (as he did with the Colts), I suspect he will run a hybrid.  There are just too many holes on the defense, not only position wise but more importantly talent wise.

I think Gase can utilize what is on the offensive roster.  Adam is a disciple of Mike Martz, which means a return of the Air Coryell style of offense.  It holds three key elements, strong running game, two fast WR to press a deep vertical attack and using the TE in the middle of the field.  I think it will be interesting to see how Gase utilizes Marshall and Jeffery. Neither are fast nor get great separation so I suspect we will see a speed WR pop up somewhere.  Martz ran an aggressive Air Coryell and ignored the TE, hence the Olsen trade (which Angelo now admits was his biggest mistake as a GM). Gase does employ the TE a great deal.   I have always said Cutler played his best in the Air Coryell system, so if Cutler has anything left this will be his year.

Overall, before we focus on the draft, it will be more important to see who stays or goes.  

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Under the weather but not deflated

I haven't disappeared but contracted a nasty cold that has had me laid up. Feeling better now and will post tomorrow.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

George McCaskey ... the dawning of a new age

It has been a pretty heady week for Bears fans.  The hiring of Ryan Pace as GM and then within days he lands John Fox as our new Head Coach.  However, what has been ignored through all this is the work George McCaskey has done since taking over the team three years ago.  While it is still early in his tenure, George has left little doubt he wants to run the Bears as a football team, not some family idle pursuit.

George took over the reins three seasons ago after Phil Emery was hired, and I think most of us felt he was invisible.  The truth of the matter he wasn't, he was out travelling the football landscape meeting people that knew the game.  George has admitted spending time with Jerry Jones, being active with other owners and trying the best he could to learn and understand the business. He also broke family tradition and fired a HC and a GM, before their time as some would say!  He then turned to Ernie Accorsi to consult him in finding a General Manager.

He has shown he can make the tough decisions and seek out the best advice. Hence, he stays out of his own way.  He hired Ryan Pace and then the hunt was on for a HC.  George said he would not meddle and so far he has not.  The word has been, that the hiring of John Fox was all Ryan Pace. That George and Ted stayed out of it. While the fan base holds a deep distrust for the McCaskey family, they have shown through George, that a new dawn has appeared.

Moving on to other things, John Fox has declined to attend the Senior Bowl so he can get his staff in shape.  Fans are worried about who Fox will bring in as DC and OC.  I have no worries for Fox has been known to build good staffs, so my attitude is to let the man do his job.  Another interesting note, is that while Ryan Pace did make a change on the Pro personnel side, he is using Emery's scouts on the college side.  There isn't enough time to put together a staff and have all the scouting evaluations done on time for the draft.

Since today is Championship Sunday, my picks are New England and Seattle. I will have updates when they happen and thanks for reading and your insightful comments.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Fox, Cutler and Marshall ... the holy trinity

I held off a day from writing anything until the news on John Fox becoming the new HC for the Bears became more definitive.  Today, it looks like we are "close" to announcing Fox as the first experienced HC the Bears organization history. With that, the immediate questions will be, what does Fox do with Cutler and Marshall.  Rumors have been rampant that both will be either traded or released outright.  The reality of it, is that both will be playing for the Bears in 2015 and its not about money.

Cutler is no longer the highest paid QB in the NFL any more so that constant grind now can be dropped. Why does Jay stay?  Because he is a winning QB.  Sure he drives us crazy with his aggressive plays that often turn into mistakes, but in the end he is a winner.  There is not a QB in FA that will get you excited. If you think Sanchez, Mallett or Hoyer is a better alternative then is it more to do with you as a fan, not liking Cutler not about talent.  There is also nothing exciting in the draft. I think we will get a clear picture in what Pace does during the FA phase and the draft.

If he does bring in a Hoyer or Mallett, or drafts someone in 2nd or 3rd round then you might guess he is preparing (or attempting) for life after Cutler.  If he does nothing then it is clear, he expects Cutler to be the QB for at least two more seasons. For 2015, it will be Cutler for there is nothing out there that is an enhancement or better than what the Bears have.

Now to Marshall. I have been less than enthusiastic about Marshall play on and off the field. I know he had a bad ankle, seemed to hustle in some games and looked like he laid off in other games.  The off field antics were a huge distraction an suspect they will not occur under Fox.  So yes, a WR moving to the other side of 30, has been a distraction on three teams now but when focused can be an All Pro will get a second chance.  The simple reason BMarsh stays, there is no replacement.  The depth at WR is weak at best. Unless Pace signs a Torrey Smith or drafts a top line WR in the draft, the Bears can ill afford to let Marshall go or trade him.

I think Fox will give him a good talking to, and setting an expectation for Brandon Marshall. Marshall wants to be successful and see the team win.

If you want to know which way Fox will go offensively, you will have to wait to see who the OC will be.  Over his HC career, Fox teams have used, Air Coryell, Erhardt-Perkins and WCO.  The word is that Kyle Shanahan is the first choice and runs a run oriented offense like his dad.  When you look at Cutler, his best efforts have come in a balanced offensive where he is not the only focal point.  Kyle tends to use play action and roll outs which play into Jay's strength.  I am not saying Cutler becomes elite, that ship has sailed but he can be a more consistent winning QB under Fox.

In the end, Fox is smart enough to know, if you want to win you keep your best players on the team.
Update:  It is official John Fox will be the Bears 15th HC and the first experienced HC hired by the franchise.  It has been reported that Fox said Ryan Pace made all the difference in getting the deal done.  They are both flying back to Chicago, press conference is for Monday at 11 CST.  This is a great hire. Will write up more tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Bears fans in a holding pattern

John Fox flew in ... interviewed ... flew back to Denver.  Personally I am not reading too much into it, but many fans are getting nervous.  So while we wait for the Fox shoe to drop take a look at this good article on some analysis in what to look for in successful Head Coach

I will be back tomorrow with some thoughts on Cutler and Marshall and any other breaking news on the Bears hiring a Head Coach.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Pace era begins ... will John Fox be part of it?

Last week, the Bears turned the keys over to 37 year old Ryan Pace.  Pace was one of four candidates on Ernie Accorsi list, along with Ballard, Dawson and Gaine.  It has been reported that Ryan blew the socks off McCaskey, Phillips and Accorsi so much so, they hired him the next day.  He brings in a solid resume, has no previous affiliations with the Bears (meaning fresh start) and is now the youngest GM in the NFL at 37.

If you hadn't read about Pace's background, here is a thumbnail sketch.  Joined the NO organization shortly after graduating from Eastern Illinois, where he played DE.  Started as an intern, worked his way into the college scouting department and then over to pro personnel.  He worked his way up and finally became Micky Loomis right hand man over the last several years.  What I have gleaned in digging around, is that he was more of the football guy within the Saints organization, while Loomis was more focused on the business side.  He is considered a high energy type person and a solid evaluator of talent, either it be college or pro.

Why I like Pace. Yes, I was rooting for Gaine to get the job but here is why Ryan is an attractive GM. He has been part of an organization that has had both success and turmoil.  He has been actively involved with a Super Bowl champion, then had to deal with Bounty Gate.  During Loomis suspension, he was the GM for the Saints, so he does bring some job experience.  He worked closely with Sean Peyton on personnel matters, so he will not be new to roster development and that tenuous balance of HC/GM dynamic that is so important.

Now that is the easy part.  From this moment on every decision Pace makes will be scrutinized by the fans and media.  The most important on is looming in hiring a HC.  As of today, with the firing of John Fox at DEN, Ryan might have an easier job of it.  It has been reported of the connection between Fox and Accorsi during their NYG  days, and Peyton being the OC there as well.  So the assumption is those dots make it almost a slam dunk for Pace. I don't think the dots will matter if the Bears hire Fox, it will more of an issue what is right for the Bears. Is Fox the fit?

I think so, and probably not for the reasons most are ranting about. I don't care so much about his legacy of winning, playoff appearances etc.  What I like about John Fox is he brings stability to the locker room.  He brings accountability, a strong football sense to the team that has vanished from the Bears over the last two seasons.  He will also probably bring with him good assistant coaches for player development, which has been inconsistent.

I know its exciting to think about having one of the "young guns" coaching the Bears, but is that what the Bears need right now?  Many are saying Fox is a safe pick, a Lovie clone, and right now where the Bears are at, is that such a bad thing?  What is wrong with having a winning coach, with a strong defensive orientation getting the ship back on even keel?  Fans and media alike have been clamouring for McCaskey to bring in an experienced HC and Fox is that perfect candidate.

For me, I applaud the Bears taking a chance on a younger General Manager from a winning team. The perfect counterpoint is John Fox, older, experienced and a winner himself.  I see it as a winning combination!

Updates:  Ryan Pace has made his first staff decision and dismissed Kevin Turks, who ran the scouting department.  It is also being reported that the Bears will interview Teryl Austin today. Austin is the Lions DC.  For those that like to play "follow the tree" game.  If Fox is the guy, Dennis Allen was his DC the first year in DEN (2011), and before that Allen was with NO as a position coach for several seasons.