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redeyechicago.com

Emery takes solid approach with meticulous search

Dan Pompei

On the NFL

January 10, 2013

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A strong possibility exists that Bears general manager Phil Emery has learned more in the last week than any other NFL executive trolling for a head coach.

Well then, shame on him.

How dare he work so hard to educate himself.

Those who think too much knowledge is a bad thing also might want to close the local library and barricade the information highway.

Emery is in the process of interviewing 13 known candidates, and probably at least a couple who have been kept under wraps.

These interviews have not been casual chats built around games of golf or rounds of beers. Rather, they have been intense, well thought-out explorations of patterns and plans, of ideas and dreams.

There have been critics who say Emery is talking to too many people and wasting the time of candidates he has no intention of hiring. It has been speculated that he merely is trying to sponge information from assistants on how other organizations operate.

Learning about the rest of the league clearly is a byproduct of a search of this scope. But it's not the primary benefit.

That would be being as thorough as possible. How could Emery — or any front office man — know everything he needs to know about so many qualified, interesting candidates without calculated interviews?

My eyebrows would have been raised much quicker if Emery interviewed five candidates and then quickly settled on a college head coach with a .500 record, as the Bills did when they hired Doug Marrone.

Can we say definitively that any of the 13 Bears candidates, even the maligned Mike Singletary, has no chance of being the team's next head coach?

Granted, Singletary is a long shot, but he has earned the opportunity at least to sit before Emery.

In addition to being one of the greatest players to wear a C on his helmet, Singletary also was the best leader I've ever seen on the Bears.

And isn't the head coach position primarily about leadership?

Singletary failed to turn around the 49ers in 40 games as their head coach. He went 8-5 over his first 13 games before things went south.

If Singletary becomes a head coach again and shows he has learned from mistakes, he won't be the first to have done so. Seven head coaches have won Super Bowls on their second jobs after failing to win a championship in their first.

The reaction to Singletary's candidacy is reminiscent of the reaction to the candidacy of another former Bear in 1982. Back then they were saying George Halas must have been senile to consider the hothead special teams coach of the Cowboys, Mike Ditka.

The suggestion is not that Singletary someday will be carried off a field in a shower of confetti, as Ditka was. But the point is there is nothing to lose by talking to him.

Or any qualified candidate.

Al Davis, the late Hall of Fame owner of the Raiders, was known for talking with candidates he had no intention of hiring.

In 1998, Bill Belichick was a secondary coach for the Jets after flaming out as head coach of the Browns when he got a call from Davis about the Raiders' head coaching position.

When he sat down to interview with Davis, his first question was: "What am I doing here?" Belichick knew Davis was the de facto defensive coordinator of the Raiders and his intent always was to hire an offensive-minded head coach.

And sure enough, Davis hired the young offensive coordinator of the Eagles, Jon Gruden. But Davis didn't waste his time with Belichick. Davis picked his brain about defensive strategies, techniques and trends.

In a league of closely guarded secrets, the interview process presents an opportunity to peer into other organizations' souls.

So maybe Davis inspired some of Emery's approach. You never know what benefits could be derived from getting to know a candidate.

In 2007, Davis interviewed Steve Sarkisian, then an assistant at Southern Cal. Davis asked him who his offensive coordinator would be, and Sarkisian introduced him to Lane Kiffin. Sarkisian eventually backed out, but Davis' open mind led him to naming Kiffin his head coach.

If nothing else, Emery is getting a lot of free, professional, unbiased evaluations of his own team. Some teams pay independent scouting services big money for self evals, just to hear outside voices.

And on the subject of voices, all the talk about the hiring process merely is noise.

All that will matter is where it leads.

dpompei@tribune.com

Twitter @danpompei