Angelo deserves some credit for Bears' success

Deposed GM made many mistakes, including drafting Williams, but solid moves as well

Contrary to the convenient but lazy local narrative being retold all week, Bears 2008 first-round draft bust Chris Williams didn't get former general manager Jerry Angelo fired.

Not as much as Caleb Hanie did.

If Hanie had played as well replacing Jay Cutler late last year as many of us expected, most notably Angelo, then the Bears would have made the playoffs — and we likely would be speculating now over Angelo's contract extension, regardless of Williams. Instead, Hanie's failure going 0-4 as a starter exposed Angelo's neglect of the backup quarterback spot for the second straight season and elicited unpleasant memories of Todd Collins.

The surprising collapse screamed for necessary change at Halas Hall. Without it, the Bears would have sent the wrong message that they held only the football gods accountable for the unfortunate way their season ended. That excuse was so 2010.

So the team chose Smith over Angelo because one of them had to go. Essentially the Bears decided to replace a GM instead of a head coach and several assistant coaches who likely would have followed Smith out the door.

This week's release of Williams merely reflected poorly on Angelo's lousy record of first-round draft picks that renewed inaccurate portrayals of his 10-year tenure. The Bears reached the Super Bowl during the Angelo regime. They maintained an enviable level of consistency that often gets obscured in the civic angst expressed whenever Angelo's name comes up.

Not that anybody will hear Angelo say so. Since getting fired, Angelo has declined several interview requests and has not returned messages. One former colleague suggested privately Angelo's prolonged silence implies how he feels his former bosses betrayed him. The loudest statement on his behalf comes in the NFC North standings.

Remember that Angelo played a bigger role in building this Bears team than his successor Phil Emery. Emery has done a commendable job. He immediately traded for Brandon Marshall, the kind of No. 1 wide receiver Angelo never made a high enough priority. He drafted a healthy player in the first round, defensive end Shea McClellin, who has made an immediate impact. He ensured the backup quarterback position wouldn't foil another season by overpaying free-agent Jason Campbell.

He complemented the playoff roster Angelo primarily put together.

Angelo pulled off the trade for Cutler, his signature move. He signed defensive end Julius Peppers, the No. 1 free-agent of the '10 class. He found cornerback Tim Jennings on the NFL scrap heap after the Colts discarded him. He took a shot with underrated starting outside linebacker Nick Roach after the Chargers cut him. Defensive tackle Israel Idonije didn't find his way to Chicago from Canada accidentally. Neither did former defensive end Adewale Ogunleye, a key part of the 2005-06 dominance whom Angelo acquired in return for Marty Booker in August 2004.

Lest anybody forget in this week's piling on of Angelo that the '08 draft that Williams marred also included the Bears selecting Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte in the second round and trusty wide receiver Earl Bennett in the third. The misses at the top of the Bears '09 draft that made us shake our heads — pool-leaping defensive end Jarron Gilbert and wide receiver Juaquin Iglesias — make it easy to forget Angelo also found three starters with late-round selections: Nickel back D.J. Moore, defensive tackle Henry Melton and guard Lance Louis. He selected starting safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte in the third rounds of the '10 and '11 drafts, respectively.

In 2003, Angelo made perhaps his best draft picks when he selected Charles Tillman (second round) and Lance Briggs (third). Or was taking Devin Hester in the second round in 2006 better?

As far back as the checked-box fiasco in 2002 involving outside linebacker Warrick Holdman, criticism came easily for Angelo's well-documented mistakes. He neglected the offensive line in too many drafts and struggled finding playmakers before too many seasons. There were too many Dan Bazuins and Mark Bradleys. He gambled and lost drafting players with injury histories, with Williams being the most notable. His bad back flared up during Williams' second practice as a Bear. That doomed his career before it began.

Label Williams the biggest bust under Angelo, an even bigger disappointment given expectations than animal-loving defensive end Michael Haynes. Yes, running back Cedric Benson merits consideration but at least he contributed to an NFC championship. Williams started seven games at the left tackle spot he was drafted to solidify for years.

Blame, however, stretches beyond Angelo. Coaches tried Williams at right tackle and left guard. Williams himself lacked intangibles great players possess.

To use Williams' release as final confirmation of Angelo's incompetence misses the point and unfairly castigates someone whose contributions have been too easily forgotten.

dhaugh@tribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh

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