In an unusual appearance Sunday night on WGN-AM 720's "The Dinner Party'' hours after the Bears' season-ending loss to the Packers, general manager Phil Emery offered food for thought regarding his offseason decision-making process.
"In my role, a leadership role, you can't be the most emotional one in the room,'' Emery said. "You have to be the one who has to have some calmness, provide direction, help console people and have the outlook that there is a tomorrow.''
Thing is, the Bears need defensive changes yesterday.
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Stripping emotion from the equation as Emery suggests good leaders do, how can anybody at Halas Hall logically argue for retaining defensive coordinator Mel Tucker after a historically bad season? Mediocrity would have been acceptable — and probably good enough to win the division. But how can a proud organization accept being so awful and maintaining the status quo? It's not all Tucker's fault, but the failure remains his responsibility. The sudden availability of Leslie Frazier, the Vikings head coach fired Monday, also gave the Bears another compelling reason to make a decision on Tucker that's tougher personally than professionally.
Reasons to bring Tucker back, such loyalty and fairness, delve into the type of emotional factors Emery rightfully recommends avoiding. That's easier said than done, especially with a popular, stand-up guy like Tucker whom players such as Jay Cutler publicly supported Monday. But somebody in management needs to remember the best NFL teams follow their heads, not the hearts, to the Super Bowl.
Under Tucker, the Bears established franchise records for giving up the most yards (6,313) and points (478). They couldn't stop the run — 5.35 yards per carry — or rush the passer. When evaluating a defensive coordinator, ask two pertinent questions: 1) What player noticeably improved? and 2) What is the defensive identity? After 16 games, the best answer to both those questions is a shrug.
Blame injuries to five defensive starters for part of the decline, but to slide to the bottom of the league involved more than poor health and bad luck. Nothing galvanized this defense. Nobody replaced Brian Urlacher's intangibles. Nobody got better at tackling. No opposing offenses were outsmarted. The Bears defense typically responded to adversity by creating more.
Jarrett Boykin's bizarre 15-yard fumble recovery return for a TD for the Packers exposed the defense's lack of instincts and awareness. It doesn't matter if Bears players swore they worked on picking up loose balls in practice the way they did under Lovie Smith. They didn't when it mattered. The effects of good coaching show up on Sundays. That the Bears watched as Boykin scored indicted Tucker most of all.
Then on the play with 46 seconds left that determined the NFC North champion, the Bears botched a call on fourth-and-8 because of poor communication. With Bears defensive backs playing different coverages, Randall Cobb sprinted past safety Chris Conte for a wide-open 48-yard touchdown catch.
Those two plays alone created a credibility gap in Chicago that Tucker might never close. Tucker is a good man of high character, but the Bears cannot be taken seriously about accountability if they retain him. Linebacker Lance Briggs openly questioned Tucker's tactics and teammates' heart. With a respected voice expressing such skepticism, Tucker really never had a chance to develop the trust and chemistry his defense lacked.
In some ways the Bears got what they deserved by having Tucker use the same scheme and terminology Smith used. What sounded like a good idea at the time resulted in Tucker ultimately suffering by comparison to Smith as constant reminders loomed.
Speaking of Smith, he changed the course of his tenure after his first season in 2004. Smith fired offensive coordinator Terry Shea, a fine person dealt a tough hand with quarterbacks Craig Krenzel, Jonathan Quinn and Chad Hutchinson. Getting fired wasn't necessarily fair in Shea's eyes, but it was right for Smith's Bears, who were in the Super Bowl two years later.
Now Trestman must do what's right for his regime, with Emery's guidance, and start over defensively. It's Trestman's defense too. Trestman fixed the Bears offense, but it won't matter until the other side of the ball returns to respectability.
Re-sign cornerback Tim Jennings. Let safeties Major Wright and Conte benefit from changes of scenery. Say thanks for the memories to Charles Tillman, who's a durability risk. If Julius Peppers won't take a major pay cut, wish him well. Sign and draft a defensive tackle. Get a pass rusher. Bring back Corey Wootton. See what Shea McClellin looks like at strong-side linebacker. Pursue a playmaking defensive free agent with the ample salary-cap space remaining after Cutler's expected new deal.
But first make the right call on defensive coordinator, which requires not letting feelings influence a decision more than facts. Just like Emery says he strives to do.