7:49 PM CDT, April 19, 2013
The future does not necessarily portend prologue, but the history of first-year Bears coaches warrants concern.
As Marc Trestman assumes the leadership reigns for his first season in Chicago, the Bears have not had a first-year coach finish with a winning record since Paddy Driscoll (9-2-1) in 1956.
The results are not a pretty sight: Lovie Smith 5-11, Dick Jauron 6-10, Dave Wannstedt 7-9, Mike Ditka 3-6, Neill Armstrong 7-9, Jack Pardee 4-10, Abe Gibron 4-9-1 and Jim Dooley (7-7).
Driscoll had been coach of the Chicago Cardinals before his two-year stint with the Bears. None of those others had been a head man in the NFL before, which may have contributed to their inauspicious debuts. Trestman falls into that category, although he has been a longtime NFL assistant and a head coach in the Canadian Football League.
Such uncertainty weighed into my decision to predict the Bears to be a modest 9-7 this year, even though they are coming off a 10-6 non-playoff season that wound up costing Smith his job.
Over the years we all have heard early encouraging comments such as "the pieces are in place" and "our No. 1 goal is to beat the Packers" from previous coaches. One promise that came true was Ditka's first-year declaration that "we will win a Super Bowl."
Wannstedt advocated open communication with his players during his first season. When wide receiver Curtis Conway spoke out about the strenuous two-a-day practices. Wannstedt responded by suggesting weekly meetings with a committee of players to address such issues.
Gibron's No. 1 rule apparently was that plenty of food and drink had to be around for all to enjoy in his first training camp. Gibron used to host cookouts every Wednesday night when the team trained in Rensselaer, Ind. The nearly 400-pound Gibron would have players build a bonfire in the woods and bring a couple of kegs of beer. Players said they once saw Gibron polish off 20 ears of corn in one sitting as a lamb was roasting on a spit.
Ditka laid down new rules immediately.
"We don't wear hats in meetings," he said right from the start. "I have a couple of things I stand on, and one of them is wearing hats in meetings. Hats are for outdoors. I played here when people really took pride in pulling on the Bears jersey. I want that to happen again."
After a 3-6 record in the strike-shortened 1982 season, Ditka watched his team improve to 8-8 in 1983, 10-6 in '84 and 15-1 in '85. Hats off to Ditka.
As he wrapped up his first minicamp in Lake Forest this week, Trestman talked about the desire for his players to "practice fast" as he and his new staff try to get up to speed regarding player personnel. Trestman acknowledged not having a history, preconceived ideas or sentimentality toward the players he inherited.
As Trestman scurried energetically from the offensive side of the ball to the defensive side in the Walter Payton Center, veteran and rookie players alike tried to get an early handle on the new regime.
"He's all over the field; he's watching everybody," quarterback Jay Cutler said.
Trestman and his staff will have the benefit of more practices, organized team activities and summer training camp to help the Bears try to finish with a winning record and possible return to the playoffs.
As Ditka once said: "You're never a loser until you quit trying."
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