Their resumes are filled with Super Bowls, conference championship games and division titles. Just five years ago, the Indianapolis Colts beat the Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl, and their general managers, Bill Polian and Jerry Angelo, were genius architects.
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In the past 48 hours, both geniuses were fired.
How quickly they forget? Well, yes, that’s true. It’s also good. People joke that the NFL stands for Not For Long, as if that shows a lack of loyalty. The truth is that it’s part of what make the NFL great. It pressures players, coaches and GMs to perform; keeps the league from growing stale.
A coach once told me that people are wrong when they say you’re only as good as your last game. Actually, he said, you’re only as good as your next one.
It was time for Polian to go. And on Tuesday, when Angelo was fired, it was way past time.
Dusty resumes get you nowhere. You should respect them, but you don’t have to pay for them. In the NFL, if you don’t produce now, you are out. One year ago, the Bears were hosting the NFC Championship Game.
Today, they are looking for a new GM.
“I’m going to miss (Angelo),’’ Bears CEO Ted Phillips said. “At the same time, we need more.’’
The Bears are looking forward. Resumes look the wrong way.
Four division titles, two NFC title games, one Super Bowl appearance. As a Chicagoan, let me say this: Thank God Angelo is gone. Ding-dong, the witch is dead.
Six weeks ago, the Bears were a legitimate Super Bowl threat. Then Jay Cutler got hurt, and Angelo’s failings cost the team a season. The window for success isn’t open long enough to throw away a year like that.
Angelo was the one who decided at the start of the season that Caleb Hanie was a worthy backup quarterback on a team with real Super Bowl ambitions. He decided that Roy Williams was the answer to the huge hole the Bears had at receiver. He brought in Marion Barber, who could fall down all season long, except when the Bears needed him to, inbounds in Denver.
These were Angelo’s finishing touches to produce a Super Bowl winner.
He simply could not evaluate talent. His first-round “finds” include Rex Grossman, Cedric Benson (who blossomed into a front-line running back only after leaving Chicago), and others you haven’t heard of. When Bears offensive linemen Chris Williams and Gabe Carimi were put on injured reserve, guess how many of Angelo’s first-round picks were left on the active roster.
He was the GM for 11 seasons. He did pull off the trade for Cutler, signed Julius Peppers as a free agent, and found Lance Briggs and Matt Forte in the draft after the first round. Angelo was responsible for super talent in several places, but also for gigantic holes and no depth.
On the field, the stars usually covered up the holes. But if they had a bad game or an injury, the Bears were dead.
Now, they are a shambles. Coach Lovie Smith, who manages to escape firing nearly every year by pointing the finger at everyone else, fired offensive coordinator Mike Martz on Tuesday.
As for the Colts, part of the problem was that they had too many Polians. Bill seemed to hire his whole family. Between Bill and son Chris, they had had more than a couple bad drafts.
Yes, Bill built a Super Bowl winning team beautifully around Peyton Manning. Every piece fit in with Manning, which is why the Colts were so bad this season without him.
Now, looking forward, it’s time for the next generation of Colts. They are going to draft Andrew Luck and start all over. Polian is 69. Is he really the guy to spend a few years rebuilding? It was time to clear out the Polians for the rebirth.
Is that unfair to the Polians? Irrational? Reactionary?
It’s the NFL.
In fact, if Colts owner Jim Irsay is only looking forward, guess what that means he’s planning for Manning.
Don’t look for him to come back.
To some extent, this happens in other sports. In St. Louis, the dean of coaching among the pro sports teams is Ken Hitchcock of the Blues.
Tuesday was his 57th day on the job. But in the NFL, it seems more pronounced somehow.
In just those five years since the Colts-Bears Super Bowl, so much has changed. Just eight of the league’s 32 head coaches from that season still hold their job (including Smith). With GM’s, it’s a little harder to figure, as some teams don’t have specific general managers. But, depending on how you count it, 10 of 32 GMs, at most, still have their jobs.
In normal life, outside of sports, it rarely works that way. People stay in their jobs, live on their pasts . . . forever. Maybe it’s more civil that way, but it doesn’t produce.
Fans idolize their heroes forever. But the NFL is hard-core, unforgiving, unemotional. That’s what makes it work.
That doesn’t mean that looking ahead guarantees anything. In fact, I have no faith that the Bears’ future will work. Phillips is a business person who got Chicago to build the team a stadium. But he used an outside firm to help him find, and hire, Angelo in the first place.
Phillips didn’t consider himself a football guy. Now, he does. He said he would find his own GM.
Bears chairman George McCaskey — of the team-owning McCaskey family — said this: “Our goal has been, and always will be, to win world championships. We are doing everything we can to accomplish that goal.’’
The Bears have won just one championship in the past 48 years. And that’s all they could do?
You can’t fire owners. The bulk of the Bears’ success is 70 years old.
That doesn’t mean much for the future. But it makes for a lot of nice statues and old pictures.