Arkush: Bears can win with McCaskeys in charge; they've done it before

  • Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles has a nearly identical resume to his predecessor Ryan Pace. So far, Poles is approaching things much different than Pace did -- but is that enough to get better results?

    Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles has a nearly identical resume to his predecessor Ryan Pace. So far, Poles is approaching things much different than Pace did -- but is that enough to get better results? AP File Photo

Posted6/25/2022 4:00 PM

There is a popular refrain around Bears Nation you've been hearing for years -- that the Bears will never win or be relevant again until the McCaskeys sell the team.

It is not a theory I subscribe to and in fact I believe it is mostly bunk, but it is easy to find its roots in decades of frustration, disappointments and lost football games.


Since George "Papa Bear" Halas passed away in October 1983 the Bears have compiled a 320-294 regular season record under the stewardship of Virginia, Michael and George McCaskey, with 16 winning seasons, 18 losing ones and five .500 campaigns.

They have been to the playoffs 14 times in those 39 seasons compiling a 10-10 record including 2-3 in NFC Championship Games and 1-1 in Super Bowls.

That does not match the futility of a number of other clubs over those four decades and it does challenge the idea they can't win under current ownership.

But to be fair that record is significantly skewed by the first five full seasons of the McCaskey reign.

From 1984-88 teams built almost entirely by Jim Finks went 62-17, still an NFL record for regular season wins over a five-year stretch, played in three NFC title games and won the organization's only Super Bowl with Michael McCaskey doing far more to disassemble that group than contribute to it.

You can all do the math. Without Papa Bear's and Finks' parting gift to Bears fans the record is far more disappointing, and the expectations left still three decades later are a major contributing factor to the lack of faith in the McCaskeys.

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But they can win. The Jerry Angelo regime was all theirs and from 2001-11 the club was 95-81, was 1-1 in NFC title games and went to its only other Super Bowl.

Sadly, however, all else has failed other than 2001 and 2018, which were 13- and 12-win seasons behind NFL Coaches of the Year Dick Jauron and Matt Nagy.

Dave Wannstedt struggled primarily because of the organizational dysfunction overseen by Michael McCaskey before going on to a successful head coaching run at Miami where the Dolphins went 41-23 between 2000-03.

Lovie Smith was an excellent hire by Angelo but appeared to understand only the defensive side of the game -- a common theme for the Bears dating all the way back to 1983 -- and Marc Trestman and John Fox proved to be embarrassments.


So, the question is where are the common themes that may be leading to this decades long malaise?

The most obvious is that among the seven head coaches the McCaskeys have hired including Matt Eberflus, and six general managers including Michael McCaskey and Mark Hatley who were the top front office people during the 16 years there was no GM -- and now Ryan Poles -- only Fox had previous head coaching or general manager experience.

Remember Finks had built four Super Bowl teams in Minnesota before coming to Chicago.

Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me, fool me 12 out of 13 times and what the heck am I doing?

It is fair to ask if the McCaskeys felt required to go to wildly successful former GMs in Ernie Accorsi to help them find new management, why not hire somebody that's been wildly successful.

And here's another interesting twist and surprising gambit that I'm surprised nobody's talked about yet.

Ryan Pace's tenure wasn't nearly as bad as it has been painted by many, but he did fail.

So put his and Poles' resumes side-by-side at the time of their hiring and you'll see they are nearly identical from their playing careers, each growing in just one organization, past job functions, time in training upon arrival in Chicago and even being within a year of the same age upon getting the job.

I like what I've seen of Poles so far and he certainly is attacking the challenge differently than Pace did, but why the McCaskeys expect things to be different this time around is clearly more than a very fair question.

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