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Firing GM Jerry Angelo a step in the right direction

Bears head coach Lovie Smith waits out replay challenge fourth quarter Chicago Bears 31-20 victory over San Diego Chargers Sunday

Bears head coach Lovie Smith waits out a replay challenge in the fourth quarter of the Chicago Bears 31-20 victory over the San Diego Chargers Sunday November 20, 2011 at Soldier Field. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: February 5, 2012 8:17AM



I defy you to see the logic in what follows without a stiff drink or five:

◆ Whoever the Bears’ next general manager will be has to agree to keep Lovie Smith as head coach for the 2012 season.

◆ Smith will have input into the selection of that new GM.

◆ The Bears’ organizational structure will remain intact, with Smith reporting to the new GM, who we’re told eventually will have the power to fire Smith.

Somewhere in that extreme example of Bear-think is the depressing reality that Smith isn’t going anywhere. And to think that Tuesday started out so well.

The Bears fired GM Jerry Angelo, whose enduring attribute had been his ability to hang on to a job. For those of us who have been agitating for his departure, it felt almost otherworldly. The Bears did what?

It was a fine decision by president and CEO Ted Phillips, but let’s see whom he hires before we name him executive of the year. The Bears said Smith would remain as coach for next season. What kind of GM are they looking to hire? Apparently, the kind with jelly for a spine.

‘‘I think there are a lot of candidates out there who would be proud to work with Lovie Smith,’’ Phillips said.

Winning, not job security

Offensive coordinator Mike Martz was sacrificed on the altar of butt-saving, which is what everyone expected out of Smith. But what happens now to a head coach who has made the playoffs only once in the last five seasons?

He not only keeps his job, but he’ll get a GM who has to pledge allegiance to him.

There was a severe shortage of public belief in Angelo, who somehow lasted 11 seasons in the job. And there’s not exactly a grassroots mandate when it comes to Smith. Even when the Bears went to the NFC Championship Game after last season, it came with more than a bit of puzzlement about how they got there. Same with the 2006 Super Bowl team, which was more lucky than good.

George Halas’ best quality wasn’t his staying power; it was his ability to win. The current power structure doesn’t understand this. Winning, not job security, was the tradition Halas established. You remember winning, right?

These Bears have accepted mediocrity, which is a Class 1 felony in professional sports.

‘‘Our goal has always been to win world championships,’’ said chairman George McCaskey, who looked unsure about why he was at the news conference Tuesday.

If you’ve watched the NFL long enough, you know what winning franchises look like. The Bears don’t look like one. When they win, it has the feel of happenstance, not of any long-term, viable plan. When they lose, no one seems particularly bothered by it.

There’s a weird vibe at Halas Hall. I don’t know its point of origin, but it’s there. There’s no joy inside the place. It’s as though everyone is worried only about keeping his job and that one of the prerequisites for doing so is a serious case of humorlessness. The irony, of course, is that the Bears never want to seem to fire anyone.

Work isn’t done

The 2011 season was an indictment of Angelo’s work. When Jay Cutler broke his thumb and the Bears nose-dived with his backup, Caleb Hanie, Angelo looked at it as bad luck. By that way of thinking, the disaster that followed thus could be seen as inevitable. Uh, sorry, no. That was way too convenient an excuse.

Green Bay Packers backup Matt Flynn wiped out that excuse with a six-touchdown game Sunday.

You’ve lived through the Angelo era, so I won’t torture you with the details. Suffice it to say the man couldn’t have drafted his way out of an unlocked closet. His forte seemed to be first-round offensive linemen with a habit of getting hurt: Gabe Carimi, Chris Williams and Marc Colombo.

Phillips said the Bears wouldn’t hire a consultant to find their next GM. It’s how they ‘‘found’’ Angelo in Tampa, where he had been ‘‘hiding’’ as director of player personnel for one of the Bears’ then-division rivals. That’s a good thing, as long as Phillips finds the right replacement.

We’ve seen the buzz the Cubs have created by hiring Theo Epstein as their president of baseball operations. Surely, Phillips has been paying attention.

Do the Bears have the people in place, players and coaches alike, to win a Super Bowl? The answer is no. Our work here is not done. But Tuesday was progress.



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