Christmas came really early.
Or a bit late.
Either way, it's already a very happy New Year for Bears fans.
With the news that team president Ted Phillips fired general manager Jerry Angelo, Chicago sports fans rejoiced with enthusiasm not seen since, well, the Cubs fired GM Jim Hendry.
But like the Cubs, firing your GM is just step one. Step two is just as, if not more, important.
The Cubs hit a home run by hiring Theo Epstein. Now the Bears need to hit their own home run with their Angelo replacement.
Chicago cannot waste this golden opportunity and hire another bad GM.
As the Bears begin their search, I have five tips to guide their process.
In 2001, Phillips famously announced he was hiring a search firm to screen candidates for the GM job.
The end result was Jerry Angelo.
Does Phillips need a search firm to screen grocery store candidates when he needs food?
Search firms are good at the interviewing process itself. That is, asking questions like "Where would you like to be in five years?" And looking to see if you're nervous and give wimpy handshakes.
But search firms don't know football.
And they certainly don't know what successful football operations need from a general manager.
The fact that Phillips had to use a search firm raises concerns about his football knowledge when it comes to hiring Angelo's replacement.
After all, Phillips was a finance guy, not a football guy, prior to his 1999 appointment as team president. That means he was only two years into his job as team president when he tried to find his first GM.
Phillips has had nine additional years of experience since then. It's uncertain how much Phillips has studied successful football front offices. Maybe he's more savvy now. Or maybe he's not.
Either way, please, no search firms. Do your homework and make yourself accountable.
In the same announcement the Bears made about firing Jerry Angelo, they also made the point of declaring that Lovie Smith remains the head coach.
The pronouncement, ostensibly intended to nip questions about Smith's future, instead raises the question about whether the incoming general manager will have the authority to fire Smith if he so chooses.
We assume no serious GM will accept the Bears job if he didn't have authority to choose his own coach, but the fact the Bears had to specifically say that Smith's job was safe is still odd.
In fact, since Virginia McCaskey is known to be particularly fond of Smith, it wouldn't be shocking if the Bears actually do want to require their new GM to not fire Smith for one more year. It certainly wouldn't be unprecedented since Angelo reportedly was told when he became the Bears GM in 2001 not to fire Dick Jauron for one more year at the McCaskeys' request.
However, the Bears must give the new GM full authority over all football operations. That includes Lovie Smith's fate for 2012, owner's pet or not.
The day of Angelo's firing, a Chicago Tribune writer suggested the Bears consider Bill Polian as their first option. Others followed.
Classic cases of valuing name over performance.
Polian has assembled the Colts much like Angelo has assembled the Bears: an injury to the starting quarterback dooms the entire season.
What's more, Polian's first-round draft record since 2005 has been just as bad as Angelo's:
- CB Marlin Jackson (2005)
- RB Joseph Addai (2006)
- WR Anthony Gonzalez (2007)
- RB Donald Brown (2009)
- DE Jerry Hughes (2010)
- OT Anthony Castonzo (2011)
The Packers, on the other hand, have nailed most of their first-round picks in that same time period:
- QB Aaron Rodgers (2005)
- LB A.J. Hawk (2006)
- DT Dustin Harrell (2007)
- DT B.J. Raji (2009) & Clay Matthews
- OT Bryan Baluga
- OT Derek Sherrod
The Packers' Director of Football Operations is Reggie McKenzie. He too is a growing "name" you may start hearing about during the Bears' search.
But his emphasis is on free agents. Drafts are more important than free agents because every year, teams usually draft more players than they sign free agents. And drafted players, being young, are the lifeblood and future of the team.
Beware the name when considering GM candidates.
(This would, by the way, also exclude Angelo's buddy Tim Ruskell, who is a "name" since he was President of Football Operations in Seattle, but whose draft performance there was unimpressive.)
On the other hand, John Dorsey is not a name you would likely know, but he is the Director of College Scouting for the Packers. He is the primary force behind the Packers' draft list you just read, and his draft philosophy is sound.
Go for accomplishment, not name recognition.
The Bears are an aging team.
The Packers are superior to the Bears. And they're also younger. So they look to be superior for years to come.
The Bears, then, face a tough road block on their quest for a Super Bowl. But it's not impossible.
If general manager candidates talk about how to "get back to the playoffs," thank them for their time and show them the door.
When Mike Ditka first addressed the team in 1982, he talked about the Super Bowl. This despite the team not even making the playoffs the three years prior.
The Super Bowl. That's what the team should aspire to. Not merely making the playoffs (although it would be an improvement over the current Angelo/Smith regime).
Find out if the candidate has any aspirations for the Super Bowl and how he intends to help the team get there.
I understand the gravity of making the right choice.
At the same time, the 2012 NFL Draft is coming up in four months. And unless the new GM is someone who already has been working on the draft (like the aforementioned Packers' John Dorsey), that person will be behind the proverbial 8-ball in getting the Bears ready for the draft.
Even people who already have been preparing for the draft would still need time to assess the Bears' current strengths and weaknesses as part of that preparation.
So, Ted Phillips, do your diligence in finding the best candidate. But also balance that with the fact that a protracted search will give the incoming GM a late start on this critical upcoming draft.
Hopefully, Ted, if you were a visionary, you would have foreseen this day coming and already started planning this out.
Those are my five tips for finding Angelo's successor. It's a brand new day, filled with optimism in finding the Bears' version of Theo Epstein.
Don't let us down, Ted.