In two months the Chicago Bears are likely to undergo their first major transition in three years. Head coach John Fox is standing on his last hill. The wagons are circled. The fight ahead is a desperate one. His final hope is winning out over the remaining five games of the season to salvage what has been a disappointing season in so many ways. Yet some feel not even that can save him at this point. GM Ryan Pace is ready to make changes, but can he actually pull it off? The answer may lay in his Bears front office.
More specifically how he Pace went about constructing it. Like most GMs Pace wanted some familiarity when he took over the job in 2015. That’s why he brought Josh Lucas with him from New Orleans to become his right hand man as director of player personnel. Where Pace really shined though is in who he recruited after that.
Being a good GM is about recognizing talent or at least having the right connections to direct you towards that talent. This isn’t just reserved for players on the field. It’s also about finding quality people for the coaching staff and front office too. How Pace built his front office demonstrates one or the other of those traits.
Bears front office built with keen understanding of right people
As with a coaching staff, the idea is to get the sharpest minds possible. Minds that will likely be head coaches one day. The more of those that can be assembled, the better and more effective the staff becomes. Just look at the 2006 Bears team. They had Ron Rivera, the future head coach in Carolina as defensive coordinator. Ron Turner, the former head coach of Illinois and future head coach at FIU was offensive coordinator.
They also had Harold Goodwin as assistant offensive line coach. He is now Arizona Cardinals offensive coordinator and considered a favorite among 2018 head coach candidates. The same goes for Dave Toub, their outstanding special teams coordinator. Pace approached is staff building not just about getting people he knows, but also people who are good at what they do.
Anthony Kelly was one of his prized gets. The man had a stellar reputation. He built a champion as GM in the United Indoor Football league before joining the Denver Broncos. There he became their Assistant Director of Pro Personnel and became a driving force in arguably one of the best free agent classes of the past decade.
Run through the list of names: DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, Emmanuel Sanders and T.J. Ward. All four of those men were signed in 2014. All four went to the Pro Bowl at least once for Denver. That group proved vital to the teams’ Super Bowl victory a year later. Kelly was a huge part of assembling it.
Then there was the brief but brilliant hire of Joe Douglas
It wasn’t just Kelly though that earned Pace a reputation for recognizing eyes for talent. His scooping of Joe Douglas from Baltimore was also a stroke of genius. Douglas had done a phenomenal job with their college scouting department for years. He had a direct hand in the drafting of guys like Marshal Yanda, C.J. Mosley, Ben Grubbs and Justin Tucker among others.
He became involved with the first two Bears drafts and with his help they landed key players like Eddie Goldman, Leonard Floyd, Cody Whitehair and Jordan Howard. It was an unfortunate loss when the Philadelphia Eagles poached him for their own front office in May of last year. Still his hire and that of Kelly were welcome signs that Pace knew his job was less about ego and more about doing right by the team.
The same could be said for the teams’ pursuit of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
Remember that Fangio was let go on January 15th in 2015. The Bears did not hire John Fox until the next day. So the odds are they were already courting Fangio before Fox arrived. That combined with the philosophical differences reported between the two would suggest the Bears had designs on acquiring Fangio before Fox was even hired.
Like his Kelly and Douglas hires it was a sign Pace had done his homework and wasn’t afraid to go after the big fishes. This offers hope that same preparation will be on display come January when the coaching staff is revamped.