The More The Bears Stink, The More They Stay The Same
3:17 PM EST on January 13, 2021
There are few things more innately preposterous than the postmortem presser, in which NFL coaches, general managers, and owners all get to explain why the season just ended went all port-a-potty-on-a-downhill-slope but everyone involved agrees they know how to fix it, is on the same page and the right track, and are just the folks to find the path to glory. They all fall on their swords, only those are the ones with the collapsible blade, and all it guarantees is another presser next year.
But some teams are better at it than others due to practice and persistence, and there are few as adept at explaining why than the Chicago Bears, celebrating the third year of the Matt Nagy Experience by explaining (a) that it isn't good enough, (b) everything is swell, and (c) none of your business to whatever else you're asking.
"I don't know that a lot of people have confidence in this course of action," George McCaskey said in announcing that Nagy, general manager Ryan Pace, and club president Ted Phillips would be retained, perhaps in perpetuity. McCaskey also said he trusts his conviction over popular opinion. "The decisions we’re announcing today may not be the easiest or most popular, but we believe they’re the best decisions for the Bears."
And that's winning in the world of postseason pressers. It's the illusion of accountability without any actual acknowledgements. It's the promise of change through lack of change. It is the first four series of The Crown, without the distracting benefits of Claire Foy or Olivia Colman.
McCaskey's assertions that he knows what he is doing may be easy to disprove, and he is largely alone in that confidence. Bears fans are beyond sick to death of this triumvirate (and in fairness, of McCaskey as well) even though the team has made and swiftly exited the playoffs in two of the last three seasons. They are 28-21 in Nagy's three seasons, but they are the very antithesis of a fun watch. Even the Nickelodeon hostages ... err, kids who watched Sunday's game and voted for Mitchell Trubisky as the player of the game almost surely have been lectured by their parents that the best player on the field is not the quarterback who led his team to one touchdown and 239 net yards.
"Have we gotten the quarterback situation right?” Phillips asked, less rhetorically than he may have intended. “No. Have we won enough games? No. But everything else is there."
That's the thing. Whatever it is the Bears are doing is hard on the customers' eyes, and the worst way to win them back is to tell them they're wrong. The second worst way is to tell them they're right but nothing is going to change. Yet the Bears’ braintrust did both because they aren't really there to explain themselves. They won the non-illuminative presser because they've had practice at it. In fact, the postmortem of a 12-4, first-round exit season in 2018 was actually worse for them because they tried to sell the benefits of measurable progress, which is always riskier.
So, today's highlights included Phillips declaring that “we’re not happy and we’re far from satisfied. Making the playoffs is a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough. We need to win in the playoffs and we need to compete for and win a championship." And yet: "We believe Ryan and Matt are excellent leaders."
And Nagy: “Big picture, I’m proud of our players, I’m proud of our coaches. Bigger picture is, we need to do better. And what are we gonna do and how are we gonna do it to get to that point?”
In summary, we now defer to The Athletic's Bears correspondent Kevin Fishbain, who congealed the presser into a concise sentence:
And that's a postmortem presser home run. Say things are not satisfactory while saying the people in charge certainly are. Say things have to change while declining any opportunities to say what or how. And for God's sake avoid anything even remotely resembling a specific beyond, "we believe in us."
Because at the end of the day (copyright Stephen A. Smith), the postmortem presser is mostly an homage to the old saying, "We hear you, and we ignore you." If it didn't cost money, the Bears’ decision-makers might as well have sent T-shirts to the season ticket holders with a picture of George Halas's middle finger emblazoned across the front.
In fact, the T-shirt would have been a better idea. It would have combined a level of creativity the Bears don't normally have with the obstinacy that has always been their hallmark. Indeed, McCaskey probably would have won more fans if he'd just sat on a throne made of the skulls of former players and said he reports to nobody but the ghost of Halas. Bears fans like that kind of history-soaked attitude. Maybe they could have put an inflatable Ditka to the left of the throne and just scared the hell out of people.
But that would count as making an effort for a constituency whose only benefit to the company is its money. Explanations are for the weak, and mollifying the weak is not what the Halas-McCaskey clan does. The presser is just a version of Queen Elizabeth's Christmas address. Come without expectations, leave without fulfillment. At that one thing, the Bears are the Patriots.