Five of Polian’s first six first-round draft picks with the Colts were quarterback Peyton Manning (1998), running back Edgerrin James (1999), receiver Reggie Wayne (2001), defensive end Dwight Freeney (2002) and tight end Dallas Clark (2003).
“We have a great resource available to us and we’re going to take great advantage of that resource,” Bears Chairman George H. McCaskey said of Polian. “I expect that there will be vigorous discussion and debate after we interview each candidate.
“I was struck in our earliest conversations with Bill how very much on top of the game he is, and even on our situation. When we called him out of the blue, he was asking us detailed questions about our roster, about our injury situation with particular players. He was very much up on the game in general and the Bears’ situation in particular. So, I think we’ll be in good hands leaning on Bill to help us make this decision.”
Factoring Fields into equation
One enticement of becoming Bears general manager or head coach is the presence of promising young quarterback Justin Fields. Every candidate no doubt will be asked about their plans to develop the 2021 first-round pick.
“That’ll be part of the challenge,” McCaskey said. “With any general manager or head-coaching candidate, we want to know what their plan is for the most important position on the field: how they would utilize Justin, who they would have coaching him, what players would they surround him with, how are they going to maximize his potential to lead the Bears to success?”
In his first season with the Bears, Fields showed flashes of the dual-threat ability he displayed at Ohio State but also committed rookie mistakes—like holding onto the ball too long—that he must eliminate.
Fields appeared in 12 games with 10 starts, completing 58.9 percent of his passes for 1,870 yards with seven touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a 73.2 passer rating. He also rushed for 420 yards and two TDs on 72 carries.
After making eight straight starts from Weeks 3-11, he missed five of the final seven games due to cracked ribs, an ankle injury and being on the COVID-19 list.
“We are looking for a general manager and a head coach who can develop not just the quarterback position, but the talent around him, establishing a strong defense to help the quarterback, to bring the Bears to success,” McCaskey said. “Justin will not be an active part of the search process, but we will be very interested to hear from both general manager and head-coach candidates what their plan is to get the most out of the quarterback position for us.”
Reflecting on last year’s decision
McCaskey explained why he didn’t relieve Pace and Nagy of their duties a year ago after the Bears finished 8-8 for the second straight season.
“At the end of the 2020 season, we had a decision to make,” McCaskey said. “Matt’s won-loss record was well above .500 and we had been to the playoffs two out of three seasons, but with zero playoff wins.
“We felt that Ryan and Matt had earned the opportunity to improve upon the results of 2019 and 2020, [and] that continuity was the best route to positive results. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out. Over four seasons, we beat the teams we were expected to beat. Too often, though, we didn’t beat the better teams and you have to do that to excel in this league.”
Five-game skid played key role in dismissal of Pace, Nagy
Asked to identify the most frustrating part of the season, McCaskey said “there were a lot of frustrating parts” before citing “another lengthy losing streak.”
The Bears lost five straight games in 2021 to fall to 3-7 after dropping four in a row in 2019 and six consecutive contests in 2020.
“Usually, those are season-enders,” McCaskey said. “I admire the way our guys stuck together, didn’t point fingers. But at some point, the general manager and head coach have to come up with a way to snap us out of a losing streak before the season is ruined.”
Asked about specific instances that led to his decision to dismiss Pace and Nagy, McCaskey selected two: 1) The Bears not scoring their first touchdown of the game until time expired in a 2020 playoff loss to the Saints and a 2021 defeat to the Vikings; and 2) Jaylon Johnson failing to touch down a receiver on the ground in the season finale, repeating a mistake that Eddie Jackson and Tashaun Gipson Sr. had made in the season opener.
“If I could point to particular moments, and this wasn’t so much the evaluations of Ryan and Matt themselves, but just where we were and are,” McCaskey said. “On the offensive side, I would say in the same calendar year we, twice, scored the only touchdown of the game on literally the last play of the game. On the defensive side of the ball, I would point to this season, Game 1, one of our defenders fails to touch down a receiver who’s on the ground. And in Game 17, one of our defenders fails to touch down a receiver who’s on the ground.”