LOS ANGELES — At the request of Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy, Bears president George McCaskey hired Bill Polian to assess his team as its disappointing season drew to a close.
Polian, the former general manager who was inducted into the Hall of Fame seven years ago, watched a film of the team and examined how it was built. He consulted people he respected to get their opinion on the Bears.
“[I found] pretty much what everyone else we spoke to found, including some people inside,” Polian told the Sun-Times by phone Wednesday. “From your point of view, depending on the scheme you used, there were six or eight players you could win with consistently in the NFL.
“The others were either questionable or not good.”
Good NFL teams need “a dozen difference makers,” he said. The Rams and Bengals, who will play in the Super Bowl, have more.
Justin Fields was not on Polian’s roster of blue chippers, though he was careful to say that wasn’t a blow for the quarterback who played just 12 games as a rookie. Polian said he saw in Fields precisely what new general manager Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus expressed when they were hired.
“The talent level – the arm talent, the athleticism, the size, the ability to move – you can see all of those things,” he said. “It’s just the clay that needs to be molded into a finished product. We don’t know what the finished product will look like. And we probably won’t know for two years, maybe three.
He knows the expectations placed on Fields. He doesn’t think they are fair.
“They have to do it first,” he said. “That’s the problem – we put so much burden on these guys. They can’t even find their way to the dining room and the media anoints them like stars. Goodness, give him a chance to grow .
Polian said he “couldn’t determine” whether the talent drain was the result of former general manager Ryan Pace’s drafts and free agent signings or Matt Nagy’s coaching, but “the Acquiring is the first step – if you don’t have the player in the build, you can’t develop it.
As the NFL headed to the Super Bowl on Wednesday, Polian spoke from his home in Charlotte, North Carolina to promote “Super Bowl Blueprints: Hall of Famers Reveal the Keys to Football’s Greatest Dynasties,” a book that he wrote with Vic Carucci with stories of eight dominant NFL teams. On the day he fired Pace and Nagy, McCaskey quoted Polian’s book as saying the Bears would look for leaders in both vacancies.
“I actually talked to George McCaskey a bit and kind of recommended that he look for someone who had done this,” Dungy, who worked under Polian with the Colts, said this week. “And Bill Polian chose several coaches and [has] took a lot of teams to the playoffs and different things. I felt he was a natural.
Polian said he agreed to help the Bears despite his recent surgery because of the respect he had for the McCaskeys.
“George’s initial charge was to create as deep and broad a search as possible, and not just to conform to the new sayings of the Rooney Rule, but to exceed them whenever possible,” Polian said. “I think we did. Everyone who participates deserves recognition. George deserves the most credit for setting these parameters.
“I know he’s heard landlords jokingly tell him, ‘What are you going to do, interview everyone in the country?’ But the process worked.
Given the NFL’s problematic hiring practices — former Dolphins coach Brian Flores sued the league last week for discrimination — the Bears’ slate of candidates was diverse. Polian assembled a group that reached 13 GM candidates and 10 coaching hopefuls. The Bears added to their coaching roster when GMs mentioned them. The same eight coaches came back over and over again, Polian said.
The first round of interviews took place over Zoom and lasted approximately three hours. The Bears held two, sometimes three, a day. McCaskey would start with an overview and Polian would ask a series of technical questions that would allow the five committee members to follow up.
“The cogs of football, the cogs of scouting,” Polian said. “The scouting process, the creation of an editorial board, how you will manage medicine, training and equipment. Organization on the coaching side. From the offseason program to the Super Bowl. What are you going to do on a daily basis?”
The Poles had experience that belied his 36 years, Polian said — he worked three different regimes with the Chiefs and knew what he would keep — and change — with the Bears.
“Just a wide range of knowledge on how to run the scouting operation and real common sense and insightful views on how the football operation should be run,” he said. “And some really good choices in terms of who he wanted to talk to as head coach candidates.”
While writing the book, Polian discovered that the coach is the most important person in any NFL building.
” He controls [players’] destiny, it controls their economic livelihood, it controls their career, it controls how they are perceived by the public. . . said Polian. “I said, we really choose a guy here – the general manager will choose a guy here – who is the alpha and the omega for the players.
“If he can’t be the be-all and end-all, if he can’t afford it, he won’t be successful. And playing call has nothing to do with it.
Polian said his job was done after picking the Poles. The new general manager chose Eberflus from a list of three candidates that included former Falcons head coach Dan Quinn and former Lions and Colts coach Jim Caldwell. The Poles called Polian after choosing Eberflus and explained why, a courtesy Polian appreciated.
“It was his show,” Polian said of the Poles. “It is as it should be.”
Dungy called it a “coincidence” that Eberflus — who, like Polian, has ties to the Colts — got the job.
“I was really excited to see Ryan Poles get an opportunity,” Dungy said.
Polian called Eberflus “brilliant”, “wonderful” and “great”, but added that “there were a number of candidates who could fill this role”. He liked Eberflus’ emphasis on discipline, speed and physicality.
“All the right vision of what the Bears should be,” he said.
Even though he’s a defensive coach and the rest of the league prioritizes offense?
“It doesn’t matter to me at all,” he said. “Choose the best man.”