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‘Thorough, diligent and exhaustive’: Inside the Chicago Bears’ search for a new coach and GM — and why the ever-growing candidate list could be a concern

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‘Thorough, diligent and exhaustive’: Inside the Chicago Bears’ search for a new coach and GM — and why the ever-growing candidate list could be a concern

Let’s get something out of the way up front. The Chicago Bears are not playing musical chairs in their searches for a new general manager and head coach. There are enough impressive candidates available for both roles. The hunt need not be guided by suffocating deadline pressure.

It’s not as if, when the NFL’s search music stops, the Bears will be left without a place to sit. So the antsiest of Bears fans can pause and take a deep breath.

It’s all going to be OK.

Hopefully.

Maybe?

If the Bears conduct a shrewd and calculated exploration of their current applicants, they have a golden opportunity to make two successful hires in the coming weeks. But first and foremost, they must know what they’re truly after, what their vision is for this latest reboot and how they can unite a new GM with a new coach in a way that propels them forward as quickly as possible.

Pressure-packed chore? Absolutely. Attainable goal? Of course.

As of Wednesday morning, the Bears have completed preliminary virtual interviews with nine general manager candidates: Glenn Cook, Kwesi Adofo-Mansah, Champ Kelly, Jeff Ireland, Monti Ossenfort, Joe Schoen, Ed Dodds, Morocco Brown and Eliot Wolf. They also have spoken with six coaching candidates: Doug Pederson, Brian Flores, Nathaniel Hackett, Jim Caldwell, Brian Daboll and Matt Eberflus.

Still in the queue for GM interviews: Rick Smith, Omar Khan, JoJo Wooden, Ran Carthon, Reggie McKenzie and Ryan Poles. And on the coaching track, the team still plans to talk with Leslie Frazier, Byron Leftwich, Todd Bowles and Dan Quinn.

But the clock seems to be ticking. Especially with three other teams in the market for new GMs and seven looking to hire a coach. There’s an inherent risk in operating too slowly or methodically. But there is also potential danger in rushing things.

So in the middle of this simultaneous search process that seems like it could drag on forever, the Bears must remember that winning the race to hire isn’t the grand goal. Making the best possible hires for their needs and vision must be what drives them.

Still, within some league circles, there is a belief that the Bears don’t have a comprehensive understanding of how this process should work, even with Pro Football Hall of Fame executive Bill Polian helping to run the show.

Bears Chairman George McCaskey tried last week to offer a “we’ve got this” assurance to Chicago. “We will be thorough, diligent and exhaustive,” he said. “It will result in the best possible selections to lead the Bears to success.”

But after such a lengthy stretch of futility, the most common reaction to McCaskey’s news conference was a hard eye roll and a “we’ll see about that” response.

As the Bears march on, here are six other notes, nuggets and snippets of chatter from the first week-plus of the team’s searches.

1. This is about far more than just two hires.

Yes, the Bears will create huge headlines when they eventually hire a GM and presumably follow soon by hiring a new coach. But as many folks around the league continue to emphasize, that will be only the first step in the heavy lifting. From the top down, starting with McCaskey and President and CEO Ted Phillips, the Bears must grasp the significance of what needs to happen after those hires are made.

On the front-office side, a new GM will have to quickly assess and fortify a support staff to stabilize the entire operation. That means identifying a talented director of player personnel and an assistant director of player personnel. Perhaps consideration would be given to naming an assistant GM.

It means uniting with a director of college scouting and a director of pro scouting and, as time goes by, building the staffs below them.

Whoever the Bears hire as GM will be given full responsibility for the football operation.

Additionally, the new GM will have to study the salary-cap situation and make calculated changes. That means adding to the football operations staff in intelligent ways, including but not limited to creating a vision for how best to incorporate research and analytics.

Eventually, it means the GM must be both willing and empowered to scrutinize every corner of every department in the building and make useful changes and improvements.

On the coaching side, depending on whom the Bears hire, the first goal will be establishing an offensive vision and assembling a staff that can bring out the best in young quarterback Justin Fields. A defensive coordinator will be needed as well with a full staff of assistants. And don’t forget about special teams.

That’s why it’s paramount in this phase of the search process for Bears leaders to be asking detailed questions that go well below surface level, digging for information on how prospective hires would establish a plan and who they might bring to help.

Having a clear understanding of which candidates could assemble the best staffs is critical.

During his news conference last week, McCaskey laid out a concise thumbnail for what the Bears are seeking.

“The primary quality we’ll be looking for in both the general manager and the head coach is leadership,” he said. He went on to stress that he wants the Bears to become a winning team that’s “tough, gritty, smart and opportunistic.”

No qualms there. That’s a solid checklist of admirable qualities. But the Bears must dig much, much deeper than that. They need a more comprehensive and detailed approach to learning about the prospective leaders they’re speaking with.

The search began with McCaskey and Phillips requesting Polian’s assistance while also bringing in vice president of player engagement Lamar “Soup” Campbell and vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion Tanesha Wade.

Still, many around the league worry the Bears operation lacks enough sophisticated football knowledge to identify the best new bosses. Which brings us to Polian …

2. The Bears’ union with Bill Polian has been judged as both an honest acknowledgement of organizational weakness and a stubborn refusal to make significant change.

McCaskey’s most highlighted quote from last week came in response to a question about his belief in Justin Fields.

“Well,” McCaskey said, “I’m just a fan. I’m not a football evaluator.”

A frank admission. And it’s also a big part of the reason McCaskey and Phillips felt compelled to reach out to Polian this past season for aid in evaluating their wayward football team. With a squad that lost 11 games, had one of the league’s worst offenses and rarely rose up in the biggest moments against quality opponents, McCaskey acknowledged he needed Polian’s insight to help him with, in his words, a “retain or replace” decision on GM Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy.

And when, at the conclusion of the season, the “replace both” option was chosen, McCaskey asked Polian to stick around to aid in the searches.

It’s a similar strategy to 2015, when, with simultaneous openings at GM and head coach, the Bears hired Ernie Accorsi — a retired former NFL executive in his 70s — as a consultant to steer their searches.

This was Phillips seven years ago: “Bringing in an expert consultant like Ernie Accorsi is a huge difference. … He understands coaches. He understands general managers.”

And this was McCaskey last week: “Bill Polian is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame because of his success as a football executive, including his hiring of two head coaches, Marv Levy and Tony Dungy, who are themselves in the Hall of Fame. He is well-regarded in league circles and has a lot of contacts. We consider ourselves very fortunate to have Bill assisting us in our search.”

The Bears’ most influential leaders need help in making their biggest football-related decisions. They’ve made that clear with their actions. So why not find a younger, non-retired Polian or Accorsi type to jump into that kind of oversight role full time? Why not create a position equivalent to president of football operations to help with the team’s many blind spots, to regularly bring expertise to the efforts of building a championship team?

McCaskey was asked directly why there continues to be such rigid resistance to such a move.

“In our structure,” he said, “it’s the GM who has ultimate football authority and oversight over the entire football operation. Different structures work for different teams in different sports. We think this is the structure that will work best for us.”

But why? McCaskey didn’t elaborate on specific reasons he believes the current structure works best or why he is so hesitant to adapt or revise.

The truth is the Bears structure hasn’t worked for a long time. That’s the consensus across the NFL. The Bears have won only three playoff games in the 21st century, none since January 2011, and are 34 years removed from the last time they posted three consecutive winning seasons.

Why not at least try to make a fix?

“I don’t think there’s anything magical about a so-called football czar,” McCaskey said.

OK. But there isn’t anything magical about the approach the Bears have used either, right?

“At some point, the football person, whether it’s the general manager or an executive vice president or a president of football operations, that person has to report to ownership,” McCaskey said. “We think with the modification we’ve made, we’ve got the right structure for the Bears going forward.”

The modification McCaskey referred to was taking away Phillips’ responsibilities of overseeing the GM. Shifting them, of course, to McCaskey himself. Who, by his own admission, is not a football evaluator.

So now Polian — like Accorsi in 2015 — will steer the Bears hiring process, then drift away when it’s over with no real stake in how things turn out.

To many around the league, that doesn’t seem like the ideal approach. Still, as one prominent source with knowledge of the Bears process said last weekend, “Without Polian’s involvement right now, that search would be entirely off the rails.”

3. The efficiency of the Bears searches will be best judged at the conclusion of the process.

With the Bears still in the middle of their first wave of interviews, it’s difficult to forecast where everything will head. But there has been some head-scratching around the league in regard to what the Bears hope to accomplish by interviewing so many coaching candidates before they’ve secured a GM.

One school of thought says the Bears could gain an early understanding from their coaching interviews of what kind of GM each candidate would work best with. But there’s also an outside worry that the team might not be using its time and resources most effectively with such a scattershot approach.

What happens, for example, if the Bears hire a GM who wants to oversee his own coaching search, hoping to start that process from scratch with his own lists of questions and candidates? Would that person be allowed free rein to circle back for preliminary interviews with coaching candidates who already interviewed?

And what happens if a prospective GM has, say, three or four coaching targets who weren’t on the Bears’ original list? Would he get latitude to open things back up?

Those are all questions worth asking.

When the week started, the only other teams in the GM hunt were the New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings. (Both are also seeking new head coaches.) The Giants began their search by speaking only with prospective GMs, interviewing nine candidates between Jan. 12 and Monday. Their hope is to hire a GM and then begin the coaching search.

Schoen — who is also on the Bears radar — had his second interview with the Giants on Tuesday as a finalist for that gig.

The Vikings, meanwhile, have adapted a similar approach in prioritizing their GM search over the coaching search, though they did speak with Hackett about their coaching position Sunday.

The Las Vegas Raiders, who lost in the wild-card round of the AFC playoffs Saturday evening and fired GM Mike Mayock on Monday, are a little late in getting started. Their progress will be worth tracking as well.

4. Some are increasingly worried about how wide the Bears have cast their net.

Fifteen known GM candidates. Ten on the coaching front. And no guarantee the lists won’t grow.

Is this a show of admirable thoroughness? Or perhaps a sign the Bears didn’t do enough homework from January 2021 until now to formulate a list and narrow their targets before embarking on an exhaustive search process that should have been on their radar as a distinct possibility for more than a year? Depends on who you ask.

In 2018, the Bears interviewed six coaching candidates before selecting Nagy.

In 2015, they met with six known prospective GMs and six coaching applicants before hiring Pace and John Fox, respectively.

With 25 preliminary interviews to work through and presumably a second wave of in-person meetings with the finalists, the Bears are certainly being exhaustive in trying to get things right. But the length of their candidate lists is perceived by some on the outside as lack of preparation, a possible indication the Bears jumped into the process in “just winging it” mode without much advanced preparation and research to streamline things.

And while these searches aren’t on a shot clock, it is worth noting that as other teams make hires, some dominoes will begin to fall, particularly as it relates to the all-important hiring processes for front-office support staff and assistant coaches.

5. Former Bears quarterback Jay Cutler says the dysfunction inside Halas Hall was frequently palpable and problematic during his time in Chicago.

Cutler was with the Bears from 2009-2016. General manager Jerry Angelo traded for him, Phil Emery signed him to a massive extension and Pace co-existed with him for two seasons before cutting him. Cutler played for head coaches Lovie Smith, Marc Trestman and Fox and had six offensive coordinators in Chicago — Ron Turner, Mike Martz, Mike Tice, Aaron Kromer, Adam Gase and Dowell Loggains.

Cutler’s opinion on the Bears’ consistent struggles is informed and at least worth considering. During his weekly appearance Friday on “Waddle and Silvy” on WMVP-AM 1000, he noted the high degree of difficulty all NFL teams encounter in trying to find successful general managers and head coaches.

“There are a lot of NFL teams that haven’t gotten that right,” Cutler said. “It’s not like (the Bears) are the only ones not getting it right. It just hasn’t happened. … I think it boils down to this. There are good coaches out there. But there aren’t a lot of great coaches. I think that’s the hard part. And then putting together the GM and the coach and also then drafting right, a lot of things have to go right for a team to come together.”

Cutler also expressed doubt in any process that would lead a team to hire its coach before its GM. In a backward sort of way, when the Bears hired Emery in 2012 while making sure he kept Smith (an Angelo hire) as coach, it created inevitable awkwardness and tension.

“You definitely feel that,” Cutler said. “Whenever things aren’t going well, you know upstairs who hired who. Everyone does. That’s human nature. There are certain ways to do it. There are certain ways not to do it. … You have to marry the two together at some point. If you’re hiring them separately (or out of order), the GM then has a tough job. That’s not his guy.”

One key issue Cutler sees at Halas Hall: “You’re having non-football people pick out football people,” he said. “It just gets backwards sometimes.”

Cutler’s confidence in the Bears successfully assembling their puzzle isn’t high.

“Hopefully they make some solid decisions,” he said. “But history isn’t on their side.”

6. So much of this is still a crapshoot.

At some point, the Bears will hold an introductory news conference for their new GM. They will unveil their new coach in similar fashion. Both sessions figure to be upbeat and full of optimism and promise.

Alas, given the organization’s lengthy track record of mediocrity, all the excitement and praise that bubbles up in those gatherings will have to be taken with a grain of salt and run through a “see it to believe it” filter.

Remember the confidence McCaskey expressed about a new GM and coach seven years ago?

“We feel this is a prestigious position,” he said then. “We’ve already had inquiries from people who want to be involved with the Chicago Bears and we think this is a prime destination. … We understand the magnitude of this decision. We understand Bears fans are counting on us to get it right.”

Remember how sold Phillips was when the team hired Pace soon after?

“He has the intelligence, the passion, the integrity, high character and toughness to be a strong leader and to make an immediate and lasting impact,” Phillips said. “He has a clear vision and a plan to build a championship team. He was an integral part of a consistently winning organization in New Orleans, and he learned the value of hard work, enjoying his job and the importance of being a team so that every employee not only bought into his vision but knows their contribution to success matters.”

And remember how optimistic Pace was when he joined the Bears and set out to find a new coach?

“I want to win,” he said. “The first step is hiring the right head coach to help me lead that charge. That’s the most critical thing we can do. … It’s the best man for the job. And that’s the process we’re going through right now. Thorough interviews on these candidates is critical. And there’s urgency. No question there’s urgency. But the most important thing is we get this right.”

And remember how strongly Fox felt immediately after he was hired about the potential to develop a productive working relationship with Pace?

“That relationship may be the most important relationship in an NFL building,” he said. “This is a ‘we’ not ‘me’ profession. … We had people that we respect within the league who knew both of us and felt very, very confident we’d be perfect together.”

Remember the confidence Phillips expressed after the Pace-Fox marriage failed and the developing GM was given a contract extension and a second chance to hire a coach heading into 2018?

“He has leadership skills,” Phillips said of Pace. “He shows a clear vision of how to put together a winning team. He’s always striving to find better ways to get that competitive edge. With his management skills, he understands what the coaches need. He understands how to develop players.”

Remember Pace’s eagerness to start that hunt for a new partner in the head coaching role?

“I feel extremely prepared right now,” he said. “It will be a collaborative effort with George, Ted and myself, with me spearheading that effort and ultimately making the final decision. … Like anybody, you get better at your job with more experience. And I think the more familiar (I’ve gotten) with the inner workings of our building and our roster, the more confident I am.”

Remember how much belief Nagy had in the Bears when he was hired?

“The direction of this team and this organization, you see. You feel it,” he said. “There’s a want there to be great. One of the things I noticed right off the bat with Ryan is understanding how easy it’s going to be for us to have a partnership. It’s going to be strong.”

And remember how certain Pace was about that partnership with Nagy creating a run of sustained success?

“It’s a really great feeling when you meet a person and everything clicks,” he said. “Matt’s a proven leader. He’s a winner. He’s intelligent, he’s innovative, he has strong character. He has a great family and he shares the same passion for the game that I have.”

Now remember how certain McCaskey and Phillips were last January when they decided to keep Pace and Nagy together for a win-or-else season in 2021.

“In the end, all four of us want what’s best for the Bears,” McCaskey said. “There are no egos. There are no other agendas. Have mistakes been made? Yes. But I think both Ryan and Matt are learning and growing in their roles.”

Added Phillips: “We trust Ryan and Matt to use their experiences together — the good ones and the bad ones — learn from them and bring a consistently winning team back to Chicago. Everyone in this building is fixated on being a championship organization.”

None of it amounted to much of anything.

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Wisconsin couple kills bear that attacked them in their home

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Ravens kicker Justin Tucker’s record-breaking kick honored as NFL’s Best Moment of the Year

MEDFORD, Wis. (AP) — A Wisconsin couple say they killed a bear that attacked them inside their home after they spotted it eating from their bird feeder.

The Taylor County Sheriff’s office said the attack happened around 11 p.m. Friday at a home near Medford in north-central Wisconsin. The couple told authorities that the bear charged through a window after they yelled at it to go away.

Both the husband and wife were injured before they were able to stab the bear with a kitchen knife. Eventually, the man was able to grab a firearm and kill the animal.

The man and woman were treated at a hospital for several bites and other injuries before being released. The couple’s children were asleep in their bedrooms at the time and were not injured.

The sheriff’s office said the bear was an adult female, and one cub was seen running off as the bear ran toward the home. State wildlife officials took the bear for testing. Authorities have not specified what kind of bear it was.

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Following draft combine, what comes next for Orlando Magic with No. 1 pick?

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Following draft combine, what comes next for Orlando Magic with the No. 1 pick?

Considering the Orlando Magic’s draft lottery history, nothing is easy during the scouting process that culminates with the NBA draft in New York.

But when taking into account what lies ahead for them, the easier part is behind the Magic.

Orlando landing the No. 1 pick in the June 23 draft gave the Magic full control. Now they have the pressure — which they welcome — of making sure they choose the right player.

“We have more work to do,” general manager John Hammond said on In The Zone with Brandon Kravitz. “Evaluation of watching these guys a little more thoroughly, a little more succinctly. Most importantly, a chance to actually spend time with them, get to know them, run them through a battery and find out everything we can.”

The Magic will start hosting workouts at their facility for prospects over the next few weeks, giving them a chance to make more in-depth evaluations than they did during the draft combine in Chicago — where many of the top prospects didn’t take part in scrimmages, on-court drills or measurements.

Duke’s Paolo Banchero, Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren and Auburn’s Jabari Smith are considered the top players in the draft.

Hammond reiterated that Orlando will choose the player the Magic believe will be the best in the long run, not just who fits next year’s team better.

“You hate to be too cliché and say, ‘We’re going to go with the best player on the board,’ but I really believe that when you get to this level of the draft, you live by that,” Hammond said. “We can’t sacrifice a lesser player just because we have this need. I don’t think any need can be that great.”

But would the Magic lean on the guys on their roster for those evaluations?

Wendell Carter Jr. (Duke), Chuma Okeke (Auburn) and Jalen Suggs (Gonzaga) all went to college where one of the top prospects did, although none of them did at the same time as the players the Magic are considering.

“[Wendell] probably knows Paolo, somewhat, maybe from the Duke connection,” Hammond said. “I don’t know if Chuma has a real strong relationship with Jabari. The interesting one is Jalen Suggs and Chet are close. If we’re going to consult with one on one situation, that’d be it.”

The Magic also have the Nos. 32 and 35 picks in the second round.

They spoke with multiple players during last week’s combine who could be available when they’re on the board with one of those second-round picks.

Orlando will bring in prospects it believes could be available in the range of those second-round selections for workouts.

“This is kind of like the dating process — you don’t know who that person is until you actually live with them,” Hammond said. “That’s when you make the full commitment. We’re going to have to get to know them the best we can.”

This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Khobi Price at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @khobi_price.

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Southern Minnesotans to vote in special primary Tuesday for Jim Hagedorn’s seat in Congress

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Southern Minnesotans to vote in special primary Tuesday for Jim Hagedorn’s seat in Congress

Voters in southern Minnesota will choose candidates in a special primary this week in the first step in a complicated process for filling the seat of Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn, who died of cancer in February.

REPUBLICAN CANDIDATES

The GOP candidates Tuesday for the 1st District seat include Hagedorn’s widow, Jennifer Carnahan, who has leveled a series of bitter attacks in the final days of the campaign against two of her main rivals in the primary, state Rep. Jeremy Munson and former state Rep. Brad Finstad. She has labeled both of them as captives of “Establishment Republicans and the Washington Swamp.” And she has claimed that her husband made it clear before he died that he did not want Munson to replace him.

EARLIER: Jeremy Munson, with help of own money, leads fundraising for Jim Hagedorn congressional seat

Former President Donald Trump hasn’t endorsed a candidate to replace the staunchly pro-Trump Hagedorn, but Carnahan, of Blue Earth, has been making the most overt appeals to Trump supporters. Her website is loaded with photos and videos of her and Hagedorn with Trump, and of her appearances at Trump campaign events in 2020.

Carnahan was forced out as chair of the Republican Party of Minnesota last August after a prominent donor was indicted on child sex trafficking charges and former staffers complained of a toxic work environment. And she was sued by Hagedorn’s mother, stepfather and sister this month in a dispute over money they loaned to help cover his medical bills. But she’s painting herself as the best candidate to carry on her husband’s legacy — and Trump’s.

Munson, of Lake Crystal, is a founder of a hard-right faction that broke from the main Minnesota House GOP Caucus. He’s painting himself as the truest conservative in the race. He has been touting his string of endorsements from nationally prominent congressional hard-liners, including Sens. Ted Cruz, of Texas, and Rand Paul, of Kentucky; Reps. Jim Jordan, of Ohio, Scott Perry, of Pennsylvania, and Thomas Massie, of Kentucky; and former U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, of Minnesota. His website includes a photo of him at a Trump rally with Trump in the background.

Munson won 55% of the vote when 1st District Republicans met last month to try to endorse a candidate for the general election in November, but he fell short of the required 60%. Due to the accelerated calendar, the party hasn’t endorsed a candidate for the special primary nor the special general election Aug. 9 that will decide who gets to fill out the rest of Hagedorn’s term.

Finstad, of New Ulm, has the backing of several Minnesota GOP officeholders, including U.S. Reps. Michelle Fischbach and Pete Stauber of Minnesota, as well as the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association. And he’s been quick to remind voters that he was Trump’s state director for USDA Rural Development in Minnesota.

But Carnahan has attacked Finstad for clicking “like” on tweets perceived as anti-Trump and claims he’s a “squishy” Republican establishment figure who never truly supported Trump.

Other Republicans on the ballot include agricultural attorney Matt Benda, of Albert Lea, and state Rep. Nels Pierson, of Rochester.

DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATES

On the Democratic side, the endorsed candidate is former Hormel Foods CEO Jeffrey Ettinger, of Austin, who now chairs the Hormel Foundation.

His opponents include University of Minnesota law professor Richard Painter, of Mendota Heights, a former White House ethics lawyer in President George W. Bush’s administration.

Turnout for Tuesday’s special primary is expected to be low, and the process for what will follow is complicated.

The special primary and the Aug. 9 special general election are being held within the district’s existing borders. But Aug. 9 is also when Minnesota will hold regular primaries statewide.

The winner of the special general election, who will fill out the rest of Hagedorn’s term into January, presumably will also win the district’s regular primary that same day. That should give him or her an advantage heading into the November general election, which will determine who holds the seat in the next Congress.

Both the regular primary and the general election will be held within the district’s new court-adjusted borders. Redistricting this year didn’t change the political balance of the district much, so it still leans Republican.

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