I was asked the title question about a week ago by a Bears fan, and I’ve been mulling it over in my head ever since. A part of me wants to believe that Chicago can indeed be competitive in 2013, while another part remained skeptical and braced for a colossal disappointment.
Now, before passing judgment on my rationale here, I suggest you read through to the end.
I certainly won’t condemn Marc Trestman’s team before they even suit up for their first practice of the offseason. But the bar for the Bears, new head coach or not, still seems to be “championships.” And most fans seem confident that this is still a playoff-ready team.
The Achilles’ heel of the Bears has, for the better part of a decade, been their inept offense, and more specifically, it’s been their inability to build a successful and stable offensive line. Now, in a single offseason, Phil Emery has seemingly bolstered that group by adding left tackle Jermon Bushrod and guard Matt Slauson to the mix.
Additionally, Chicago allowed tight end Matt Spaeth to move on in Free Agency after he failed to live up to his billing in pass-protection, and they brought in blocking-end Steve Maneri on a two-year deal. All of this before even the Draft, which will yet bring youth to both sides of the ball.
Marc Trestman himself is of course an upgrade over Lovie Smith in terms of offensive mindedness, too. But, knowing all of this, in addition to what I already knew about the Chicago Bears, I still wanted to suggest fans be cautious in their approach of this team’s readiness to compete for a title—as is the stated goal.
I would agree that there is indeed even more reason for optimism than what I’ve already listed, and I will get to that. But right now, perhaps I better tell you what’s been holding me back. You see, success usually takes time to build.
I threw out this stat in another post, but I suppose it’s a good time to revisit it in case you missed what history says first-year head coaches are generally capable of: Since the George Halas era came to an end in 1967, not a single first-year head coach in Chicago Bears’ history has had a winning season.
Here are the results: Jim Dooley (7-7), Abe Gibron (4-9-1), Jack Pardee (4-10), Neill Armstrong (7-9), Mike Ditka (3-6), Dave Wannstedt (7-9), Dick Jauron (6-10) and Lovie Smith (5-11).
As I said then and will repeat now, the reality, and other side of the story, is that none of those coaches listed above inherited a 10-6 team. Marc Trestman has. But, to throw yet another wrench in the mix, six of those eight coaches I listed posted identical or worse records in their first season as head coach than the man they were hired to replace.
What does that mean? Well, not only does history, at least the history in this town, suggest Trestman will have an uphill battle to climb if he wants a winning season in 2013, it says that chances are he’ll at least finish with one worse than Smith’s 10-6 from 2012.
Are any of those stats worth the kilobytes they’re taking up on the internet stat sheets or this blog for that matter? I really don’t know. But it’s not just the Bears; many teams in the NFL show that exact same pattern.
Just as one comparison, and trust me you can find many others like this, since the Lombardi era ended in Green Bay, only Mike Holmgren and Mike Sherman posted winning records in their rookie seasons, although neither made the playoffs. Those are just two coaches out of nine.
The rule is that new head coaches struggle. But rules were made to be broken, and as with any, there are exceptions. The question now becomes whether or not Trestman can be that exception.
And here’s where things start to look up a little and where they introduce the additional optimism to the conversation that I referenced a few paragraphs ago.
For whatever reason, a number of rookie head coaches have had success in this league more and more as of recent, suggesting that, perhaps, the trend has been bucked.
In 2008, three first-year head coaches, Mike Smith of the Atlanta Falcons, Tony Sparano of the Miami Dolphins and John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens, took their teams to the playoffs. Rex Ryan followed suit in 2009, Pete Carrol joined the club in 2010, and Jim Harbaugh took his team to the postseason in 2011, following it with a Super Bowl appearance in 2012.
Or how about what Chuck Pango and Bruce Arians were both able to do in Indianapolis in a single season, both as a rookie head coach? The Colts, in fact, are an interesting team in their own right and have a long, uncommon history of success under new head coaches. Don Shula, Don McCafferty, Ted Marchibroda, Jim Mora and Tony Dungee all made the playoffs in their rookie seasons.
In fact, Trestman himself has a personal history of immediate success as a head coach, taking the Montreal Alouettes to a Grey Cup appearance in his 2008 rookie season, ultimately winning the title in 2009 and again in 2010, becoming the only coach in Alouettes’ history to win back to back Grey Cups. CFL or not, that is indeed impressive and indicative of his ability to lead successfully and quickly.
So where does that leave us?
The question I posed to not only you but myself was whether or not the Bears really have an opportunity to be successful in 2013, despite the roster turnover and new leadership. I asked if the stats really meant anything. And while I think that they (the stats) do mean something, I also think this team appears poised to be yet another recent exception to the old rule.
Remember what I said about the Colts and their rather unusual history of winning with new head coaches? I think that, while maybe I’m being a tad quixotic here, it should be noted that they did indeed interview Trestman to lead their team in 2012. And while it may not be completely rational, that makes me want to think they may have seen what Emery saw in him as well.
Can the Bears win in 2013? Yeah, I think so.
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