George McCaskey, Ted Phillips fail to earn trust in hopeless press conference

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McCaskey, Phillips dig deep hole in hapless press conference originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Who knew the Bears’ worst loss of the 2020 campaign would come three days after the season ended?

Wednesday’s Zoom press conferences – particularly the one that included chairman George McCaskey and president Ted Phillips – sent all the wrong messages to a fan base that is fed up with mediocrity.

McCaskey and Phillips had one goal to accomplish Wednesday: Send a message to Bears fans that they can be trusted to fix what is broken. They failed miserably.

The problem was not that they retained general manager Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy, it’s the way in which they defended that decision. There are legitimate reasons to keep both, but instead, McCaskey constantly cited the team’s six-game LOSING streak as evidence that everything will be OK.

“I was impressed with both of them this past season, especially during the six-game losing streak,” McCaskey said. “The fact that our players never gave up is a tribute to the players. It is also indicative of the type of players that Ryan acquires and to the players regard for Matt as their head coach.”

Nagy’s ability to keep the team together during that time period is absolutely one of the reasons to keep him, but leading with the six-game losing streak as your defense is not the way to inspire confidence. The losing is why fans are upset. You bring that up when a reporter inevitably asks about the losing streak because it derailed the season. You don’t lead with it.

Instead, perhaps mention that Nagy’s .560 winning percentage is tied with Lovie Smith for third all-time in Bears history among coaches that made it at least 48 games. Make it clear that it’s just a starting point and explain why you believe he can challenge George Halas’ .682 winning percentage. Inspire some damn hope.

And this was just moments after McCaskey praised Phillips by saying, “The leadership that Ted Phillips has displayed during the pandemic has been extraordinary. It is yet another example of why our family has so much faith in him as the Bears’ president and CEO.”

Guess what? The fans don’t. The Bears have made the playoffs six times in Phillips’ 22-year run as team president. They haven’t won a playoff game in a decade.

That’s what the fans care about. Winning.

And we’re still in the opening statement, folks.

When McCaskey was asked about who he consults with on these major organizational decisions, he said this:

“I confer with other owners around the league whose opinions I trust, and I confer with members of our family and members of the board of directors before making a decision like this.”

The early word out of Green Bay is that the Packers are pleased with how things are going in Chicago.

“There are a number of people that I trust and respect in the league — just a few of them, certainly not an inclusive list,” McCaskey said when pressed for clarification. “John Mara (Giants), Art Rooney (Steelers) and Michael Bidwill (Cardinals). They’ve been through these types of situations.”

Then there was Phillips trying to sell the Bears’ culture like a mortgage in 2007.

“We know that we all ultimately want the same thing: a winner — and we have exactly the right football culture that all teams strive for,” Phillips said.

This is the same culture the starting quarterback questioned just three days ago. And the same culture in which two different wide receivers were ejected in two different games for punching the same player.

Look, everyone is aware of the great people working inside the organization. And yes, the way Pace cleaned up the organization after the brutal Phil Emery years is one of the reasons to keep the GM, but it’s not what your fans want to hear. The Bears might have a respectful culture, but they don’t have a winning culture. Right now, they have an 8-8 culture defined by a six-game losing streak, so what exactly are other teams envious of?

“When you sit back and look at what makes a successful organization besides wins and losses, it’s the people that you have,” Phillips said. “It’s whether or not they can put their egos down. It’s whether or not they can look at situations, self-reflect, admit to their mistakes and try to find learnings from not just their mistakes, but the successes that they’ve had and build off of those.”

Oh, the irony. Because that’s exactly what McCaskey and Phillips failed to do when they sent a clear message to their fans that the status quo is acceptable.

The truth is, it was not surprising to see Pace and Nagy retained Wednesday, but in doing so, McCaskey and Phillips needed to present some sort of plan that screamed “trust us.” Unfortunately, there’s no more obvious reason not to trust them than Phillips’ unwillingness to confirm the length of Pace’s current contract. It’s long been thought that Pace is still on a contract set to expire after the 2021 season, but Phillips would not confirm that.

“It’s not really pertinent to what we’re talking about here today in my opinion,” Phillips said.

Later, Pace also refused to confirm the remaining years left on his contract, but he was put in a tough position considering his boss clearly didn’t want that information to be public.

Of course, this matters when it comes to public accountability, something the Bears failed to establish Wednesday. In an unexpected twist, McCaskey and Phillips did Pace and Nagy a favor. The owner and president managed to take the heat off the football people and put it squarely on themselves.

Considering they oversee a franchise stuck in a 35-year Super Bowl drought, that’s exactly where the heat should be.

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