Bears were lacking direction in their search to find a coach

ON THE NFL

January 18, 2004|By KEN MURRAY

The New York Giants went for a disciplinarian. The Washington Redskins grabbed hold of a legend. The Atlanta Falcons nabbed an up-and-coming coordinator.

Of all the head coaching hirings that unfolded this month, the most curious was made by the Chicago Bears.

Not that there's anything wrong with Lovie Smith, who, like the Cincinnati Bengals' Marvin Lewis, had studiously prepared for this. Rather, it was the way the Bears went about their coaching search that makes you wonder whether general manager Jerry Angelo really knew what he wanted and really wanted what he knew.

Let's review. Angelo's first choice was Louisiana State's Nick Saban, a coach he promptly insulted with a lowball offer of $3.5 million per year. (Consider that Steve Spurrier got $5 million per year to leave Florida and failed in Washington; Saban coached the co-national champions.)

Spurned by Saban, Angelo went after three more college coaches. But Maryland's Ralph Friedgen, Iowa's Kirk Ferentz and California's Jeff Tedford all passed.

In the meantime, the Bears lost one of their backup choices, Jim Mora Jr., to the Falcons.

Now it was down to two finalists - Smith, whose St. Louis Rams defense had a meltdown in a playoff loss to the Carolina Panthers, and Russ Grimm, the offensive line coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Grimm acknowledged that he was shocked the Bears called, and showed up for his first head coaching interview in a sweater and slacks. No wonder Smith won.

With one vacancy left - the Oakland Raiders, naturally - most teams appeared to get what they wanted. The Giants replaced Jim Fassel's Club Med approach with Tom Coughlin's iron hand, the Redskins got instant credibility in Joe Gibbs, and the Buffalo Bills got an offensive mind (Mike Mularkey) who may be able to resuscitate quarterback Drew Bledsoe's career.

But maybe the best hire was made by, gasp, the Arizona Cardinals. If there's a chance for the Cardinals to shake their ineptitude, Dennis Green will find it.

What goes around ...

How's this for symmetry? The Green Bay Packers were bounced out of the playoffs because they couldn't convert fourth-and-one at the goal line and gave up a huge fourth-and-26 play at Philadelphia against the Eagles last week.

But the Packers only got to the playoffs because the Minnesota Vikings couldn't score on fourth-and-one at the goal line and gave up a game-winning touchdown on fourth-and-25 at Arizona in Week 17.

Protecting McNair

Tired of having Steve McNair limp into the postseason with an assortment of injuries, the Tennessee Titans will study every play on which their quarterback got hit this season to see whether some of the punishment can be avoided.

"We've done a real good job protecting him from a sack standpoint, but our sack numbers don't correlate with his injuries right now," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. "We'll have to look and see what happened."

McNair threw 11 touchdown passes and three interceptions in seven games before he strained his calf. He threw for eight touchdowns and seven picks in seven games after the injury.

Two-minute drill

The fallout from St. Louis coach Mike Martz's vote of no-confidence in quarterback Marc Bulger should signal the return of Kurt Warner next season as Rams starter. ... Marvin Lewis doesn't want the distraction of a quarterback controversy in training camp, so the Bengals' coach says he and his offensive coaches will make a decision by the May minicamp on Jon Kitna or No. 1 pick Carson Palmer as the starter. ... Gregg Williams, deposed Bills coach, landed in Washington as defensive coordinator under Gibbs. Here's the bad news for the Redskins: The Bills ranked last in the NFL in take-aways this season for the second year in a row. ... As if things weren't tense enough in San Diego after the Chargers' 4-12 season, GM A.J. Smith already is upset that coach Marty Schottenheimer didn't move more quickly to bring in Ted Cottrell as his new defensive coordinator. While Schottenheimer considered his options, Cottrell went to the Vikings. ... Kevin Gilbride, who lost his offensive coordinator job in Buffalo when Williams was fired, interviewed last week for the head coaching job at Cornell.

Compiled from interviews, wire services and reports from other newspapers.

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