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SportsMonday: Angelo's Legacy Still Unwritten

It's easy to fire a coach or a general manager. It's hard to have a plan to replace someone in one of those roles with an upgrade and then to execute that plan.

If Bears president Ted Phillips and chairman of the board George McCaskey even had such a plan before they dismissed Jerry Angelo last week, there are already plenty of reasons to believe it is compromised.

The fact that Ravens' assistant general manager Eric DeCosta wouldn't even talk to the home team certainly wasn't a good sign. But it shouldn't have been a surprise. Reports noted that the Ravens had recently upped his salary to "average NFL general manager" range and given him more authority. He appears to be the power, or at least the by-far leading voice, behind the throne where longtime Raven general manager Ozzie Newsome sits.

You also have to figure there was no way in the universe the Ravens were going to let the Bears get DeCosta because they are still pissed about the trade snafu that played out on the first day of the 2011 draft.

Then there was the case of Packers' assistant G.M. Reggie McKenzie (some of these guys have different official titles but the best way to describe them is as an assistant to the guy who runs the personnel show and the best generic term for that guy is "general manager"). There was some buzz that the Bears were interested in signing him but the Raiders swept in and took McKenzie off the market right after the season ended.

The fact that the Raiders - whose latest managerial fiasco was paying the Bengals considerably more than anyone else was offering for quarterback Carson Palmer at last year's trade deadline and then watched him pile up the interceptions as the team disintegrated down the stretch - were so interested in McKenzie was a strike against him. No big loss there.

Late last week, the word was the Bears were seriously considering promoting their own assistant GM (and Angelo's best friend Tim Ruskell to the big chair. Surely that wasn't the plan was it?

Then again, the one preseason move we know was Ruskell's worked out pretty well. The Bears brought in Chris Spencer, who Ruskell had drafted when he was with the Seahawks, and Spencer, a center for the past half-dozen years, had a good year filling in at guard despite playing for a long while with a plate and screws in a broken hand suffered early in the campaign.

There is always the possibility the Bears could move aggressively and decisively this week. But in the immediate aftermath of Angelo's dismissal, the team was flailing.

On the other hand, and contrary to the sports media's conventional wisdom, not being able to hire the head coach isn't going to be a big issue for potential general manager candidates. In fact, I think having Lovie Smith in place is actually a positive. Whoever takes this job will have a year to evaluate the coach and his staff and to survey the field regarding potential replacements. If the Bears don't make it to the playoffs and, really, win at least a game there next year, the new general manager will have the chance to dump Lovie (who will only have one year left on his contract) and start from scratch with a valuable year's worth of experience under his belt.

Looking back, Angelo's draft record was clearly checkered in the first few rounds through the years. I had known that no offensive player he had drafted for the Bears had made the Pro Bowl until second-round pick Matt Forte did it a month ago, but it was still jarring to be reminded of that state of affairs when Forte was honored.

Other Angelo picks didn't develop as hoped and it is too soon to tell about many of the guys taken in the last few years. And certain elements of his philosophy, particularly his refusal to bring in at least one big-time receiver to help Jay Cutler really get the passing game humming, became more and more irritating as time went by.

Still, the primary way he should be remembered is as the guy who brought in the franchise quarterback the Bears had been seeking for just about forever. If Jay Cutler can just stay healthy for a full season and the playoffs, and get a little bit of help through free agency and the draft in the coming offseason, Angelo's legacy could very well be an overall positive one.

My final thought on this past week is also positive. I never thought I would see the day that the McCaskey family would agree to fire a high-salaried officer in their organization with two years left on his deal. The move made it clear that George McCaskey is willing to spend more money to try to build a winner than the siblings who have run the team before him.

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Send your comments and complaints to Jim "Coach" Coffman.


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