Monday, September 15, 2008

The Measure of a Man

The plans are set for our annual trek to Soldier Field for the Bears-Titans game a couple of months from now. And yet, I have no real rooting interest in the Bears this season. Even the amazing performance against the Colts on Sunday night in Indianapolis was not enough to change the feeling of dread I have about this year. So, the victory that slipped through the Bears fingers in Charlotte on Sunday afternoon was not a surprise, it was simply confirmation of something that Bears fans are going to have to live with: Ron Turner is the offensive coordinator and Ron Turner's ego is the biggest thing on the team.

As David Haugh noted in his story for the Chicago Tribune yesterday, Turner's quip about Orton's poor decision to change a pivotal third and one call from a run to a short pass to Marty Booker was "I could have given him a better call and not given him that option." Now, certainly, taken at face value, Turner's comment takes responsibility for something that otherwise would reflect poorly on his young quarterback. But after multiple years of following Turner's teams (both with the Illini and the Bears), Turner's comment is part of his ignoble, unbroken tradition of decimating the confidence of his players with asinine, priggish comments to the press. The ridiculous fall out from Griese's post-game comments after the win over Philadelphia last season (when Brian was taken to task for claiming credit for the play-calling on the game winning drive) should have marked the end of Turner's tenure, but, instead, the insistence that coaches, and not players, win games continues to pervade on the lakeshore. And that insistence has hamstrung Chicago even where the talent that Angelo has managed to bring to the field is top shelf.

Two things tell you what anyone needs to know about Ron Turner. First, for the second week in a row, after Matt Forte exceeded expectations with his performance and work ethic, Turner called McKie's number on the goal line for a gimmie touchdown. Second, with the game on the line, and the need to get one yard to put themselves in a position to win, Turner again called McKie's number and used Forte as a decoy. The message from both: the game is about executing Turner's game plan and not about any player, regardless of how tremendous his achievements.

So now the team is one and one. Greg Olsen is the goat for the first loss and there is very little chance that anything will happen in the locker room that will boost the first-round draft pick back up to where he can be a vital contributor to the team. And Chicago's fans will continue to be split on whether the first round picks of Grossman, Benson, Olsen, and, in the seasons to follow, Chris Williams were mistakes by the front office or whether Turner has failed to develop the talent entrusted to him. I know where I stand on the argument and I think banging away on Turner's play-calling misses the point. How is a fullback dive any more important than the fact that Ron has stewardship over Devin Hester, Matt Forte, and Greg Olsen? Ron Turner is the Bears offense, not any of those guys.

The sensitivity to the ego of the coaching staff trumping the players on the pitch has grown with the start of the NFL's season. And, so, when at RFK on Saturday night and Soehn insists on putting Rod Dyachenko (who has, admittedly, played much better of late) in for an injured Ivan Guerrero over Ryan Cordeiro -- even after impressing as a substitute in San Jose (and making the trip to College Park the night before to promote DC United along with Terp alum Dominic Mediate) -- it is difficult to take as a fan. It is even more difficult to take after the tinkering that doomed Charlton in the second half of last season began again from Pardew with Cranie supplanting a dynamic Moo2Kill at right back in their collapse against Wolverhampton. Whatever.

On the other hand, it makes watching the Cubs all the more enjoyable. The Cubs are not about Lou Pinella. The Northsiders are about the players on the field and Lou's comment after Zambrano's historic outing -- the first Cubs no-hitter in my lifetime -- was perfect. If people want to criticize him for leaving Z in, well, they are welcome to go and try and remove Carlos from that game. Lou clearly has a massive doghouse, but he does seem to reward performance as evidenced by the way he has managed to juggle the roster.

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