By: Robert Zeglinski
Coaching dynamics in the NFL are straightforward. They can be boiled down to a few succinct paths.
There are first, of course, the nepotists, with regular rewards for their children (often not based on any merit). These permeate across the landscape of a titan of a league, and have existed since professional football’s inception. They will never, unfortunately, simply walk away. When some of them are coaching on Championship Sunday (ahem), it’s hard not to be a yes-man!
Next come the bona fide proteges. Groomed for success and mentored for the tumbles of adversity by “those who have come before,” these folks have earned their opportunity to spout off platitudes, build cultures, and design plays. They toiled away for years working long hours as ball boys, glorified building administrators, and personal assistants all for one uplifting shot with a dysfunctional franchise. Oh so occasionally, when at the helm, they’ll instill Team Game Nights! Perhaps a pizza party or few, too. How fun! Sometimes these hires work and operate in an ideal harmony. Divisions, conferences, and Super Bowls are captured. It works out. Sometimes, more regularly, they fall asleep at the wheel. Teams, in turn, revert back to what’s easy: Promoting who they know in their descendants.
The outliers in this equation don’t belong to either camp. Whatever resume they’ve pieced together has been their own, and their own alone. Challenges they face when embarking on a new endeavor are more related to how they can ingratiate themselves to a team of young men in their 20s, rather than any entrenched sticking power they otherwise possessed before taking the job. In other words, their reputation does not precede or protect them. It’s an addendum to their next chapter. There’s also an under-the-table deal made in these situations. When they succeed, their boss, the head coach, takes the lion’s share of the credit. And when they falter, time and again, they are the timeless scapegoat. In a results-driven business, there is no business but inflating your ego at the cost of subordinates, or covering your own ass.
This is where new Bears offensive coordinator Bill Lazor enters the fray.
The last anyone saw of Lazor in a major football coaching capacity was with the Bengals from 2016-2018. His primary task then was to help salvage whatever was left of noted “Red Pop-Gun” Andy Dalton. On a grander scale, Cincinnati had hoped Lazor would maintain a measure of consistency and aplomb. There are few concepts more ironic in football than the Bengals and consistency or aplomb. In either facet, for factors certainly above Lazor’s grade, he was unable to make his unique brand of lipstick on an orange-striped pig look attractive. The Bengals soldiered on, regressing and floundering about in a manner that can only be appreciated on a primal level of football spectating.
Culpability in this situation, warranted or not, was deserved. Coordinators like Lazor are always the first to appear in the crosshairs when facing unjust circumstances: He was fired at the conclusion of the 2018 season, when the now league-worst Bengals began to bottom out. An unsurprising development, to be sure. Many a bright and accomplished soul, more so than Lazor, has failed to manifest any sort of magic in the firestorm known as Paul Brown Stadium.
Most coaches would not choose to recalibrate and take a breath when humbled. In a workaholic profession where 18-20 hour days are the norm, where family and social life neglect is the standard, and where a few hours on the couch in the office is a good night’s sleep, it’s difficult to say you’ve had enough. It’s difficult to admit how much of effect a toll the job has had on your body, and your mental faculties. It’s difficult to remove yourself from an intoxicating environment. It’s difficult to say no. But that’s what Lazor did. Those mentioned bright, more accomplished souls? They would have pasted themselves into personal oblivion, without a second thought.
Perhaps that pragmatism is why Lazor might be a man to bet on. It might be why something meaningful can be sowed in the short term under his stead, and bountiful rewards can be reaped in the long-term. It might be why, ultimately, he could lead the Bears into their next extended tunnel of darkness. Whether they come out on the other side with the sun shining, unscathed, depends on how much of a role the 47-year-old plays at Halas Hall. More likely, it’ll have little to do with his efforts at all.
In the past decade, the Bears have fielded two top-10 offenses in DVOA or yards; in 2013 and 2015. On the seldom occasions they’ve made the postseason (2010 and 2018), stellar, championship-caliber defenses were held back by middling offensive attacks that relied on unsteady gimmicks and had no discernible identity (aside from being mediocre, frustrating, and plodding, that is). It should serve as no shock to anyone who has paid invested any energy into the Bears over this period, that both instances ended in disappointing January excision. This has been the Bears’ mandate for 30-plus years: Construct a great defense, watch it implode once it’s asked to carry more weight. Rinse, repeat, and maintain “it’s going to get better.” It never does. The offense has served as an untouchable stone because it’s been unmovable, impossible to improve. The way of the world can’t be reversed.
Poor quarterback play might as well be the Bears’ organizational motto. The second iteration of the Roarin’ 20s have arrived, and Chicago still hasn’t had a face-of-the-league type player at the sport’s most important position since the immediate aftermath of the second World War. When you ponder why the Bears’ offense continues to flounder, look under center or from the shotgun, and you’ll have your answer. This query, this eternal chain around the Bears’ ankles, won’t change until it finally does. If it ever does. (Mitchell Trubisky is the answer to that question as to who you’ll currently see, but not The Answer.)
Lazor’s mission in the coming year or years, is not an easy one. He’s fighting against the grain the moment he steps inside the facilities at Lake Forest. Decades of futility and angst and hyperbole cannot be toppled in one fell swoop. Goodwill must first be established. Faith in a process that tests the patience of observers and those involved, can’t be eroded as quickly. And more than anyone else, regardless of the plan the Bears execute to lift themselves back up in the coming months, Lazor is expected to run it, with flying colors, without a blink. He’ll be blamed and castigated the moment the Bears have their first three-and-out under his guidance. The key for Lazor is is how often that happens, and how often it’s mitigated entirely.
One almost wonders why the middle-aged coach decided to un-retire and take on this mountain of a challenge. If the Bears’ offense is irreparable, broken beyond conceivable thought, how can Lazor be a force for intelligent good? If the psychosis of a fanbase, city, and organization is over the edge, how does Lazor pull everyone back up?
Whatever response he has determines the precision of his, yes, “laser” (pun intended) on molding his scheme. If his response amounts to feckless fine-tuning, the outcome is easy to foresee before the madness begins. He becomes but another bright soul that failed to create magic in the firestorm known as Soldier Field.
Robert is a writer and editor. Follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.