By: Robert Zeglinski
Public intelligence agencies are notorious for their secrecy. Outfits like the CIA and FBI are deliberate in what information they share, and what they deem classified. There are rigid factors to training and earned trust for any entry level data miner or intern, let alone a stereotypical suave field agent or field director. The Jason Bourne’s and Jack Ryan’s of the real world, on a smaller scale, aren’t born overnight. The secretive standards they are held to reflect that of a state of internal, self-justified paranoia. It’s out of safety, out of a mandate of looking out for the common good. For justice. It’s to help people less involved feel more important, and included, as if such a goal merited weight. Sometimes this inherent bureaucratic process is warranted. Sometimes it’s convoluted to a fault.
But there is a fine line. One the CIA, FBI, MI6 could never dare cross. Even in the darkest corners of careful, planned espionage, no spy or technology or background blueprint could match the nuclear codes an NFL team pretends it’s hiding come the off-season. Langley, Virginia would kill to have the same power and bunker-sealed airtight bubble of Lake Forest, Illinois.
The annual Scouting Combine is a comprehensive meeting of the minds. A presumptive, decadent breaking of bread over shrimp cocktails, dark stouts, chardonnay. Bargains are made under the table on inebriated whims. On-field actions of prospects in shorts take second fiddle to the face-to-face interaction of Indianapolis after dark. And as far as Ryan Pace’s are concerned, nothing of value comes to light until well after the curtains have dropped and the sun rises on a sleepy southern Indiana landscape. Short of implied subtext read into by an intrepid reporter or three, there’s no other reasonable method of reading the Combine.
This isn’t to say that what the Bears venture out to accomplish at Lucas Oil Stadium is of no consequence. The NFL Draft is boiled down to such an overcomplicated inexact science of human emotion and athletic prosperity—perspectives proving to be foolhardy in perfect measurements—that it pays to possess as much as background research on hand as possible. Every piece of data, every quote, every conversation makes a difference. Sometimes that difference means the inevitable drafting of Mitchell Trubisky over an NFL and Super Bowl MVP like Patrick Mahomes, calling the entire process into question. But most of the time, no organization will regret doing its homework and staying on deadline. Jobs, futures, and all important revenue are on the line, after all. Fan consternation looking on can only last so long.
Actions always speak louder than words. In the case of Ryan Pace, taking any of his utterances and extrapolating them into a cloudy fabrication, ignores the contextual ledger of his past work. What he says at the Combine (the unofficial opening ceremony of the off-season) has seldom alluded to execution. If he was at the front of the pack in a navy blue and orange tracksuit leading the Bears around a track, while fireworks blaze in the air and the 31 other teams follow around, you would not be able to discern any sort of emotion from his poker face. That’s by design. Whereas others would be prideful in their displays of team unity and plans of consistent success in the spring, Pace would defer. He would step back. He would acknowledge questions of performance and preparation. His solemn work do the talking for him by the time every relevant departed the sleepy center of the Midwest. No nationalism or team-ism present.
Pace’s obsequiousness has been evident in the past. Instead of his heart and sound logic, it’s the thing he might actually wear on his sleeve in an ironic twist. A guarded poker hand held tight in front of this middle-aged man’s face is not new. It’s his default setting.
When former head coach John Fox was on the hot seat entering the 2017 season following two middling campaigns, Pace was noncommittal in offering an endorsement of the coaching veteran. Drafting a young quarterback such as Trubisky (without Fox’s input) was the only statement needed to articulate Pace’s genuine feelings on his autumnal underling. Fox was being ushered out the door, and had no power to change the outcome. Pace was in charge. Personnel fluctuation did his speaking for him.
When Mike Glennon threatened a supposed comprehensive plan to move forward with a green face of the franchise, Pace espoused over the potential of the journeyman quarterback. Never mind that the previous ineffective, tepid play of Glennon made him a journeyman for good reason, he was Pace’s golden lamb. The man to fill a massive hole under center. The person to delay the selection of a quarterback at the top of the draft because of his quality and superiority. The man to transform Chicago into a contender on the strength of his unthreatening five-yard check-downs. Taking Trubisky anyway, while Glennon watched on with fans at a draft party at Soldier Field, should have been foreseen. It was the ultimate evidence to use to poke a hole into all of Pace’s future rhetoric. The formula from herein was to listen to whatever Pace stated in public in confidence, and then assume he was thinking the exact opposite. Because he was. Because he is.
Trubisky is the next target in Pace’s unofficial, totally-not-paying-attention, crosshairs.
The worst-kept secret is that the Bears need more from their quarterback. A year after winning the NFC North, Chicago stumbled to a .500 record in 2019 largely thanks to their deficiencies from the head of the table. Even if every scout, media member, and fan knows that the Bears desire from their offensive signal caller. Even if a pending change was as obvious a reality as the sky being blue, or chocolate being the only candy being worthwhile to consume, Pace would still appear withdrawn if asked to elaborate on the future. He could be lying on his death bed with nothing else to live for. He still would neglect to divulge any of the Bears’ internal processing or thinking. “We believe in Mitch,” leaving the taciturn general manager’s lips on Tuesday morning, is as sincere a gesture as a child saying they brushed their teeth before bed even though their toothbrush is bone dry.
Take Pace too seriously and you risk being thrown out of his loop, his primary want. Take the child too seriously, and well, I hope you have good dental insurance for the root canal they will eventually need. Word to the wise, but feeling as if your gums are being stabbed by the back end of a stiletto heel is not a pleasant experience. Check Pace’s toothbrush tonight, every night.
A man of contradictory terms. A man of reservation who so happens to be the director of a professional football team. Even the CIA could not be so coy when taken to task. But they do not have an assortment of draft picks to manage and use in a wise fashion. Only the national security of one of the world’s most prosperous first-world nations. Ho-hum. Football comes before safety and international interest. Football comes first to any devoted hardhead. Ryan Pace would be the first to tell anyone that. By saying the exact opposite.
Robert is a writer and editor. Follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.