WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — After becoming chairman of the board last May, George McCaskey has overseen an interesting year for the team his grandfather George Halas founded. McCaskey sat down with the Tribune at the NFL meetings to discuss the state of the Bears.
What stood out from your first year as chairman of the board?
Once the labor situation was resolved, what stands out?
We didn't make the playoffs. That was disappointing. You saw the last two years, teams that barely made the playoffs won the Super Bowl. You have to get in to make hay. The Giants had lost four in a row and they wanted the head coach's head on a platter. Then they won the Super Bowl. It was a reminder that you have to get in, and when you have the right guy, you have to stick with him.
Do you believe Lovie Smith is the right guy?
The players like to play for him. He's consistent. He's fair. He's tough. He knows how to win.
There has been some thought that he has one year to prove himself to new general manager Phil Emery. Do you view it that way?
Lovie will be the first to tell you that everybody in the NFL is there on a prove-it basis. From what I've seen, he and Phil are working very well together. We hope that shows in results on the field.
What does the chairman of the board do?
The most important thing is that you are contributing to a climate, a climate that encourages sustained success. It can be done in big ways. But a lot of times it's done in a lot of little ways, just telling people they did a good job, that their efforts are appreciated, that we are all in this together, pulling in the same direction.
Would the general manager change have happened if you were not in your position?
I don't know about that. It was Ted (Phillips') decision. We supported it, talked about it. We agreed it was necessary. Phil has done a great job. He has outstanding leadership abilities. He's very analytical, very detailed, very meticulous, very thorough. He has a scout's eye.
When did you first think about making a change?
Ted and I talked about it as part of the year-end evaluation.
So you did not talk about it before the season ended?
Evaluation is an ongoing process. Maybe I'll feel differently when I'm on the job longer. But from what I see, there isn't a lot of time during the season to be making a decision like that. The focus each week is on the next week's opponent.
In hindsight, have you ever considered firing Jerry Angelo might have been an overreaction to the injuries?
No. The way I see it is in those three key hires, you evaluate the entire body of work and see whether the entire body of work merits having that person back for another season. It's not one game or one play. Again, look at the Giants. They had confidence in their people, their coach, their plan, and it bore fruit.
Yes, but Eli Manning didn't go down. If Jay Cutler didn't get hurt, there was a very good chance this team would have made the playoffs. So would you have still fired Angelo in that scenario?
One of the reasons I got out of the legal business is I was constantly being posed with hypotheticals. There is a great line in the movie "True Grit" from Colonel Stonehill. "I do not entertain hypotheticals. The world as it is is vexing enough." You have to deal with the here and now and what actually happened. Jay is a great leader for us. We saw firsthand how important he is to our team. But any player could be injured. If somebody is injured, somebody else needs to step in.
How do you feel about the job Ted is doing?
He's doing a good job. The family has complete faith in him. He and I have an excellent working relationship. He's very bright. He has a sharp, analytical mind, and I think he represents the Bears very well.
When did you find out Brandon Marshall had been accused of punching a woman?
We knew about it when we were considering making the trade.
Did you go to your mother Virginia McCaskey with the information before the trade?
No. I called her after the trade was made and told her we acquired him.
Do Marshall's off-the-field problems will reflect poorly on the organization?
I'm encouraged because he has spoken very candidly and very courageously about his condition. He recognizes the need for proper maintenance and a stable environment and strong personalities to guide him. I think we have the environment and personalities.
Does Marshall's long history of brushes with the law concern you moving forward?
When I met him, I welcomed him to the Bears family and told him we were very excited to have him. And I told him being part of the Bears family carries with it certain privileges and also carries with it certain obligations. He said he understands.
So will he be on a short leash?
I don't like that term. He is a human being. He knows what his responsibilities are. His teammates and coaches will set the expectations for him and provide a stable environment for him, and he's going to do his part.
Is getting a long-term contract for Matt Forte a priority?
We have felt the same way all along. We want him to be with us past 2012. We are trying to reach common ground. He's been an outstanding contributor for us. We are proud and happy he is a Bear and we want that to continue.
What are your thoughts on the Saints' bounty scandal?
For all the talk about player health and safety, it's especially concerning to hear players talking about a reward to deliberately injure an opposing player, and coaches facilitating and encouraging it.
Didn't this go on frequently in the past, maybe in your grandfather's day and Buddy Ryan's day to some degree?
I wouldn't say certainly in Buddy Ryan's day. The commissioner said there is a line, and the Saints crossed that line. We need to do everything we can to make the game as safe as possible.
The commissioner has asked that each team make sure bounties will not happen again. Have you taken any steps to ensure it won't go on with the Bears?
I spoke to Ted and Phil and Lovie about it when it came out. Now the commissioner has since required a certification by the head coach and ownership. That will be supplied in short order.