We all tend to use prejudice.
From literally judging a book by its cover to making assumptions about a new head coach – bias will always be a part of our human nature.
In sports, we try to draw conclusions about players we don’t know about, and prejudice often fills in the gaps. Take the NFL draft for instance. So often, we (the fans) subscribe to the easy narratives of:
“I think this (any white wide receiver under 6’) compares really well to Wes Welker or Julian Edelman at the next level.”
“Yeah, he went to Miami so you know he’ll be a good pro.”
Whether or not these narratives play out like we think, it shows prejudice is a brace for us to use in trying to describe an unknown commodity. And because so much of sports is about predictions, that probably won’t ever change.
We especially use that brace when projections move into the realm of head coaches and general managers. Enter our beloved Chicago Bears, who had to fill openings at both spots in light of a well-needed house cleaning at Halas Hall.
The GM opening was checked off the list with the hiring of former Saints front-office heavyweight Ryan Pace, who became the NFL’s youngest GM (37) when the Bears tabbed him. Rave reviews from influential NFL minds like Bill Polian and the Bears’ hand-picked consultant Ernie Accorsi inspired optimism among fans about their new general manager.
A few clicks on Google will tell you Ryan Pace worked his way up from training camp operations, all the way to a virtual GM-in-waiting as the Director of Player Personnel in New Orleans. You’ll also find that he was on the same Eastern Illinois team as a certain Tony Romo.
Beyond that, we really don’t know shit about Ryan Pace.
How could we? There’s no game tape or advanced metrics to pore over, nor is there a 40 time or bench press rep count to drool about. We, and the Bears, can only take the word of past colleagues, and survey their past experience with them to come to a conclusion.
But of course, that’s where our little friend ‘prejudice’ comes in.
With zero work on his track record as a GM, any approval for Ryan Pace is wholly based on him being the ‘cool young guy.’ After all, he became the NFL’s youngest GM upon hire. And if you get a job 15 or 20 years before most of your counterparts, you have to be some kind of genius…right?
It’s the appeal of a prodigy, or something I like to call the Theo Epstein Phenomenon. We (the fans) are quick to love the cool young guy, because he’s just so exciting.
He’s full of energy. He’s something new. And yeah, he’s probably a genius.
Prejudice influences our initial thoughts to be optimistic, but we won’t really know if Ryan Pace is a genius for a couple of years. What we do know is that the whiz-kid needs a coach, and he needs the right one.
That brings us to John Fox, who as of this writing is negotiating terms with the Bears to become their next head coach.
Since emerging as the Bears’ top target following his Denver departure, everybody in Chicago and their dog has an opinion on John Fox.
The positive ones are tied to six division championships, Super Bowl appearances with two different teams, and his reputation as a defensive-oriented, run-the-damn-ball type of coach. If you do a little digging, you’ll find he’s won playoff games with Jake Delhomme, Tim Tebow and Peyton Manning.
The negative ones? Well, that’s a little more complicated. There are the lazy arguments that Fox only won with the great Peyton Manning, and that he’s just 119-89 in his career.
But let’s be honest, it’s because John Fox is “old and boring.”
Opposite of Pace, Fox is one of the eldest at his position. Next month, he’ll become one of six NFL head coaches over 60. Of course, that list includes Bruce Arians and Pete Carroll- two names I would hardly describe as boring.
Fox is seen as ‘boring’ because he’s already been hired and fired by two NFL organizations. John Fox isn’t a splash, because for the most part we already know what he is. He’s not the next superstar or a diamond in the rough, he’s just a good football coach.
So naturally, some are underwhelmed. They want more. In the case of John Fox, prejudice clouds the truth. And the truth is that the Chicago Bears need John Fox.
Ryan Pace needs John Fox.
Pace is in the most powerful football position at Halas Hall, and he can’t worry about a first-year coach overcoming locker room issues. He needs somebody who’s done it before, a coach who can speak of Super Bowl trips representing the NFC and AFC.
Considering the Bears have never hired a coach with previous head coaching experience, Pace would change the status quo by locking up Fox — who brings 13 years and 15 playoff games worth.
Which of course couldn’t have happened if the team didn’t take a chance on the young gun at GM.
Pretty good timing for the two to take on the Chicago Bears revival together, huh?