Let me maintain that I’m not making light of a disease killing millions of people annually. I have family and friends directly affected by, or lost to, the battle with cancer. It’s ugly and I hate it.
Cancer: the adjective used to describe players on the team that are seemingly disruptive or degrading to the overall culture.
… And the Chicago Bears need a guy or two like that.
I write that without any pause or hesitation. Yes, we need a jerk; a mean, grumpy, abrasive guy and possibly a few of them.
When former head coach John Fox was brought in, he had a goal to change the culture. This is something he does exceptionally well wherever he goes, implementing military tactics with his natural charisma to establish an equilibrium. Make no mistake, the biggest cliche in 2018 indubitably applies to Fox: he’s a leader of men. Players love playing for him, most coaches love coaching for him, and he connects well with everyone.
Flashback to 2015 when Fox and company arrived to Chicago. Notorious personalities worthy of the fan ordained “cancer” designation, specifically on offense, were live and in full effect. Brandon Marshall, Martellus Bennett, and Jay Cutler with their faces on Mt. Rushmore.
Without going into the duffle bag of antics from each (look them up), just trust me, it’s better that they’re gone for the Bears’ sake. For the record, hindsight is always 20-20, but Cutler playing one more year doesn’t look like a bad option compared to the performance of his replacement, Mike Glennon.
Through a series of events, Ryan Pace and Fox cleaned up the locker room. Now, you have guys who are great with the media and teammates, such as Zach Miller, Akiem Hicks, Pernell McPhee, and Tarik Cohen. In my opinion, that’s 25 percent of the formula.
The rest of this pie chart, let’s call it dominance, includes a 60 percent allotment for talent. That’s not to say only 60 percent of the team needs to be talented, that number is much higher if you want to have sustainable success.
All the talent in the world means nothing if they can’t play together, and having good guys means nothing if they aren’t talented. Not if you want to dominate.
The other 15 percent, is what I feel has been missing from the Bears. That’s reserved for those abrasive, meaning, irreverent people that normally get the locker room “cancer” designation. Sometimes, it’s qualified. I’m not advocating for someone like Eli Apple who has been criticized by coaches and teammates publicly in New York. I am however saying it may be a good thing the Bears take a look at someone like Muhammad Wilkerson from the Jets.
The first things you’ve heard connected with Wilkerson are “stay away”, “only cares about money”, and “lazy”. I disagree, I think a change of scenery and playing for a respected defensive coordinator in Vic Fangio will help Wilkerson. His current one, Kacy Rodgers, is in his first stint as a defensive coordinator and that matters to players, especially if they aren’t good. He never had problems under former Jets head coach Rex Ryan, who drafted him in the first round.
But he’s mean, shows it on the field, and I love it. A defensive front of Wilkerson, Goldman and Hicks would devastate offensive lines every game. You can’t double team them all: someone is going to pressure the quarterback.
I’m not saying the Bears should go after Dez Bryant at receiver, whose production and contract don’t match his level of complaining. The Bears should, however, take a look at trading for Martavis Bryant who just wants the opportunity to be the No. 1 receiver for a team. He’s producing at the same level as Dez on the same offense as Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Two of those three are at the best at their position.
Dez is supposed to be the top dog in Dallas, while Martavis is buried underneath a sizable list of stat-packing names. As of now, both Bryant’s have been outspoken, but Martavis is more justified and he’s currently the better of the two. He’d benefit from joining an offense in Chicago that would make him the center of pass-catching attention. Head coach Matt Nagy knows how to get the ball to his playmakers.
What’s the common denominator?
Both of the guys I listed have been deemed locker room issues for one reason or another but in their situations, change around them could cause change within them. So what is the cure for cancer? In the literal sense, I hope we find out soon and save millions of lives around the world.
In the football sense, I know exactly what it is. It’s culture.
You see, culture is whatever you allow. If you allow your friends to put their feet on your coffee table, then what are they going to do every time they come over for the Bears game? Put their dirty, filthy shoes on the table where your drinks are going.
Coaching matters because good coaching creates good culture. Good culture is bigger than everyone in the building and when good culture is bought into, attitudes subside and play elevates.
For those of you that don’t know, I serve as a team chaplain and motivational speaker for multiple high school sports teams. I’ve dealt directly with the issues in the locker room and give some of the same facts from above to coaches and players alike.
This is why I’m an advocate for the Bears needing to fill out that 15 percent with abrasive people. If the culture is right, that negative energy will be channeled and focused on the opponent while bringing the team closer together.
Before a guy is written off because he’s a “cancer,” my first instruction to you would be to diagnose the culture before you diagnose the character. You may see that change is necessary, but with what the Bears have built, they can absorb and use a few guys like that.
Bucky Brooks, former player and NFL media analyst tweeted a quote from a veteran defensive backs coach: “’It takes a wolf to coach a wolf.’ W(wade). Philips has no problems w/ those kinds of players.”
I believe that at least Fangio is the same way and we’ll see with our offensive staff. Culture matters. This is Chicago, you can’t even get on the train in the morning without being “rude” somewhere. And I like my Bears team dominant and mean.
Somehow that makes victory taste sweeter.