Nearly five years into his tenure as Bears chairman of the board, George McCaskey talked with Dan about a number of topics this week. The interview will be presented in two parts.
DP: Did the victory over the Packers on Thanksgiving rank with your all-time favorite regular season wins?
GM: Yes, it was a good one. It’s always satisfying to beat Green Bay, and especially satisfying to beat them in Lambeau. They have had our number for too long. There were some others. We beat them two years ago up there without Jay [Cutler]. Josh [McCown] played his heart out. There was the Walter Payton game, the hand of Walter game [on the Sunday following Payton’s death in 1999, Bryan Robinson blocked a potential game winning field goal to give the Bears a 14-13 victory]. We played Philly [in 2011] in Philly. We got down by a couple touchdowns. Matt [Forte] had a fumble, but we hung together in a hostile environment. I remember flying back, standing in the back of the plane and thinking how proud I was of those guys.
DP: This team has surprised me. Has it surprised you?
GM: I wouldn’t say I’m surprised considering our coach and the staff he has assembled. He has them playing together, and there doesn’t seem to be any quit in them. It’s not surprising, it’s gratifying.
DP: What have you learned about John Fox since you hired him?
GM: He’s a force of nature. When he walks down the hall, you can feel the waves of energy coming off him. He likes to talk to people and engage them. He’s like the Energizer Bunny, always on the move. He’s a damn good coach. There is something about him that the players want to play for him.
DP: To what do you attribute Jay Cutler’s transformation this year?
GM: God given ability, love of the game, work ethic and coaching. He’s thriving in this system under Adam [Gase] and John. I’m happy for Jay because I know how hard he works. I see him in here first thing in the morning and I see him in here late at night.
DP: Do you consider this a rebuilding period?
GM: No, we’re building. The goal every year is to win the Super Bowl.
DP: You have been on the job now almost five years. How has your role evolved?
GM: Hopefully every day you are growing and learning. I wish we had more wins in those years. A key part of my job in my view is finding the right people and then staying out of their way, being supportive, but for the most part, letting the pros do their job. I think we have the right people.
DP: At a press conference in January, you said your mother Virginia McCaskey was pissed off at the state of the team. How involved was she in what happened in the offseason?
GM: She left it up to me and Ted [Phillips] to make the decisions and she supported the decisions. Once we decided to make a change I kept her updated on the search process. She did not interfere. She was available for counsel. I was impressed with that because it’s her team. You see other owners when it’s their team, they insert themselves into the process. It’s a testimony to her that she deferred those decisions. She ultimately approved them, but she did not insert herself in the process.
DP: How does she feel about the team now?
GM: Like all Bears fans, she wants more wins. I think she’s pleased with the direction we’re headed.
DP: If you take into account every time there has been a change of general manager or head coach, you have had four regimes in five years. I know stability is important to you. How do you explain that all the change?
GM: Jerry [Angelo] had been here for 11 years. Lovie [Smith] for nine. So we had stability with them. When Phil [Emery] came aboard, we told him he had to keep the head coach for at least one season, but if he wanted to make a change after that, he was free to do so. He understood that coming in. We think we have the right people now to lend the long-term stability we are looking for.
DP: Do you regret any of the moves?
GM: When you change head coaches after two seasons, you look back and think about what might have happened had you done things differently. Marc [Trestman] was the guy Phil wanted to hire. I wanted to support him in his selection.
DP: How did you feel about Bruce Arians, who was the other finalist for the job?
GM: I liked him. He had a track record of success. He succeeded in Indianapolis under very difficult circumstances. He handled that very well. I thought he and I hit it off pretty well. In the end, Phil said he was more comfortable with Marc, so I supported it.
DP: Are you any more patient now that you have been in the past? What if this regime struggles for a couple of years?
GM: I told Ryan [Pace] I would be patient. I intend to keep that promise.
DP: What does that mean?
GM: I don’t think it’s a particular time frame. It’s giving him ample opportunity and sufficient resources to succeed.
DP: Was the situation with Jeremiah Ratliff handled properly?
GM: I think so. We knew his history. We gave him an opportunity and it didn’t work out. We took appropriate action when it didn’t work out. I wasn’t here that day, but I think our response was adequate. John Tarpey, our director of security, is a real pro.
DP: Did you learn anything from the Ray McDonald situation?
GM: I don’t know if it was something I learned, but there was something that was reaffirmed. Trust your gut. My initial reaction was no. I allowed myself to be persuaded otherwise. I should have stuck with my gut.
Coming Friday: Part II, with McCaskey’s vision for the Bears and where he stands on important issues facing the NFL.