Chicago is making a playoff push with a coach whose job may be on the line
With 21 seconds left in the ugly scrum between the underwhelming Bears and the winless Lions on Sunday at Soldier Field, Chicago coach Dick Jauron stared at one of the most reliable kickers in the game, Detroit's Jason Hanson, as he lined up for a 40-yard field goal attempt. With the Bears ahead by three points, overtime loomed, but Jauron had a stoic look on his face. That expression never changed, even as the kick sailed wide right and 47 Bears leaped into the air.
"Like Tom Landry," quarterback Jim Miller said later of his coach. "The guy does not waver. And we've taken on his personality."
It is a personality that emerged when Jauron was growing up as the son of an itinerant high school and college football coach, and it is no different now that his team, stunningly, controls its destiny for home field advantage in the NFC playoffs. It darn well isn't going to change even if his job is secure only through this season. That's because the club's new general manager, Jerry Angelo, who has final say on all player and coaching moves, has intimated that he's not sure Jauron is the man he wants to lead his team. Although Chicago improved to 9-2 with a 13-10 win on Sunday, Angelo said after the game that decisions about the coaching staff will be made following the season.
Angelo has handled the matter inelegantly. In October he said he wasn't sure that he and Jauron, who's under contract through the 2002 season, were a long-term fit. That fueled speculation that Angelo might dump his coach no matter how the Bears finished and hire a guy more to his liking, perhaps LSU's Nick Saban. A 30-year veteran of the pro and college ranks, Angelo has worked as an assistant coach, scout and personnel director, and he had hoped to hire his own coaching staff when he finally got his chance to run a team.
However, he didn't take over in Chicago (replacing vice president of player personnel Mark Hatley, now with the Packers) until June 12, tying his hands for this season even though the Bears had been nothing special in Jauron's first two years (going 11-21). Now, the way the team is performing and the way the players have united behind their coach, Angelo has realized that he'd be foolish even to talk about tinkering with things. "Dick and the staff are doing a great job, and you'd have to be blind not to see that," Angelo said on Sunday.
For now the two men, who are expected to have a series of meetings as the season winds down, aren't talking about Jauron's future. Angelo, though, has told friends on other teams that he has no intention of replacing Jauron after this season. "If he does," Miller says, "the way we're playing, that would be a pretty difficult decision in this town. The guy's up for coach of the year. He wouldn't be out of work for long."
Players and assistants point to the patience that Jauron, 51, a former NFL defensive back, showed during two disappointing seasons as a big reason that Chicago is winning. They also note the steely leadership he has displayed this year in keeping the Bears positive when they were trailing late in games. In successive weeks they overcame 15- and 14-point fourth-quarter deficits to the 49ers and the Browns, respectively, to win in overtime. "The guys who've been here with Dick owe him something, because he put his guts on the line for us for a couple of years when we weren't good," says linebacker Rosevelt Colvin. "He's the type of leader you want to play for. In three years here I've only seen him really yell at a guy one time."
Jauron learned early in life that leaders don't have to be holler guys. The star of the Swampscott (Mass.) High basketball team, Jauron went to his coach, Dick Lynch, in 1969 to tell him he should keep a marginal player named Frannie Sheehan on the team. Mike Lynch, a Jauron buddy and the coach's son, picks up the story from there. "Dick told my dad that Frannie's home life was rough and he really needed basketball," Mike recalls. "My dad said he had only 15 uniforms and Frannie would be the 16th kid. But Dick said he counted and found 16 pairs of shorts; he said he'd let Frannie wear his warmup jacket. Dick told my dad that when Frannie came in the game, he would go out and would give Frannie his jersey. We went on to win the state championship, and Frannie was the guy who cut the net down."
Frannie is also the guy who became the bass player for the rock group Boston in the 1970s and '80s. "My dad always wonders what would have happened to Frannie if Dick hadn't come in that day and asked him to keep Frannie on the team," says Mike Lynch. "That's the kind of leader Dick was. He was brought up to think he was no more important than anyone else."