Chicago Bears

Hub Arkush: Coaching changes alone won't fix Bears

Bears offensive line coach Harry Hiestand watches during a game against the Lions on Nov. 28 in Detroit. Hiestand was fired after the season.
Bears offensive line coach Harry Hiestand watches during a game against the Lions on Nov. 28 in Detroit. Hiestand was fired after the season.

So the first major move of the 2020 offseason for the Bears is to clear out half of their offensive coaching staff, primarily everyone involved in the run game and their assistant special teams coach, and then add a new offensive line coach before the recently departed have even cleared the Halas Hall parking lot.

It is not at all surprising that offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, tight ends coach Kevin Gilbride and assistant special teams coach Brock Olivo are gone, nor is it in the least bit curious that Juan Castillo – although not yet confirmed by the team – seems destined to fill Hiestand’s job.

What is terribly disappointing is the way it was handled, and what is extremely curious is whether Castillo will be able to carry Hiestand’s water.

Asked Tuesday if there would be changes to his coaching staff, Matt Nagy’s answer was, “That’s part of the reflection stuff I talked about a few days ago. We’re working through that. So fresh to being out of this, we’re going to look at everything right now.

“I think it’s our job, my job, to make sure the reflection process is done the right way. Regardless of the timeline, we want to make sure they’re the right decisions.”

Nagy either lied, clearly knowing as he answered the questions there would be changes, or best case, he intentionally misled.

What would have been wrong with simply saying, “Yes, we’re making a few changes, but we can’t announce them yet”?

These Bears are having issues communicating with a large segment of their fan base right now, and it’s moments like those that cause the problem.

I believe Helfrich saw what was coming. Asked the Thursday before the final game in Minneapolis if he expected there to be changes to the staff, Helfrich said, “We haven’t discussed that yet specifically, but every offseason is in essence the same.

“The same thing happens every year. That’s something that, when you’re in this business, stuff happens, and that’s a possibility.”

There was no “I’d certainly like to be back.” It just felt like he already had a foot out the door.

How meaningful is his departure?

That’s really tough to gauge. With Nagy calling plays and seemingly micromanaging the offense, we never did know exactly what Helfrich’s role was or how he’d be evaluated.

Gilbride is equally tough to evaluate. Is he being blamed for the shortcomings of Adam Shaheen three seasons later?

That would be unfair, but it’s hard to point to any wins he’s responsible for, either.

Olivo is an unknown, particularly after improvements almost across the board this year on special teams. But Chris Tabor is the boss there, and we have to assume Olivo doesn’t get the ax there without his buy-in.

The real puzzler, however, is Hiestand.

Just start with Ronnie Stanley and Mike McGlinchey at left and right tackle, Nick Martin at center, Zack Martin at right guard and Quenton Nelson at left guard. That’s a young, NFL Pro Bowl offensive line all developed by Hiestand at Notre Dame.

Olin Kreutz, Ruben Brown and Roberto Garza, all starters on the Bears’ 2006 Super Bowl offensive line, have told me at one time or another that Hiestand is the best O-line coach they’ve ever played for.

A year ago, Charles Leno, a below-average NFL left tackle, was a Pro Bowl alternate playing for Hiestand. Did he suddenly become a bad coach?

When Castillo almost immediately was identified to fill the O-line role, things became much clearer.

He was the offensive line coach in Philadelphia with Andy Reid when Nagy got his first NFL job in 2008, and they were together there until 2010.

We have to assume that Nagy and Hiestand just weren’t a good fit for each other, because although Hiestand may have had additional responsibilities with the running game, it was Nagy and Helfrich’s run game, not his.

All Bears fans now need to hope Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace have gotten and will get their first big moves of the offseason right. But if they don’t address the lack of talent at tight end, tackle and backup running back, none of these moves are going to matter.

• Hub Arkush is executive editor of Pro Football Weekly. Write to him a harkush@profootballweekly.com, and follow him on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.

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