Mike Ditka thinks next Bears coach could be ‘special’
BY SEAN JENSEN email@example.com January 8, 2013 8:42PM
Head coach Mike Ditka of the Chicago Bears instructs quarterback Jim McMahon during the Bears 24-6 victory over the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin. | Jonathan Daniel /Allsport
Updated: February 10, 2013 6:07PM
Mike Ditka is sensitive to the stigma that special-teams coordinators aren’t equipped to be head coaches.
Before he was Da Coach, he was Da Coordinator.
The former Bears tight end was working as a special-teams coordinator under Tom Landry in Dallas when George Halas tabbed him to replace Neill Armstrong.
“When Halas hired me, I heard people say ridiculous things,” Ditka told the Sun-Times. “ ‘Well, he’s not ready to be a head coach.’
“Coach Halas hired me for one reason: Landry told him yes. That’s why. If that didn’t happen, I wouldn’t have gotten hired.”
And although he was a lightning rod, Ditka did lead one of the most memorable Super Bowl champions ever: the 1985 Bears.
The Bears have interviewed or will interview four special-teams coordinators: Keith Armstrong of the Atlanta Falcons, Joe DeCamillis of the Dallas Cowboys, Dave Toub of the Bears and Mike Priefer of the Minnesota Vikings. Most of the other candidates the Bears are considering are offensive coordinators, but Bears general manager Phil Emery made it clear that he would consider a wide variety of options.
“No one is excluded,” Emery said when asked specifically about Toub’s chances two days after the season ended.
After a Hall of Fame career as a tight end, Ditka was hired as an assistant under Landry. Ditka credited Landry for making him “realize what was important in life.
“I dealt with every player on the football field,” Ditka said. “The quarterback was the holder, the kicker. Every player that played on offense and defense played on special teams.
“Even Randy White, our All-Pro.”
Ditka said Landry taught him that there had to be a reason for everything you did and that players were the key.
“You can’t succeed without great players,” Ditka said.
Special-teams coaches have to be resourceful, flexible. For instance, the pool of players they can use often changes from week to week, depending on whom the team needs active due to a range of reasons.
Ditka, though, isn’t an exception.
Bill Cowher, formerly of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and John Harbaugh, currently of the Baltimore Ravens, are other head coaches who coordinated special teams.
Cowher led the Steelers to a pair of Super Bowls, including one win, and Harbaugh has led the Ravens to five consecutive postseason appearances.
In 2008, Harbaugh was asked about his special-teams background.
“I think every position has its own unique situations that it brings to the table. But the thing about special teams that a lot of people don’t realize is you are handling the entire team every single day,” Harbaugh said at the time. “You’re dealing with offensive linemen, you’re dealing with the defensive backs, the wide receivers — they’re all a little bit different.
“You get a chance to coach them every single day. You touch them in football, and then you kind of mold your team. You also get a chance to work with the young guys. That’s where you develop the young part of your football team, and that’s thrilling as a coach because you build a foundation for your football team with those young guys.”
With the Bears, Toub has developed a lot of players while his units consistently have ranked among the league’s best.
Given his local ties, Ditka is familiar with Toub, who interviewed for the Bears’ head-coach opening Monday with Emery.
“Good coach,” Ditka said of Toub. “Should be an excellent choice.”
Ditka clarified he wasn’t saying that Toub was the best choice for the Bears but that he would make a fine head coach someday.
Added Ditka, “You can’t win without good players.”