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Martz worth risk for desperate Bears

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Dan Arkush

darkush@pfwmedia.com
Executive editor

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Posted Feb. 01, 2010 @ 6:55 p.m. ET
By Dan Arkush

Say hello to the latest high-profile “Mike” to make a big-time splash in the Windy City. A long, drawn-out and often frustrating search by the Bears for a new offensive coordinator that had reached 27 days finally came to an end Monday afternoon when the team hired offensive mastermind Mike Martz to replace the fired Ron Turner and become the third person to hold the position in the Lovie Smith era.

And like Michael Jordan, the man most responsible for putting the Bulls on the NBA map, and Mike Singletary, the former great Bears linebacker currently establishing a new niche as the head coach for the Niners, Mike Martz can be expected to leave what figures to be a lasting mark on the Chicago sports scene — for better or worse.

The 58-year-old Martz’s new deal with the Bears was sealed three days after he met with Smith, Bears GM Jerry Angelo and the team’s assistant coaches and two days after he had a dinner date in Nashville, Tenn., with Bears QB Jay Cutler, who had been prominently involved in the interview process with the team’s previous candidates. Working as an NFL Network commentator early this past season, Martz, who has been known for ruffling more than a few feathers over the years, had been highly critical of Cutler, claiming that “he (Cutler) just doesn’t get it.” On the other hand, Martz is on record as being highly complimentary of Cutler’s natural talents, indicating that Cutler would be by far the most gifted QB under his tutelage should he have the chance to work with him.

The PFW spin

With Smith and Angelo basically having a one-year window to turn the Bears back into a legitimate contender after the team failed to make the playoffs for a third straight year, many close observers of the team have thought all along that Martz was the most qualified person to orchestrate the quick fix the Bears so desperately need.

Everywhere he’s been in the NFL as a head coach or coordinator, Martz’s offenses have shown major improvement, particularly in St. Louis, where his “Greatest Show on Turf” units under the direction of the recently retired Kurt Warner ranked among the more potent in league history.

As the Lions’ offensive coordinator in 2006 and ’07, Martz quickly brought out the best in thirtysomething QB Jon Kitna, who had his first 4,000-yard passing season under Martz’s freewheeling direction. In 2008 as the coordinator of the Niners, a passing offense that was ranked 32nd the previous year finished the season ranked 13th. In both Detroit and San Francisco, however, Martz had a philosophical parting of the ways with Rod Marinelli and Singletary, respectively. Add those football divorces to the stormy split he had with the Rams despite a very respectable 56-36 record and four playoff berths in St. Louis, and you end up with red flags aplenty in his newest venue.

But what you also have in Martz is a proven commodity filling a position that Angelo has said is his most important hire aside from his decision to hire Smith. Considering their equally prickly personalities, it will hardly be a shock should Martz and Cutler clash on occasion. But considering Martz’s track record, some occasional friction would be a small price to pay if he’s able to get Cutler back on track to being the franchise-caliber signalcaller Angelo envisioned when he obtained Cutler from the Broncos in a blockbuster deal last April.

But there is still one nagging question worth noting: Why did the Bears wait so long to hire Martz and spend so much time parading other seemingly less-qualified candidates through Halas Hall? There is strong reason to believe among team insiders that Angelo might have preferred somebody else, such as Packers QB Tom Clements, who was denied permission from Green Bay to interview for the position, or Vikings QB coach Kevin Rogers, who reportedly had made a favorable impression in his recent interview for the job.

Of course, there’s also the question of whether or not Smith, who up to now has been a staunch proponent of more of a run-oriented philosophy, can live with what figures to be a much more wide-open, pass-oriented attack under Martz.

Whatever the case, the newest “Mike” in town promises to make things very interesting for a franchise in dire need of a big-time jolt.

Stay tuned and let the sparks fly.

 

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