Bears GM search: Why Rick Smith is most qualified candidate

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Hoge: Why Bears need Rick Smith as general manager originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

The irony of Bears chairman George McCaskey refusing to hire a layer of accountability between the general manager and ownership is that it actually makes the team’s GM opening even more attractive.

“The general manager will be responsible for the entire football operation,” McCaskey said this week.

Think about the infomercial. Come to Chicago, inherit Justin Fields and run the entire football operation. Call now, and you don’t even need to report to team president Ted Phillips!

But here’s the catch: by not having the general manager report to Phillips, the new GM will technically be even closer to the top, with even less accountability and fewer check-and-balances above him.

And when you think about it like that, yikes, the Bears better hire someone who knows that they are doing.

It has been a longstanding argument of mine that the Bears suffer from The Peter Principle, which states: "In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his/her level of incompetence.” Essentially, employees keep getting promoted until they are no longer qualified to perform their required duties at a high level. 

Is there a better example than putting the team’s finance guy, Phillips, in charge of football? Well, maybe putting the ticket guy, George, in charge of the whole organization. 

Yet again, those two are in the interview room, but the key this time around will be to hire someone who is not only qualified to be a general manager, but is actually overqualified. McCaskey refuses to hire a president of football operations, but by putting his GM in charge of the entire football operation at Halas Hall, he is asking that person to be more than just a general manager. 

And that’s where one known GM candidate stands out above the rest: Rick Smith.

Smith not only served as a successful general manager for a different dysfunctional NFL franchise — the Houston Texans — but he was promoted to executive vice president of football operations in 2012, the position he held when the Texans boldly traded up to draft Deshaun Watson in 2017. 

Smith entered a losing situation in 2006, taking over a franchise that was only in its fifth year of existence and had yet to have a winning season. It took a few years, but Smith’s Texans eventually won four AFC South titles, and his fingerprints were all over two more division titles after he left team in 2017 to take care of his ailing wife, who died of breast cancer in 2019. 

The Texans never advanced beyond the divisional round of the playoffs under Smith, but they won four playoff games, which is one more than the Bears have won since Ted Phillips took over as team president in 1999. 

Eventually, the Texans’ dysfunction did Smith in. While he took a leave of absence, the truth is that he was also stuck in a power struggle with head coach Bill O’Brien — and O’Brien won. 

The results have been disastrous for the Texans. From the DeAndre Hopkins giveaway, to Watson refusing to play another game for the franchise, to owing David Culley $17 million after just one season as head coach — oh, how the Texans miss Rick Smith. 

But their loss will be the gain of whichever franchise is smart enough to hire him again. The Bears badly need someone with Smith’s experience to lead an entire football operation. They need someone to restore the credibility of the organization. 

They need someone who is overqualified. The only other known candidate that even approaches that conversation is Steelers vice president of football and business administration Omar Khan, but even he hasn't been a general manager before. Jeff Ireland, who interviewed with the team Friday, has been a GM, but he carries some baggage and doesn't have the same pedigree of success.

The consistent mistake made under the leadership of George McCaskey is failing to hire the most obvious candidate. If Smith still has the drive and motivation to jump back into the game as a general manager, there’s little question he’s the most qualified candidate for the job. 

Smith not only should be the Bears’ top target, he needs to be the Bears’ top target.