When the Cardinals and Chicago Bears last played a game that mattered, it was 2001 and the teams were linked through their coaches.
Dave McGinnis was the man who should have been the Bears coach and later became the Cards’ head man. Dick Jauron was Chicago’s fallback after McGinnis turned the Bears down.
There is some irony that the next time the teams will meet — Sunday in Chicago — both coaches are fighting to keep their jobs.
McGinnis was not about to rehash the circumstances surrounding his walking away from the Bears’ job in early 1999, calling it “old news.”
But the job was his until the Bears prematurely announced it before he signed a contract, angering McGinnis enough to return to the Cardinals. Jauron has been in place ever since.
“I’ve got a real history there, with a lot of people there,” McGinnis said of Chicago. “I have great respect for the organization, great respect for the city. That will never change with me.”
McGinnis insisted he hadn’t soured on the Bears’ franchise because of his near miss, saying the almost-coaching gig “was just what happened.”
Five years later, the Bears’ job may be available again after the season.
“Everything I hear, it’s almost a foregone conclusion (that Jauron will be fired) — unless we win the next six out of seven or seven out of seven,” Bears tight end Desmond Clark told the Chicago Tribune two weeks ago.
Since then, the Bears almost beat the Rams (losing 23-21) and upset the Broncos in Denver, 19-10. But conventional wisdom around the team says Jauron needs to make the playoffs to save his job. In fact, talk about Jauron being fired has been around since that last Cardinals-Bears game in 2001, when new Bears general manager Jerry Angelo reportedly wanted to bring in his own guy and get rid of Jauron. But the Bears went 13-3 that season, earning Jauron more time.
McGinnis, who took over as interim coach in 2000 with the Cards and got the permanent job late that season, also had his best season in 2001, going 7-9. He has yet to post a winning record.
The Bears are 8-19 since the end of 2001. The Cardinals have the same record in that span.
Yet both coaches remain philosophical about their predicaments, surprisingly without much anger at the constant talk about their futures.
“It hasn’t been bad at all,” Jauron said. “I’ve really always felt lucky to first play in the National Football league and then secondly to coach in the National Football League. I love what I do. I love getting up and going to work. I certainly enjoy being on the field with the football team and the football players. And the week-to-week challenge of our business. It’s a great business.”
McGinnis has often talked about the same themes, how lucky he is hold such a position. He certainly isn’t naïve to the win-or-be-fired mentality.
“In any city, that’s the territory,” McGinnis said recently. “If people weren’t writing about or reporting it, they aren’t doing their jobs.”
Many of McGinnis’ players, however, have bristled at the constant speculation about whether McGinnis should be fired. “When someone lashes out at your coach like that, people take it personally,” linebacker LeVar Woods said. Whether it can galvanize either locker room remains to be seen. The Bears have played better — 4-4 in their last eight games — while Arizona continues to stumble along at 3-8 overall. Some players on both sides have already begun to wonder who the next coach would be if their current bosses were let go.
But the Cardinals have always liked McGinnis. The players were happy when McGinnis didn’t go to Chicago, and they don’t want to see him leave now.
“We represent Coach Mac and what he tries to get done,” linebacker Raynoch Thompson said. “We are a direct reflection of the way (everyone) will view Coach Mac. We have to do something and not let Coach Mac take all the blame.”
EXTRA POINT: Running back Marcel Shipp (toe) and cornerback Renaldo Hill (ankle) were the lone players to miss practice Thursday. Shipp is expected to play Sunday.