Dave Wannstedt, Head Coach, 1993-1998
It is January 6, 2001, the day that Dave Wannstedt attempts to
win his second playoff game-one more than he was able to win in his illustrious
six-year career as Chicago Bears head coach. As I watched Wanny's Dolphins
losing last week to Indianapolis with less than two minutes remaining in the
game, I couldn't help feeling sorry for himas he stood there with his classic
puzzled, frustrated look. I'm a fairly sensitive guy, and my human side tells
me not to hold a grudge against this person. However, for several reasons, I
can't at this point forgive Dave Wannstedt for his role in the demise of the
Chicago Bears that we have suffered through for much of the last seven years.
Read on for a summary of his "successes" in Chicago, and one fan's reasons for
not being able to forgive at this point.
Wannstedt was the hottest head coaching prospect in the NFL in
January 1993. To the suprise of Bear fans, Michael McCaskey was determined to
hire the best available prospect. As Wannstedt was deciding between the Bears
job and that of the New York Giants, the decision came down to personnel power.
Giant General Manager George Young would not give up his control over
personnel, so McCaskey promised it to Wannstedt. As a result, he took the
Bears' offer, and became the eleventh coach of the Chicago Bears. It is
documented that Wannstedt took the job because of personnel control, a fact
that he currently denies. Further proof lies in the fact that during the '93
draft, Wannstedt wanted to take receiver Curtis Conway, while personnel boss
Bill Tobin was sold on O.J. McDuffie. McCaskey sided with Wannstedt, and Tobin
In 1993 and 1994, Wannstedt did an admirable job, leading the
team to a two-game improvement in '93, and a playoff berth and victory over
Minnesota in '94. During these years, most in Chicago gave full confidence and
credit to Wannstedt. In fact, one organization named Wannstedt Coach of the
Year for the '94 season. Perhaps the first sign of Wannstedt's demise came
prior to the 1995 season. As a way to get his young linemen Alonzo Spellman,
Carl Simpson, and John Thierry on the field, Wannstedt traded consistent
defensive end Trace Armstrong to Miami for second and third round picks, which
turned out to be Todd Sauerbrun and Evan Pilgrim. With the same linebackers and
secondary, Chicago's defense dropped from 5th against the pass in '94 to 27th
in '95, causing the team to miss the playoffs due to several nightmarish
Prior to the 1996 season, Wannstedt proclaimed that "all the
pieces were in place" for a Super Bowl run. Wanny had drafted Walt Harris, a
promising young cornerback, in the first round, made Bryan Cox the highest-paid
Bears player ever, and re-signed Alonzo Spellman instead of Jeff Graham. After
the last preseason, Wannstedt cut popular and reliable kicker Kevin Butler in
favor of Carlos Huerta, a free agent that could not latch on with any other
team. Huerta promptly missed three quarters of his attempts in the first two
games, and was replaced. Wannstedt had stated that Huerta "easily outkicked"
Butler during the preseason, and it was precisely this time that Wannstedt's
reputation for being dishonest with players began. Butler was never treated
fairly in the competition, Wannstedt's words contradicted his actions, and
players began to mistrust his word. Early during the 1996 campaign plays host
to another one of Wanny's current denials. QB Erik Kramer smashed most Bears
records in his fabulous 1995 season. However, for the first three games of
1996, he was not the same player. He had lost his top receiver in Jeff Graham
(over 1,300 yards in '95) because Wannstedt chose to sign Alonzo Spellman to a
big contract as well. Kramer had thrown more interceptions than touchdowns (he
threw 29 TD's to 10 INT's in '95) in '96, and was lost for the season with a
neck injury after game three. Recently from an interview in Miami, Wannstedt
was asked what happened in Chicago. His comments were: "We were poised for a
Super Bowl run in '96, then Erik Kramer broke his neck, and that ended it."
Wanny, Erik Kramer would have never led you to a Super Bowl in '96. Your
decision to keep Huerta, and him missing two of three field goals in Washington
in a 10-3 loss, leading to a 1-3 start, had more to do with your demise than
Kramer. But you claim that that was the sole reason for your failure here.
Beginning in the Spring of 1997, Wannstedt's mistakes began to
intensify, leading to the "Wannstedt Death Spiral" of '97 and '98. He
orchestrated the trading of the Bear's first round pick (11th overall) for QB
Rcik Mirer of Seattle. Mirer couldn't beat out Kramer in training camp, and was
cut after one terrible season. Bryan Cox became a nightmare on the sidelines,
drawing many unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, and was also cut before the '98
season. These two moves, along with others, crippled the Bear's salary cap
situation until after the '99 campaign. In 1998, Wannstedt was irritated with
Curtis Enis's holdout in training camp, and benched the draft's fifth pick
until the latter part of the season. During his first start, Enis tore his ACL,
and has never been the same.
Now, for a few reasons we can not forgive. During the news
conference announcing Wannstedt's firing, the coach made several comments that
still weigh on my mind. When asked to reflect on some of the things that caused
his dismissal, Wannstedt's first reason was: "Probably staying with the Super
Bowl players too long. You know, the Keith Van Hornes', the Steve McMichaels',
the Richard Dents'. I wanted to keep them because of the history, but staying
with them put me a year behind." For the record, McMichael and Dent were two of
Wannstedt's few bright spots in 1993, and he let all three go after one year.
This was not a contribution to his failure. Recently, Wannstedt has stated that
he "never wanted personnel control in Chicago. It has been proven that he did.
When asked about the Rick Mirer trade this year, Wannstedt has stated that "All
of us in Chicago approved the Mirer deal, it wasn't just me."
So I currently watch the Dolphins, and hear the whole league
rave about what a great coach Dave Wannstedt is, and how none of the problems
in Chicago were his fault, I remember not to feel sorry for him as I watch him
lose. As sick as I, and many Bears fans are, of our current coach, at least he
has admitted many of his mistakes this year. Wannstedt still denies them. As
the national media adopts him as their darling, those of us in Chicago that saw
him take apart this team have a good feeling that it will happen again.
In Wanny's Words