Bernstein: Attempted Cutler Makeover Fizzling
By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com senior columnist
(CBS) This isn't about what you think of Jay Cutler at a microphone or off the field, nor is it really about what I think.
I can only tell you what it means to the Bears.
While not as material as his actual game performance, Cutler's demeanor and behavior at press conferences and media appearances have mattered deeply to his bosses concerned with the larger public image of their most important, most recognizable player. It has bothered them that the face of the franchise too often has worn the smug expression of someone who'd almost always rather be somewhere else, and that the same sighing and eye-rolling and petulance on display to them at work every day has been just as visible to a fan base learning to fundamentally dislike him.
Sources have described to 670 The Score a concerted effort by multiple levels of the Bears organization to work with Cutler since shortly after he arrived, but never more aggressively than this past offseason in the wake of their commitment to another multi-year contract under the regime of general manager Phil Emery and his handpicked coach, Marc Trestman.
The Bears were dismayed by the groundswell of public affection for Josh McCown last year, eventually confronting the fact that most of it was due to his status as Not Jay Cutler. A nondescript passer had a few good games throwing jump balls to great receivers against bad defenses, and he quickly owned the heart of the city because he was something other than a jerk. That resonated at Halas Hall and led to their strategy to relaunch the Cutler brand before training camp in July.
That explained all that silliness about Cutler's growth as a husband and father – the arrival of a second child was just opportunistic cover coincidental to the new deal that let them push wishful storylines about newfound maturity and intelligence, even as Cutler remained ignorant and stupid enough to join the pernicious movement of anti-vaccination psychos that currently threatens public health. The Bears knew exactly what would be written and said after they spoon-fed a certain group of comfortable reporters, weak columnists and overly sentimental talk-show hosts, and they got what they wanted.
It was all a put-up job, with Trestman as some combination of dutiful soldier and true believer, and that's where the football comes in. Trestman thinks it's all tied together somehow, that a more fully actualized Cutler will be less likely to revert to sloppy throwing mechanics or throw the unfathomable interceptions that have defined his career as much or more than the many spectacular touchdowns. That's Trestman and the Bears – not you or me or anyone else in this equation – who actually tie the two aspects together. It's in fact a cornerstone of his overall coaching philosophy, and we'll see in time what it means that it's getting exposed.
Fans eventually love winners regardless, but this coach was hired essentially to solve the Cutler problem, and he truly adheres to the concept that winning comes from being a good person and a good teammate and citizen. So it also fits with what the team has wanted to do with Cutler from just an image and marketing perspective, to make him into something other than what he has proved to be.
Sunday was a disaster in many ways, but sources say Cutler's dismissive turn at the postgame media session rankled Bears officials almost as much as the careless, reckless passes that helped cost Chicago the game.
"Really pissed," was the exact wording from one privy to the thoughts of one executive.
Instead of taking any blame, Cutler tried to invalidate the criticism of his obvious failure.
"I mean, nobody knows what we're doing out there," he said. "I know you guys think you do, but you don't."
The immediate reaction to both Cutler's performance and comments had the Bears huddling in their offices to assess the damage to their reclamation project, resulting in the next day's limp, desperate effort by Trestman to convince us that Cutler really did understand, the coach repeatedly trying to explain how Cutler accepted full responsibility.
One game was all it took to lay waste to an organizational plan for better managing the image of its franchise quarterback.
You may not care one bit about how Cutler conducts himself outside of the white lines or the stat sheet, and to that idea you are entitled. You know that you have rooted for all kinds of people, and will always, so what kind of guy he is makes no difference as long as he wins.
The Bears have cared and do care, however, believing the two are somehow linked. And they are once again disappointed after thinking their commitment of millions of dollars and thousands of kind words would be reciprocated by a basic understanding of their expectations.
It's already shot and probably wasn't worth the effort in the first place.
Follow Dan on Twitter @dan_bernstein and read more of his columns here.
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