CHICAGO – It’s happening again.
First come the whispers. Steadily, the volume increases.
As they did two years ago, former NFL players and ana-lysts are scrutinizing Jay Cutler in the national spotlight. Now, instead of questioning Cutler’s toughness, they’re wondering whether it’s time to assign the dreaded label of “coach killer” to the Bears quarterback.
This time, the critics might be right.
Cutler is running out of time to prove otherwise.
As he eyes his fifth season on the lakefront, Cutler soon could say hello to his fourth offensive coordinator with the Bears. Mike Tice remains under contract, but his status is tenuous at best as Phil Emery seeks a new head coach who will prefer his own assistants.
Maybe it’s time to install a revolving door at Halas Hall instead of the hinged model.
Remember Ron Turner? Cutler said all of the right things about his offensive coordinator when he joined the Bears in 2009, but he bypassed several opportunities to endorse Turner’s retention late in the season as the team sputtered to a sub-.500 finish.
Who could forget Mike Martz? He and Cutler claimed to hit it off during a private meeting in Nashville before the 2010 season, but actions spoke louder than words as the Bears produced back-to-back offenses in the bottom 10 of the league. Words spoke pretty loudly, too, as TV cameras caught Cutler delivering a four-letter greeting to Martz in 2011.
In came Tice, the lovable Yogi Bear in real life who vowed to build an offense based on common sense. But he and Cutler never seemed to be on the same page, and sometimes they weren’t even on the same bench as the quarterback stood up and walked away.
Before Cutler cleared out his locker Dec. 31, he seemed to take another swipe at Tice.
“Once we get a good coordinator and play-caller, we’ll make it work,” Cutler said.
At some point, it’s time for the big-arm quarterback to point a finger at himself.
Clearly, the offensive line could provide better protection for Cutler. But a high volume of sacks hasn’t stopped Aaron Rodgers from achieving greatness in Green Bay.
A more reliable group of receivers also would help Cutler. But Emery brought in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, and the Bears’ passing offense ranked No. 28 in the league.
These days, Turner is the head coach at Florida International. Martz retired from coaching and works as a color analyst for Fox during the regular season. Tice has a good reputation across the league and should find work easily if the Bears go in another direction.
As coordinators come and go, the constant is Cutler.
Now, people are asking whether he is hazardous to coaches’ careers.
By people, I don’t mean Big Mike from Marengo ranting on a sports call-in show. I mean Shannon Sharpe, Hall of Fame tight end and three-time Super Bowl champion.
“Jay Cutler, I do not believe he is a leader of men,” Sharpe said last week during the CBS pregame show. “He’s a quarterback, not a leader. And there’s a difference.”
Fellow Hall of Famer and CBS analyst Dan Marino chimed in.
“You’re saying he’s a coach killer?”
Sharpe nodded yes.
It’s not the first time Cutler has drawn criticism from past players and coaches.
After Cutler shoved teammate J’Marcus Webb on the sidelines in Week 2 at Lambeau Field, Super Bowl-winning coach and CBS analyst Bill Cowher wondered aloud about the quarterback’s attitude.
“I think it’s a problem,” Cowher said. “The guy’s got a strong arm. There is no question about that. He’s had some protection issues. I know there’s been some questionable [play] calling.
“But they brought players in to help this guy win a championship, and he [needs] to prove to be more accountable, not sensationalize every little mistake with his antics and body language.
“Listen, he’s a good quarterback. But if he does not change his ways and the team does not go to the playoffs, they have to consider changing. He has to change.’’
Cutler responded to his critics recently during his paid radio show on WMVP AM-1000. He was asked about those such as Sharpe who have described him as a coach-killer.
“They don’t know the situation that we’ve been in, that I’ve been in, here,” Cutler said. “They sit in front of a camera and they make broad accusations in broad strokes.
“That’s their job. I’d love to do what they do. There’s no repercussions for anything that they say. They just run their mouth.”
As for the coach-killer label?
“Yeah, it bothers you,” Cutler said. “But there’s really not much you can do.”
Sure there is.
Now do it.
• Tom Musick covers Chicago professional sports for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.