WASHINGTON - SEPTEMBER 18: Former NFL player and coach Mike Ditka speaks during a hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on Capitol Hill September 18, 2007 in Washington, DC. Former players and league officials appeared before the committee for a hearing on the "NFL Retirement System," focusing on the current compensation system for retirees with claims of advanced injuries that became symptomatic after retiring from the NFL. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Mike Ditka
Mike Ditka is a towering figure over the Chicago sports landscape. He is the one Chicago coach with a Super Bowl ring, and he is still beloved by Chicagoans. Though he was fired from the Bears in the early nineties and went on to coach the Saints, he's still ours. When he speaks, Chicagoans listen.
In an interview with the Sun-Times, he used that power to make his feelings known on the Bears quarterback situation.
It’s clear Ditka is not much of a Jay Cutler fan, not after the quarterback’s odd NFC Championship Game exit. ‘‘If Cutler’s not in the future,’’ he says matter-of-factly, ‘‘go after the best quarterback available. Leadership and character, you can’t teach those.’’
The thing is, Cutler is the future. Whether Ditka or anyone else likes it or not, Cutler is signed with the Bears through 2013. He's 27, and Lovie Smith and Mike Martz have expressed their confidence in his abilities several times. His teammates have shown the same support.
For Ditka to undercut that is unfair, and is something he would not have stood for during his coaching days. It's not something he had to deal with, as George Halas, the man who both coached and hired him, passed away during Ditka's second year as head coach.
But Smith -- the only other coach who brought the Bears to a Super Bowl and multiple playoff appearances in the Super Bowl era -- does have to deal with the second-guessing and barbs that come with having a former coach continue to be an icon in Chicago.
Coach Ditka, I say this with all the love, respect and admiration in the world: Stop it. It's not fair to undercut Smith at every turn. You were a great coach and still are a great football mind, but using that mind to publicly question the Bears now is below you. It's not classy, it's not fair and it's not fitting of the man this city still loves.