Mike Ditka - Head Coach Of The Chicago Bears
Head Coach of the Chicago Bears
In 1982, the Chicago Bears' famed coach, George Halas, who had drafted Ditka as a player, brought him back to Chicago, this time as head coach of the Bears. He would coach the Bears for 11 seasons, period of time that would bring him lasting fame in football.
In the 1980s, the Bears were a strong team; from 1985 to 1988, they had 52 regular-season victories, the most ever by an NFL team in any four-year period. Their success hinged largely on one player, running back Walter Payton. Ditka told Mike Sager in Esquire that other teams "tried to stop our running game, and it didn't matter if they did stop it, because we kept trying to run the football, and eventually we made it work. And we made it work because of one guy—Walter Payton." Payton would eventually set a new career rushing record, with 16,726 yards in his 13-year career.
In 1985, Ditka was named the Sporting News Coach of the Year as the Bears went 15-1 and won the Super Bowl 46-10 over the New England Patriots in 1986 with, as Paul Attner wrote in the Sporting News, "some of the toughest, most aggressive, hard-nosed football you could ever want." The Bears played relentlessly, with drive and flair, and Ditka was credited for bringing that out in them. It was the team's first championship since 1963.
The Bears failed to repeat as championships, losing early in the playoffs to the Washington Redskins. Their victory in 1986, however, brought the team fame. As Friedman pointed out, the Bears led the NFL in endorsements at that time; several, including Ditka, owned restaurants; and 13, including Ditka, had their own radio or television shows. Ditka was appearing on both television and radio.
In 1988, Ditka was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That season he led the Bears to a 12-4 record and was named Sporting News Coach of the Year for the second time. Chicago came up one game short of the Super Bowl, losing in the NFC Championship Game to the San Francisco 49ers.
During the 1992 season, Ditka's desire to coach began to wane, and he reached a breaking point on October 4, when the Bears were leading the Minnesota Vikings 20-0 in the first quarter. This was a great beginning, but the Bears played so badly the rest of the way that they lost the game 21-20. After the game, Ditka, veins protruding in his neck, screamed at quarterback Jim Harbaugh. Morale on the team suffered, and the Bears slid to 5-11 for the season. According to Peter King in Sports Illustrated, critics contended that Ditka was burned out and had lost his love of football, citing his bad temper and numerous outbursts directed at players, fans and Bears owner Mike McCaskey. Ditka denied this for many years, but eventually admitted to King, "They spoke the truth. I totally lost my desire. The best thing for me was to do something else, and it was best for the Bears, too."
McCaskey fired Ditka, and Ditka spent most of the next four years golfing, traveling, and working as a motivational speaker and as an analyst on NBC's "NFL Live." However, as he told King, "Getting up and going to the golf course is not life." And he remarked to Paul Attner in the Sporting News, "I was figuring out what color shirt I was going to wear instead of reading a good book or doing something constructive." He began looking for something to do that would give him direction.
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