Tashaun Gipson’s first four NFL seasons came with the Cleveland Browns, who at the time had the distinction as the most wayward and dysfunctional organization in the league.
From 2012-15, Gipson experienced 19 wins and 45 losses, played for three head coaches and endured a shift in owners when Jimmy Haslam bought the Browns from Randy Lerner in the middle of the 2012 season.
That franchise seemed to live inside a pocket of turbulence. Drama and tension were constant. Instability felt inevitable. Failure became the expectation.
“Those were bad locker rooms I was a part of,” Gipson said Tuesday afternoon. “It was more of the norm to have internal (issues) where guys were just all over the place with emotions.”
Now a starting safety for the Chicago Bears, Gipson realizes his early NFL existence kept taking him to the same place: last place. Every season in Cleveland, in fact.
In 2014, Gipson lived through the bizarre soap opera in which rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel went missing from the team on the final weekend of the season. Less than a week later, respected offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan resigned with two years left on his contract.
So the current frustration and chaos the Bears are working through? The confusion as to whether coach Matt Nagy’s job will be secure beyond the weekend?
This, Gipson stressed Tuesday, isn’t on that level.
“I know what a losing locker room is like,” he said. “And this is not that.
“I know our record indicates that, hey, man, a lot of guys may be willing to check out. But that’s not the energy and that’s not the atmosphere that I sense here.”
To be clear, the label of “not quite that bad” shouldn’t be mistaken for “nothing to worry about.” It’s hardly a fulfilling consolation prize.
Still, Bears players made a concerted effort Tuesday to demonstrate composure and steadiness. Amid an unconfirmed report from Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Mark Konkol on Patch.com that the organization has decided to dismiss Nagy after Thursday’s game in Detroit, Bears players tried to insulate themselves from the commotion.
“I mean, yeah, you’re going to see some things even though you’re not trying to,” quarterback Andy Dalton said. “But maybe don’t click on things that you shouldn’t click on.”
Overall, players were aware of the amplifying chatter about Nagy’s job status but also were trying to ignore as much of it as possible.
“I don’t think the conversation of ‘What’s going on with the guys upstairs?’ is a topic at hand right now,” Gipson said. “Clearly that is something that’s in the air, obviously. But like I said, that’s nothing that’s been in the locker room.”
A lack of drama, though, doesn’t necessarily signify a harmonious existence. And right now, the pressure is rising.
The Bears remain a complete mess. They will arrive at Ford Field on Thursday morning 45 days removed from their last victory. At 3-7, they are ahead of only one team in the NFC standings — their Thanksgiving opponent, the winless Detroit Lions.
And if the weight of the current five-game losing streak wasn’t heavy enough, now there are these rumblings that Nagy’s days as coach are numbered, perhaps even countable on one hand.
With seven games left in a season that won’t end until Jan. 9, the Bears are a long way from shore, sailing through choppy seas on a boat with a bowling-ball-sized hole in the stern.
Internally, a veteran-loaded roster vows to keep things afloat as best it can.
“Guys are still focused on winning football games,” Gipson said. “And obviously that’s a testament to the guys in the locker room. We have a veteran team. People talk about the age of this team. But with that comes veteran leadership to be able to whip guys up and let them know, man, there’s still football left to be played.”
For older players, this type of turmoil isn’t new. Dalton played nine seasons for the Cincinnati Bengals, and at least three of them included some level of job-security watch on coach Marvin Lewis this time of year.
“There are rumors all over the place about a lot of different things at different times,” Dalton said. “And as a locker room, you don’t worry about that. There are so many other things you have to worry about. … You focus on the things that matter.”
That, of course, is often an easier-said-than-done chore, particularly for a team that soon might be playing for nothing but pride while facing the prospect of a coaching change in the near future.
In a week like this with so much tumult bubbling up, the players’ focus on preparation is being tested. Their energy might have to be manufactured at times. Their faith in coaching decisions may be subconsciously diminished.
Yet there will be nowhere to hide Thursday when they take center stage for a national holiday audience.
“Whenever you’re going week to week to week to week losing, it’s tough,” wide receiver Allen Robinson said. “I mean, we’ve had five straight. That’s over a month of losing. So I think everybody is at that point now where they just want to get a ‘W.’”
But how? The Bears had victory within reach the last three games and failed to capitalize. Sunday’s late collapse in a 16-13 home loss to a Baltimore Ravens team playing without star quarterback Lamar Jackson felt like a new low.
Outside demands for change are growing louder. The “Fire Nagy!” chants that started at Soldier Field in the second half Sunday mushroomed again Monday at — of all places — the United Center during a Bulls game.
The Bears declined the Tribune’s requests for interviews with Chairman George McCaskey, President Ted Phillips and general manager Ryan Pace, each intended to explore the current state of the team and the franchise’s belief in Nagy.
For the third consecutive year, the Bears are drowning in a losing streak that has drawn out for at least 40 days. If Nagy is indeed on the hot seat, Pace’s job would seem to be in danger as well.
On Tuesday, players vocalized a commitment to Nagy and praised his consistent energy. But what else were they going to say in front of microphones with the cameras on?
Privately, the frustration has intensified during this losing streak. And the aggravation Bears fans have felt from the team’s letdowns has been mirrored inside the locker room.
Within that, the established veteran leaders are pushing for stability.
“We have a lot of young players on this team and a lot of the guys have a lot of football left to play,” Robinson said. “I try to tell those guys, ‘Man, this is a roller-coaster league.’ We all would love to be 14-2, 13-3. Sometimes you kind of go through these roller coasters and you have to be able to bounce back. You have to be resilient. And you have to be very headstrong and be able to really compartmentalize everything and get yourself ready for (game days).”
After 10 games, the lean toward change within the Bears organization is becoming clearer. And that’s never a comfortable place for a franchise.
Last year at this time, as the Lions prepared to host the Houston Texans on Thanksgiving at Ford Field, there were widespread rumblings that they were about to fire coach Matt Patricia as his team floundered through another brutal season.
Lions players vowed to stay focused and to channel their energy in the right direction. But in the first of three Thanksgiving games, the Lions were a total mess. They got steamrolled 41-25 and fell to 4-7.
Less than 48 hours later, Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn were fired. Owner Sheila Ford Hamp said the decision makers at the highest levels of the organization had gone back and forth for weeks, trying to make the most sensible move.
In the end, two days after Thanksgiving, Patricia and Quinn were launched.
“It was a hard decision,” Ford Hamp said. “Because they are both terrific people and worked very hard and tirelessly for this organization. It just clearly wasn’t working.”
What will it mean if the Bears rally and win Thursday? And if they lose, who knows what could happen?
Source: Berkshire mont