LAKE FOREST, Ill. – The Chicago Bears had too many playoff misses and too many problems on offense. That's why general manager Phil Emery fired coach Lovie Smith.
The Bears let Smith go Monday even though they won 10 games.
Missing the playoffs for the fifth time in six years and the inability to fix the offense were simply too much to overlook, so they cut ties with their coach after a nine-year run that included three division titles, two NFC championship game appearances and a trip to the Super Bowl.
"Our No. 1 goal has to be to win championships and to win championships we must be in contention on a consistent basis," Emery said. "And to be in contention, we have to be in the playoffs on a consistent basis. Five out of the last six years, we have not been there. We have fallen short."
He pointed out that while the Bears consistently boasted an effective defense under Smith with stars such as Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and later Julius Peppers, they never could get it right on offense. Smith had four offensive coordinators during his tenure. The Bears made big trades for quarterback Jay Cutler and receiver Brandon Marshall, but they continued to struggle through the years whether it was because of poor play-calling, poor execution or poor blocking.
Either way, the team is moving on. Emery had discussions with chairman George McCaskey and president Ted Phillips, but ultimately, the decision to change coaches was his.
Now, the search is on.
Emery said Tuesday he'll be interviewing potential replacements over the next two weeks and would like to have one in place by the college All-Star games later this month. A person familiar with the situation told the Associated Press they will interview Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy this week. Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan and Atlanta Falcons special teams coach Keith Armstrong are also expected to interview, according to reports.
Emery wouldn't rule out candidates with defensive backgrounds or college coaches. He was also asked if special teams coordinator Dave Toub is in the running.
"No one's been excluded," Emery said. "We have some excellent coaches on our staff and I'm not excluding anybody."
He also said he has no preference for a 4-3 or 3-4 defense, but added the personnel is geared for a 4-3.
The coaching search isn't the only big issue facing the Bears at the moment.
Urlacher has an expiring contract and could be gone after being limited by injuries this season. He was slowed by a knee issue and missed the final four games because of a hamstring problem. Emery was noncommittal about the eight-time Pro Bowl player's future.
Then, there's Cutler. Are the Bears convinced he is the long-term solution for them at quarterback?
He has one year left on his contract, and although Emery talked about building around him, he also said " That answer is going to come as we move forward with a new head coach.
"Am I convinced that Jay has the talent to be that? Yes, I am.," Emery said. "I'll say the same thing that I said this summer: I see Jay as a franchise quarterback. We've got to build around him. That's been the goal from the beginning, to build around Jay and to build our team toward championships."
For now, Emery is focused on finding a coach.
He replaced the fired Jerry Angelo after last season with the mandate that he keep Smith for at least this year. With lofty expectations, the Bears won seven of their first eight games before everything crumbled. Yet, Emery insisted having to work with the coach for a year didn't set him back in executing his long-term plan.
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