A day after finishing the 2012 regular season with a 10-6 record and missing out on the playoffs, Bears’ general manager, Phil Emery and team owner, George McCaskey, have fired their long-time head coach, Lovie Smith. Smith coached the Bears for nine seasons beginning in 2004, getting as far as the 2007 Super Bowl and another NFC Championship game in 2011, but unlike storied predecessors Mike Ditka and team founder, George Halas, never won an outright league championship during his tenure.
This marks the second straight year the Bears have decided to overhaul their immediate team structure with the firing last January of previous general manager, Jerry Angelo, being the first volley. Team president, Ted Phillips, hired Emery to replace Angelo and now Emery must seek a replacement for Smith and his coaching staff.
Although it is only one of many head coaching changes expected throughout the NFL this offseason, Smith is undoubtedly the most successful coach to be dismissed. His overall team record of 84-66 places him behind only Ditka and Halas in franchise history and there is a strong likelihood of Lovie being hired to coach another team in 2013, possibly the Cowboys, as Smith is a native Texan and Jerry Jones cannot be happy with his own underachieving team in Dallas.
The Bears have underachieved lately themselves, failing to make the playoffs in five of the last six seasons under Smith. The acquisition in 2009 of Jay Cutler as their supposed franchise quarterback has, thus far, been frustrating, even with the pairing of Brandon Marshall as his go-to receiver this past year. Under a new coaching regime, all returning players will have to be on the clock as to their performances with Cutler entering the final year of his deal in 2013.
Notable players who might not return at all include linebacker Brian Urlacher and kick returner Devin Hester, both of whom have seen their best NFL days pass them by and it will be interesting to see what defensive design a new coach brings as other veteran stars such as Lance Briggs have long been tied to the Lovie Smith system and will either have to learn a new scheme or be replaced.
Certainly, a new and better scheme needs to surround Cutler and Marshall on offense. Running back Matt Forte signed a contract extension before the season, but overall, had a subpar campaign due to injury and a lack of commitment on the part of offensive coordinator, Mike Tice, to the running game. Tice and most, if not all, of Smith’s assistant coaches, will likely be fired, as well.
Ideally, Emery should find a young coach, either out of the college ranks or someone with just a few seasons as an assistant coach in the NFL, as Smith’s successor. One suspects that contacts have been made to qualified candidates already or will be this week and that a new coach will be announced sometime in January.