Depending on how Chicago finishes the season, General Manager Phil Emery could have a tough decision at the end of the year. The Bears need to win out, and have certain teams lose, to ensure a playoff berth. For Smith, watching another playoffs start from home could ultimately cost him his job.
Emery inherited Smith, and the current approach to winning, which means Emery has the right to handpick a new head coach to lead the team he’s putting together as well as change the Chicago Bears’ culture as we know it.
The first sign of a change would be seen in the 2013 NFL Draft. If Chicago ends up parting ways with Smith, it would change Emery’s priorities come April. Smith is a Tampa-2 disciple; a defense in which the middle linebacker has to be a dynamic player in both pass and run support.
Once great and current Bears’ middle linebacker, Brian Urlacher, although still an effective player, just isn’t that guy anymore. With Urlacher in the last year of his contract, that position would have to be the number one priority for Chicago going into the off-season if they wanted to avoid regression on defense.
With guys in the mix like Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o, Alabama’s CJ Mosley, and UGA’s Jarvis Jones this looks to be the best year to find that replacement.
I believe, however, that Emery tipped his hat toward what type of defense he would prefer to run when he drafted first-round DE/LB Shea McClellin. Emery’s last stop before becoming Chicago’s general manager was director of scouting for the Kansas City Chiefs. Although the Chiefs, a 3-4 base team, are struggling, they have some of the best young talent on the defense in the NFL, a lot of whom Emery helped draft.
McClellin, who played almost every position in the front seven of Boise State’s 3-4 during his years there, is a player that can fit in almost any scheme. He can be an operative pass rusher if he stays in the 4-3, but he can be much more versatile in a 3-4, as we saw at Boise State.
The selection of McClellin is eerily similar to that of current Colts’ LB Jerry Hughes. Hughes, a 2010 TCU prospect, was a first-round, undersized DE, who seemed to fit better in a 3-4. The Colts were a 4-3 base team then and Hughes was drafted to be an edge rusher. He didn’t have success at this level until Indianapolis switched to its current 3-4 base (21 tackles, 1 sack in his first two years. 35 tackles and 4 sacks so far this year), a switch that could happen in Chicago depending on who the coach is.
For fans worried about how Chicago’s personnel would transfer to a 3-4 next year, they should look directly at what Indianapolis has done. The Colts are heading into Week-16 with a 9-5 record, primed for playoff berth, with minimal change on defense, even though they switched schemes. They placed an emphasis on offense in last year’s draft and are reaping the benefits of it right now.
Without Smith as the head coach next year, offense, specifically the offensive line, has to be the main concern of Emery, regardless of who's hired.
Chicago has a chance to make the "change in philosophy" talk a moot point by winning the last two games of their season and making the playoffs. With the current slide the Bears are on, many fans are looking ahead to next season already, and for good reason. Despite a 7-1 start, the Bears are now fighting for their season. It’s their job to get our attention focused back on the current one, otherwise, heads look like they will roll.