Chicago Bears' general manager Phil Emery addressed the media on Tuesday, nearly 24 hours after ending Lovie Smith’s nine-year run with the team, and spoke for close to an hour about the decision making process, the subsequent interview and hiring process, and his overall philosophy in his decision making both last season and moving forward.
Yeah, it was a lot to digest.
But Emery spoke with confidence and passion, and he lauded Lovie Smith’s abilities as a coach and his character as a man. “It was a day full of very mixed emotions,” Emery said. “A tough day in many ways. I have great respect for Lovie, and he had a good run here. It was a very tough decision to make a change.”
Emery went on to list all of Smith’s accomplishments, everything from leading the team to three division titles and an NFC Championship, to leading the NFL in takeaways and building “defensive greatness.” But in the end, the decision to relieve Smith was more about the six seasons he missed the playoffs.
“Our number one goal always has been to win championships,” Emery said. “And to be in contention, we have to be in the playoffs on a consistent basis. The Chicago Bears, a charter member of the NFL, should always be in contention.”
In addition to missing the playoffs five of their last six seasons, Emery openly admitted to the Bears’ struggles on offense. “We haven’t had the balance; we haven’t has the consistency on the offensive side of the ball,” Emery said. “We have gone through a number of coordinators here.”
Prior to making the decision, Emery talked with both team president Ted Phillips and team chairman George McCaskey, who, according to Emery, asked some very pointed questions but ultimately told him it was his decision to make. Concurrently, the hiring of the new head coach will also be Emery’s decision.
And Emery will lead both the search and the interview process.
Coaching candidates are lined up for this week as well as next, according to the Bears’ G.M. Among the names that have been reported are Denver Broncos’ offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan and Atlanta Falcons’ special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong.
When asked if the Bears’ own special teams coordinator, Dave Toub, would be considered for the job, Emery said that he was excluding no one.
“We want someone who’s highly organized. We want someone who’s high energy and pulls people together,” Emery said. “We want someone who displays excellence in their position. The head coaching position in the NFL is a 24/7 job.”
Emery made it clear that the Bears were not searching specifically for an offensive-minded coach, saying they would look at qualified candidates who fit what their criteria, regardless of offensive or defensive background.
As for a preference between a 4-3 defense (what the Bears currently run) and a 3-4 defense, Emery said it won’t be a factor. “I have no preference,” he said. “What’s important is that the new coach is flexible and adaptable with our roster,” making it clear that he is not interested in complete tear-down rebuild.
“It’s a building, not a rebuilding,” team president George McCaskey told the Sun-Times Adam Jahns; a sentiment certainly reflected in Emery’s statements on Tuesday.
Emery talked about the players’ reactions to the firing of Lovie saying, “I had some players come by and talk to me. There’s a lot of emotion. They love coach Smith. I take it at that.” Speaking specifically on Devin Hester, who said he was considering retirement upon learning of Smith’s dismissal, “I saw the comments. I felt for Devin, I certainly understand the emotion, but there will be a time when those emotions clear.”
Emery said Hester did not come by his office.
More than anything else, Emery’s comments on the players’ reactions show that while he understands their visceral, emotional response, he also understands that he’s running a business.
Emery said the team will continue to build around quarterback Jay Cutler, saying he sees the passer as a franchise QB, while understanding that the team has to do more to protect him on the field.
Going into detail, Emery discussed advanced statistics provides by STATS, Inc. and Pro Football Focus while evaluating the offensive line’s season in 2012, and he used them to help show that while the team needs to get better at the tackle position, of the options he had to potentially upgrade the position prior to the 2012 season, none of the available players graded out better than J’Marcus Webb, with only one available player grading better than Gabe Carimi.
Based on their options in 2012, Emery felt the team could get more production by upgrading the receiver position, focusing back on the offensive line on 2013.
Emery wouldn’t openly blame anything on offensive coordinator Mike Tice, but he did not offer up any sort of glowing endorsement, saying the team failed to effectively use Matt Forte and Earl Bennett. Additionally, Emery said, the offense has to get “better at making plays in the midfield area.”
According to stats I compiled just a few days ago, I was marginally surprised to find that Matt Forte caught more passes thrown his way than any other player on the roster—73.33% to be exact. Emery clearly saw something similar in his evaluation, saying that they need to utilize Forte’s ability in the passing game more.
Emery hopes to have the Bears’ new head coach in place by the college all-star games which begin in mid-January, but I’d suspect that a hire is made before that time. As for any constraint from likely shelling out five million to Lovie Smith in 2013, Emery said money has never been and will not be a factor.
There is only one goal for the Bears’ second-year G.M. and that is becoming a champion, and working toward that immediately. “We want to win the championship now.”