Bears’ general manager, Phil Emery, held a press conference on New Year’s Day, to answer questions from the media about the firing of head coach Lovie Smith, the search for his replacement and the general direction of the team heading into 2013.
The usual plaudits to the ex-coach began proceedings, but Emery emphasized the team needed to go into a new direction and that changing who is the Bears’ head coach was necessary in order to achieve that goal, i.e., to win the Super Bowl. And, of course, the first step toward that goal is to reach the playoffs, something Smith had failed to do in five of the past six seasons.
Emery gave a general overview of who might comprise the list of potential head coaching candidates for the Bears, not excluding current college coaches. But with interview requests already made for several NFL assistants, with Denver’s offensive coordinator, Mike McCoy, being first, it’s safe to assume the new head coach will come from the professional ranks.
No specific timetable for the new head coach hiring was given, but Emery stressed the next two weeks would be filled with interviews and that a decision might be made shortly after that, which would mean the Bears should have their new head coach in place by the end of the month.
Emery did not rule out the return of any assistant coaches who had served under Smith, but allowed for the fact that it would be the new head coach’s decision as to whom he might retain from the current Bears’ coaching staff. Special teams’ coach, Dave Toub, would probably be the only possible holdover from the old regime, but it’s also likely that a complete housecleaning is in order and that no one will be retained despite current assistants remaining under contract with the Bears.
As for player roster turnover, inevitably, there will be changes when the new coach arrives, but Jay Cutler will remain the Bears’ quarterback and any new coach will have to implement a plan on how best to exploit Cutler’s strengths and help out the offense’s deficiencies which became apparent throughout the latter half of the 2012 season.
On defense, Emery is aware that the current personnel doesn’t fit a drastic scheme change, say to a 3-4 defense, but if a prospective new coach has such a switch in mind and can map out a plan to acquire the necessary players, Emery would not rule it out.
Emery would not comment on current players’ contracts, specifically mentioning linebacker, Brian Urlacher. Emery commented on Urlacher’s return from injury this past season and seems open to allowing for the veteran to return under the right conditions, i.e., his new contract and if a new coach wants him back.
As to some of the players’ emotional comments, specifically Devin Hester, following Smith’s dismissal, Emery said he understood the context under which those statements were made (Hester said he might retire as opposed to playing for another coach) and he hopes that given time, the team will adjust to having a new head coach. But look for significant roster changes to be made this offseason given the inefficient offense and aging defense.
Emery reflected on last year’s review of the roster and why the offensive line, a critical weakness this past season, wasn’t overhauled sooner. The lack of free agent talent available was cited, although the acquisition of reserve OT Jonathan Scott, was touted, even though Scott wasn’t inserted in the starting lineup until injuries late in the year made his starting necessary.
Emery defended his top 2012 draft choices, DE Shea McClellin and WR Alshon Jeffery, as being the best players available at the time the Bears picked. This spring’s draft has the Bears making their first round pick at #20, the last non-playoff team to make a pick in round one. Statistics defending the play of oft-criticized offensive tackles J’Marcus Webb and Gabe Carimi were given in defense of ignoring a potential draft pick at that position last year, although it appears likely, the Bears next draft crop will feature at least one top pick on the offensive line.
Returning to the problems on offense, Emery mentioned the sub-par seasons of tight end Kellen Davis, wideout Earl Bennett and even running back Matt Forte. Part of the blame was placed on the players’ own performances, but their under utilization in offensive game plans was not overlooked either. While Forte seems secure as the Bears’ starting running back next season, look for Davis and Bennett to face competition heading into next spring and summer’s training camps.
Overall, Emery seems completely engaged in what it will take to improve the Bears and bring them back to the playoffs. However, his choice of a new head coach and that coach’s own decisions as a game manager, talent evaluator and locker room influence, will ultimately determine whether this new era in Bears’ history proves successful or not.