Bears' Brian Urlacher walks off the field following the Bears loss to Green Bay in the NFC Championship Sunday evening in Chicago. | Michael R. Schmidt~Sun-Times Media
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First, it was their coach.
Now, it’s the face of their franchise.
Coping with loss and then change has become a way of life for Bears players this offseason.
Less than three months after Lovie Smith was fired after nine seasons, the Bears announced Wednesday that an agreement could not be reached with longtime middle linebacker Brian Urlacher and he wouldn’t be returning for his 14th season in Chicago.
Talk about a seismic shift.
It has been a stunning offseason as the changes continue under general manager Phil Emery. Urlacher was beloved by his teammates, old and young, past and current.
“Brian was the leader of our defense,” safety Chris Conte told the Sun-Times. “He was a great guy on and off the field and taught me a lot about how to be a professional.
“He’s someone I’ve looked up to long before I was drafted by the Bears. To share the field [with him] was an honor.”
While the Bears were busy in free agency, announcing the signings of tight end Martellus Bennett and left tackle Jermon Bushrod, some players took to Twitter in support of Urlacher. On Wednesday, players’ tweets took a different tone.
“Sad sad day for Bear nation!!!” cornerback Tim Jennings said on Twitter.
“I don’t think anyone ever saw him playing for another team or not playing for the Bears,” cornerback Charles Tillman told the Sun-Times. “I’m shocked like everyone else. He was the heart and soul of our team — the defense especially — and he will be missed. I wish him the best. I didn’t want to see him go.”
Tillman said if he were a general manager, he’d sign Urlacher.
“But every GM does their own thing, and [Emery] is doing what he feels is right,” Tillman said. “Hey, they don’t pay me to make those decisions. They pay me to play.”
New Bears coach Marc Trestman said he told Urlacher that he wanted him to return, but in the end, the veteran couldn’t be swayed.
“It’s tough to lose a player like Urlacher,” defensive end Corey Wootton said. “He not only has great ability, but he’s a natural leader that everyone listened to. It’s going to be weird not seeing 54 on the field.
“Off the field, he was one of the nicest guys. It’s tough to see him go.”