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Sad-news Bears: Players praise fired leader

Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith watches prior an NFL football game against ArizonCardinals Sunday Dec. 23 2012 Glendale Ariz.

Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith watches prior to an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Dec. 23, 2012, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Paul Connors)

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Bears players lost more than a coach Monday.

‘‘[Lovie Smith] brought out not just the best football player in us, but as a person, [he instilled] things that we’ll carry with us for our whole life,’’ safety Craig Steltz said.

‘‘How to be a man — that’s the biggest thing he taught us. It wasn’t always about on the field. He taught us how to be a man off the field.’’

Smith’s fatherly, even-handed touch forged a bond with his players that a firing cannot break.

Disappointment and regret usually are the prevailing emotions on a day like Monday. But they were trumped by a heartfelt sadness for the firing of Smith.

‘‘He treated you with respect,’’ linebacker Nick Roach said. ‘‘He respected you as a person. He wasn’t a condescending type of teacher. He just wanted guys to get the job done — without screaming and yelling and swearing and all that [bluster].

‘‘It’s very sad to see him have to leave.’’

Not surprisingly, the mood was somber and emotions evident when Smith spoke to the team for the last time in the morning at the Halas Hall auditorium.

‘‘It was difficult,’’ tight end Kyle Adams said. ‘‘But coach Smith is a real man. He stood up and said, ‘Thank you for the opportunity. You’re the best players in the world. And I loved coaching you guys.’ He said he was proud to be a Chicago Bear.’’

Of the captains and leaders, only Jay Cutler, Roberto Garza and Devin Hester spoke to reporters in the locker room. Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Julius Peppers, Charles Tillman, Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte were absent.

Urlacher, an intensely devoted Smith loyalist who missed the last four games with a hamstring injury and will be a free agent in the offseason, said in a radio interview that he’s not sure how Smith’s firing affects his future with the Bears.

‘‘I said I didn’t want to play for any other head coach; I still feel that way,’’ Urlacher said. ‘‘I can’t imagine playing for anyone else. So I’m not sure. I’ve got some thinking to do. I want to keep playing football — I know that much. And once I’m healthy, I can still do that at a pretty high level.’’

Urlacher, though, acknowledged that once the emotion of the moment dissipates and the Bears hire a coach, he likely would change his mind.

‘‘I’m a Bear no matter what happens,’’ he said. ‘‘I’ve been here for 13 years. I can’t see myself going anywhere else. I want to be here.

‘‘We’re all mad right now. We just lost our head coach. We’re all going to say things we don’t mean. I still don’t want to play for any other coach. And I’ll keep saying that until it happens, I guess. I have a long time before I make that decision.’’



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