The Bears are Phil Emery’s team. That was made very clear Tuesday when he met the media a day after firing Lovie Smith after nine seasons.
Everything starts and ends with him.
Emery said he came to the decision to fire Smith after a thorough evaluation process. But mainly it came down to the Bears missing the playoffs five of the last six seasons and their offensive struggles throughout the course of Smith’s tenure.
“As a professional sports team and as a historic charter member of the greatest sports league in this world, the NFL, our No. 1 goal has to be to win championships, and to win championships we must be in contention on a consistent basis,” Emery said. “And to be in contention, we have to be in the playoffs on a consistent basis. Five out of the last six years, we have not been there. We have fallen short.
“We have had defensive excellence. However, during the course of coach Smith’s career, we’ve had one offense that was ranked in the teens — I believe 15th — during the course of that. We haven’t had the balance between our defensive excellence. We’ve had special-teams excellence. We have not had consistency on the offensive side of the ball.
“We have gone through a number of coordinators. We have searched for answers. The end result is that we did not have enough consistency. That part and not getting to the playoffs on a consistent basis, being able to meet our organizational goals, to be in a consistent spot, to be in the hunt to win championships, I made the change moving forward.”
It wasn’t an easy decision. He understood Smith’s relationship with his players.
“It was a very tough decision to make — to make a change,” Emery said. “He’s had a lot of players and coaches who have put forth a lot of effort and represented the Chicago Bears in a class manner and had success. So [it] was very difficult to work through.”
Like the players, Bears chairman George McCaskey met with Smith on Monday and said it was an “emotional situation.”
“I know I was struggling to keep my emotions in check,” McCaskey said.
“It was very difficult. Our family has high regard for Lovie. … He’s been high character all the way through. He’s represented the Bears very well, and he’s a good coach and an outstanding man.
“I think out of things that we’re most grateful to Lovie for is that he didn’t just teach our players football. He taught them how to become men.”
Emery said he was hired with the understanding that Smith would remain the Bears’ head coach for at least one more season. He consulted with McCaskey and team president Ted Phillips, but ultimately the decision to retain Smith after what happened in 2012 would be his to make.
“The process of making that decision was a daily process,” Emery said. “From the time that I was hired, I knew that coach Smith was going to be our head football coach. I was pleased with that because I knew Lovie and I knew the level of success that he has had. He’s been a very good person to work with. We’ve gained a very good rapport with one another and have always put the team first in working together to make decisions.”
If the Bears made playoffs this year, would that have changed his decision?
“Going to the playoffs is important, but more important is the track record and the history of meeting our goals,” Emery said. “We [missed the playoffs] five out of the last six [seasons].”
Emery’s coaching searching is already ongoing. He has interviews already scheduled for this week and next. The Sun-Times has learned that the Bears have lined up interviews with Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, Atlanta Falcons special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong and Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan.
“Moving forward,” Emery said, “I’m excited about the process to find the right person for the Chicago Bears to lead us to consistency [and] to be in the hunt for championships on a consistent basis.”