Bears fire coach Lovie Smith
BY SEAN JENSEN AND ADAM L. JAHNS @suntimes.com December 31, 2012 9:54AM
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Updated: December 31, 2012 6:02PM
Lovie Smith has been fired as Bears coach.
Smith, who was under contract through 2013, will not return for a 10th season largely because the team missed the playoffs this year. The Bears finished 10-6 after a 7-1 start.
Smith informed his players during a team meeting of the organization’s decision at 11 a.m. on Monday. But many of them heard the reports of his firing beforehand.
Many players were visibly upset when the Bears’ locker room opened to the media after the brief and final meeting with Smith.
“It’s disappointing,” linebacker Nick Roach said. “It’s very sad to see him go. If you’re a player in the NFL for any number of years, even if it’s just a couple years, he’s a guy that you would want to play for. It’s sad to see him have to leave.”
Said safety Craig Steltz: “It’s frustrating. We wish we could have taken it further. Putting all the work together from the beginning of the season, you wish you would have been able to take it further. It’s just frustrating that this is what happens. “
Smith was 81-63 (.562) as Bears coach, but his teams have made the postseason just once since the 2007 season, and they’ve struggled against the Green Bay Packers. Smith started 6-2, but he’s lost eight of the last nine in the series.
What was Smith’s final message?
“That he loves us all,” nickeback D.J. Moore said. “That he’s proud of us. Thanks for the effort. It’s the way the league is. Continue on with your goals.”
In the NFL, the day after the final regular season game is called Black Monday because clubs often rush to fire coaches then move quickly to find a replacement, and the Bears are getting a jump on finding their next head coach.
They’ve already asked the Denver Broncos permission to speak to offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, a league source told the Sun-Times, confirming an initial report from Fox Sports. The Broncos have a first-round playoff bye, which provides the Bears and any other interested clubs a window to interview him.
McCoy is well-thought of in league circles given his ability to get production out of Tim Tebow and the MVP caliber season Peyton Manning has had in 2012, his first season with the Broncos.
General manager Phil Emery is scheduled to address the media at 10 a.m. on Tuesday.
“Change isn’t always a bad thing,” quarterback Jay Cutler said. “Sometimes, it can be good. The prospect at the time was unfavorable, but ... no one really wants to change or think about changing. Now that it’s upon us, we’ve got to be positive about it. It is what it is. We’ve just got to keep moving forward, and whoever it is, we’ve got to make the most of it.”
But Cutler also was disappointed and frustrated that the Bears’ offense couldn’t deliver for Smith.
“He’s been great. Class act. A player’s coach. Had a lot of respect for him,” Cutler said. “Last speaking with him, he earned even more respect from me, if it was possible. He handled it the right way. A lot of character in that man, and it showed up.”
Emery said on his weekly appearance with WBBM on Sunday that Smith has “done an outstanding job coaching the Bears” and called him a “great, team-first person.”
He noted that, like player evaluations, coaches are judged on their “body of work.”
“It’s about steady progress toward our goals which is to win championships,” Emery said.
But disturbing has been the Bears’ consecutive late-season slides.
The Bears finished 8-8 in 2011 after starting 7-3. The Bears finished 10-6 in 2012 after starting 7-1.
Since 1990, 38 teams have started 7-1 but the Bears become just the second to miss the playoffs.
In the last two Decembers, the Bears were 2-7.
“It’s tough,” center Roberto Garza said. “It’s a tough situation to be in, to see a great man, a great coach, have to sit in front of a room and do that. But this is the NFL. It happens. Unfortunately, we put ourselves in this situation.”