Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery wasted little time beginning his coaching search, departing for Atlanta for interviews right after holding a news conference Tuesday to discuss his firing of Lovie Smith.
The process that has followed has been described as "fast, furious and thorough" by Emery, who is scheduled to interview New Orleans Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael on Thursday.
Coming off three straight head coaches with defensive backgrounds, should the Bears go for an offensive mind this time?
Our panel weighs in on that and more:
Fact or Fiction: The Bears should hire a head coach with an offensive background.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. Smith got fired for two reasons: missing the playoffs five out of the past six years and never fixing the club's stagnant offense. So if offense is the reason Smith was fired, it only makes sense for the Bears to hire a head coach with an offensive background. The Bears can still play good defense without Smith in charge. Lance Briggs, Julius Peppers, Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings all remain under contract, which tells me the defense isn't about to fall off the cliff, even if the scheme is tweaked by the new coaching staff. But I can't say the same about the offense. This group is in dire need of new leadership and direction, and a head coach with a working knowledge of how to successfully run an NFL offense will only hasten the transformation. Plenty of good defensive and special teams candidates are out there, but the Bears need to focus on the offense. And to do that they need a head coach who knows offense. That guy hasn't existed in Halas Hall since Mike Ditka. Wrap your head around that for a moment.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. It doesn't matter. Even if the new coach calls his own plays, he'll still bring in an offensive coordinator. Although the trend seems to be going toward coaches with backgrounds on offense, we've seen defensive guys get it done such as Mike Tomlin, Bill Belichick and John Fox as well as special teams guys like John Harbaugh. Recently fired coach Pat Shurmur has an offensive background, as does Chan Gailey (fired), Andy Reid (fired) and Joe Philbin, who just finished 7-9 in his first season with the Miami Dolphins. So although folks tend to want the Bears to go with an offensive-minded coach, the club can easily make a mistake going that route. In addition to bringing in an offensive coordinator, the new coach needs a good defensive coordinator, too. As good as Chicago's defense has been, it's important to remember that it hasn't coached itself. The Bears need a coach that motivates players, has the ability to put together a top-notch staff, and possesses a vision for how he'll move the team forward. Those types of guys coach every phase of football. In fact, I like the idea of special teams coaches becoming head coaches because on every staff, they're the only people to actually touch every facet of the roster in doing their daily duties. It doesn't really matter what background the new coach possesses, as long as he can get the job done.
Scott Powers: Fiction. I'm not sold that a head coach has to possess an offensive coaching background to create an successful offensive team. What held the Bears back offensively over the years wasn't necessarily Smith, but rather their offensive personnel and offensive coordinators. Provide them a competent offensive line and an experienced offensive coordinator not named Mike Martz, and I think the Bears would have a chance. Whether Emery hires a head coach with an offensive background or not, it's still going to be vital to bring in an intelligent offensive coordinator and upgrade the offensive line.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. In the age of specificity, I'm all for a football coach with familiarity on both sides of the ball. But it would make sense to hire a coach who can think creatively and utilize the weapons the Bears possess. Really, though, without an improvement on the offensive line, there is no coach who could turn this group into a top-10 unit. If there's a coach out there with a defensive or special teams background who will make the right hires for the offensive side of the ball, hire him. But given the age and experience of the defense, and the need for a jump start on offense, the Bears should hire an offensively-oriented coach.
Fact or Fiction: Despite what Emery says, money will be a significant factor in the hiring of a new coach.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. I refuse to think money will play a "significant" factor in the hiring of a new coach. Of course, there will be some sort of budget -- there always is when it comes to the Bears. So I wouldn't expect the Bears to pay $10 million a year or anything crazy to hire a new coach, but I believe the organization is prepared to pay a substantial amount of money to land the right person. Don't forget, the Bears were paying Smith good money since his first contract extension in 2007, so it's not like the club can revert back to 2004 when Smith got hired as the lowest paid coach in the league. From Peppers, to Jay Cutler, to Smith, the Bears have shown that they're not afraid to spend money. Now it's about spending it wisely.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. I'll take the word of Emery, team president Ted Phillips and chairman George McCaskey when they say money won't be an issue. But maybe they're saying that because the plan isn't to go after one of the big-name coaches that will command huge salaries. Maybe the plan is to hire an up-and-comer they won't have to break the bank to bring in to Halas Hall. Based on the names of the candidates we know the Bears are interviewing, that seems to be the plan. There's nothing wrong with that. Besides, a couple of the supposed big names out there, in my opinion, are "big names" simply because they've been away from the game for so long, which in turn lends itself to exaggeration of their past accomplishments.
Scott Powers: Fact. It's naïve to think money isn't a factor. There are plenty of teams searching for head coaches right now at the same time, and money will certainly be a factor if multiple teams are targeting the same guy. A head coach may look past the difference of a few dollars for a more attractive situation, but that isn't going to happen if there's a large separation in figures. They'll go where the money is. That also feeds into a coach feeling valued for what he does. If the Bears are going to get a high-level coach, they'll need to pay at a high level. It's not complicated.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. I don't think Emery wants to hire an experienced, big-money coach. You have to look at it from his vantage point. Emery is a grinder, a lifelong scout who got his dream job after decades of working behind the scenes. He's looking for a guy similar to himself. That's how it works usually; you want to hire someone like yourself. I don't believe for a second he was going to focus on a brand name like Jon Gruden or Bill Cowher. He wants the young coordinator or the overlooked special teams coach, with whom he can build a new Bears dynasty. So it's not a money thing.
Fact or Fiction: Cutler should play a significant role in the hiring process for a new coach.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. The fact the new head coach must sign off on Cutler being the Bears quarterback makes me uncomfortable. Just like the idea Emery had to work with Smith for at least one season. A new head coach, especially one who will presumably have an offensive background, should be able to pick his quarterback. But given that Emery said Tuesday that he believes Cutler is "a franchise quarterback," I assume the new head coach will have to be a Cutler fan to get the job. But that doesn't mean Cutler should be involved in the process. Let the general manager focus on hiring the next head coach. Cutler can spend the offseason focusing on ways to run the offense in a more efficient manner. Why would a player respect a person he had a role in hiring? That's a recipe for disaster. You know the old saying about inmates running the asylum. The Bears need to avoid that from happening at all costs.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. Absolutely not. He shouldn't. Until Jay Cutler owns a team and starts signing the checks, he should have zero input during the hiring process. Is Cutler running this team, pulling the strings? I thought that job belonged to Emery, Phillips and McCaskey. Given the fact that Cutler's game has changed very little since joining the team, it's probably time the Bears bring in a coach that will challenge the quarterback and make him play the team's game instead of his own. Ever since Cutler has been here, the staff and ownership has bent over backward to placate the quarterback. Where has that gotten the Bears? Nowhere but the position they're in right now; one playoff appearance in the quarterback's four seasons. Cutler didn't like Ron Turner. The Bears fired him. Same thing took place with Martz. Now Mike Tice is the latest victim. The Bears need to take Cutler out of this process, or he'll wind up taking out another coach eventually.
Scott Powers: Fact. The Bears have never had a quarterback like Cutler. Sure, he has some character and athletic flaws, but he's still more of a franchise quarterback than the Bears ever had. It will depend on his success or failure whether the Bears can compete for a Super Bowl in the coming seasons. If he's that important to the Bears, he should have a significant role in the hiring process. The Bears need Cutler and their future head coach to be on the same wavelength to win at the highest level.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Cutler should meet with each coach to discuss strategy and gauge personality conflicts. And Cutler should report back to Emery on his findings. But that should be the extent of Cutler's involvement in finding a coach. For an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, if they don't retain Jeremy Bates, I'd let Cutler have similar input, and the right to make suggestions based on past experience and his own NFL contacts. Emery doesn't have to listen, but I think Cutler deserves to be heard when it comes strictly to the offensive side.
Fact or Fiction: The Bears job is the most attractive opening in the NFL.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. Chicago is the second-largest NFL media market with a passionate fan base second to none. Who wouldn't want to coach the league's charter franchise? Granted, there are some obstacles associated with the Bears' job when it comes to facilities and other certain intangibles. But a head coach who wins in Chicago is set for life. Plus, the roster still has plenty of Pro Bowl-caliber talent to work with in the short-term, making the Bears job even more desirable because the right first-year head coach can in theory win right away. The only current job opening even close to Chicago is Philadelphia, but have you been to Philadelphia lately? Not exactly the kind of place that lures you back.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. That's not what former Bears staffers with other teams tell me. Maybe it is from the standpoint of exposure and the fan base, and the fact this team already possesses a talent nucleus on defense and stars on offense such as Cutler, Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte. But multiple former staff members now with other teams have described the organization as a true "mom and pops operation," that is set in its ways, reluctant to change with the times. Being one of the league's original clubs, the Bears, I'm told, operate as if that fact is sufficient enough to lure and retain the best and brightest, whether that's players, coaches or front office people. I'm told they assign a certain value to people regarding salary, and they don't budge, regardless of what current market value might be. That doesn't sound very attractive to me. But then again, maybe it is for a coach that has never held the top job. But when it comes to luring those big names we keep hearing about, those traits might be viewed as a prospective road block. The McCaskey's, no doubt, are a football family. That's all they do. But in the current climate of the NFL a very large portion of the owners made -- and continue to make -- their money in other ventures, as well as team ownership. Perhaps that's a reason for Chicago's frugality. But for many coaches, that's probably not viewed as attractive.
Scott Powers: Fact. If I'm a head coaching candidate and I'm looking at openings, I'd want to go to a team where I could win immediately. It's not worth trying to resurrect a team from the bottom of the NFL. That's how you end up fired after a year or two. Among the openings, the Bears would give you the best shot to win next season. I assume the candidate would see the position from an optimist's standpoint. The Bears went 10-6 and were just a step away from the playoffs this season. The defense is aging, but probably has another year or two left in it before it needs an overhaul. The offense has in place a franchise quarterback, running back and wide receiver and is just a few offensive linemen from succeeding.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. The Bears have a quarterback, a star receiver, and they have a defense. Really, they have everything but an offensive line and a few key spots, like a possible replacement for Brian Urlacher. This is the kind of team that could immediately go to a Super Bowl and make a new coach's career. The Bears have money, seemingly strong leadership with Emery and are in arguably the best football market in the country. While it's fair to criticize the McCaskey family's ownership tenure, there are many pluses to their family-style approach for a new coach. Heck, Smith lasted nine years and only made the playoffs three times.