Recently retired middle linebacker Brian Urlacher acknowledged during an interview Tuesday with ESPN 1000's "Waddle an Silvy Show" that he would "one-hundred percent" still be playing for the Chicago Bears if the organization had not fired long-time head coach Lovie Smith at the conclusion of the 2012 regular season.
Urlacher and Smith had an extremely close relationship. The eight-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker was the centerpiece Smith's Cover-2 defense since 2004 and helped guide the Bears to three division titles in that time span.
With the exception of a one-day stint as an ESPN television analyst, Smith has been reclusive in the offseason, but he did share his thoughts about Urlacher's retirement to the Bears' official website on Thursday.
"Hard to put into words what Brian Urlacher meant to me and our team," Smith told ChicagoBears.com. "He is special in so many ways. We all had the privilege to watch him put together a Hall of Fame career on the field. The way he took over the 2006 Monday night game in Arizona is among the greatest defensive performances ever. And I have so many memories of other outstanding games. But his physical play is just a small part of what made Brian great. People knew he called our defense, but his intelligence was never given its just due. His understanding of the game is among the best who has ever played it. Off the field he set the tone for our team. He was the example everyone looked to. He worked hard and wanted to be coached. And when we brought in a new player, Brian was the first person to greet him and welcome him to the Bears.
"The NFL has had many superstars in its history, but I couldn't have asked to work with a better one than Brian Urlacher. I believe he belongs in the discussion as the greatest who have ever worn a Bears uniform. There is no better man that I have ever been around. Our bond goes beyond football. He became family to me. And I'm happy for him and his family."