Bears: Lovie Smith
"I didn't call plays before, and now I'm calling the plays," Briggs said. "I just have a lot of respect (for the job Urlacher did). I've been spoiled for the last 10 years."
A free agent, Urlacher and the Bears couldn't come to an agreement on a contract, causing the club to basically cut ties with a franchise hallmark. Urlacher played alongside Briggs since the latter's rookie season (2003), but hasn't yet found a new team.
Briggs abruptly ended the interview session when asked if was surprised that Urlacher remains unsigned.
With the draft in the rearview mirror, what is the most pressing issue on each NFC North team’s agenda?
Chicago Bears: The top priority at Halas Hall, from now until the start of the season, is getting the offense organized in Marc Trestman's new scheme. This task has appeared annually for the Bears in recent years, but the failure to accomplish it played a big role in the firing of former coach Lovie Smith. There is also an additional level of urgency as quarterback Jay Cutler enters the final year of his contract. The Bears might not want to make a decision on Cutler's future until seeing him adjust successfully to this scheme, but will he do it in time for the Bears to make a decision?
Detroit Lions: The next order of business in Detroit is to set up a plan for settling on the new right side of their offensive line. Right tackle Gosder Cherilus departed via free agency, right guard Stephen Peterman was released and right guard candidate Riley Reiff is likely to play left tackle. Rookie Larry Warford will compete with Bill Nagy and perhaps Rodney Austin at right guard, while right tackle will be a competition between Jason Fox and Corey Hilliard, among others.
Green Bay Packers: Suddenly, the Packers have an offseason-long project on their hands: Making a reconstructed offensive line work. After the draft, Packers coach Mike McCarthy moved Bryan Bulaga from right tackle to left tackle and flipped guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang. McCarthy now has his two best offensive linemen on the left side, with Lang pairing with a yet-to-be-named right tackle. There is no substitute for time when establishing continuity for an offensive line, so the Packers' next and continued order of business is getting Bulaga and Sitton comfortable on the left side. They'll also need to decide whether Marshall Newhouse, Don Barclay, Derek Sherrod or even rookie David Bakhtiari are best suited to be the right tackle.
Minnesota Vikings: Identifying the 2013 middle linebacker is the Vikings' most unanswered question. After allowing 2012 bridge starter Jasper Brinkley to depart via free agency, the Vikings set their sights on the draft to find a longer-term replacement for E.J. Henderson. There was widespread and justified speculation that the Vikings would draft Notre Dame's Manti Te'o, but the unpredictable first round brought them three players they ranked higher on their board. Without second- or third-round picks, the Vikings weren't able to draft a starting-quality prospect. Veteran outside linebacker Erin Henderson told reporters this week that he was preparing to take on the role, apparently at the suggestion of coaches, but this is the time of year for experimenting with position changes that could be reversed before training camp. To this point, the Vikings haven't shown serious interest in free agent Brian Urlacher.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesFor the first time in 10 years, Brian Urlacher and Charles Tillman are not teammates.
Tillman was honored, along with defensive ends Julius Peppers and Shea McClellin, with the Brian Piccolo Award, and he
made sure to mention two influential men who were not present at Tuesday's award ceremony at Halas Hall: former coach Lovie Smith and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.
"I want to thank coach (Jon) Hoke for pushing me, coach Marinelli for pushing me, coach Smith for pushing me," said Tillman, who won the award for the third time. "Without those three men in my life, I don't think any of (my accomplishments) are possible without those three men pushing me to my maximum capacity as a player."
Smith said it "was time for (the Bears) to go in a different direction" during an appearance Thursday on ESPN's "NFL Live."
"My nine years in Chicago were great," Smith said. "I met a lot of great people, my family loved it, and it was just time for them to go in a different direction and I'm going to do the same."
After his dismissal from the Bears, Smith interviewed with the San Diego Chargers, Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles but was unable to land another head coaching job in the offseason. Smith, 84-66 lifetime in the NFL, said he plans to again pursue head coaching opportunities next year.
On several occasions during Smith's nine-year tenure in Chicago, the Bears' season went down the tubes because of poor play at the quarterback position, either by the starters or from the reserves. The exception was Kyle Orton in 2005 and Josh McCown at the tail end of 2011.
This year's NFL quarterback draft class is full of question marks which has prompted some to wonder if teams will be forced to reach to select a quarterback in order to fulfill a need.
Smith downplayed that notion during an appearance Thursday on ESPN's SportsCenter.
“"As far as overdrafting, it's just such an important position,”" Smith said. "“You can look at the salaries we are paying quarterbacks nowadays, everything starts with them. There is such a big drop off when you lose that starting quarterback. If you don't have one, and you have an opportunity to get one, sometimes you have to move up a little bit more. Quarterbacks, traditionally, are going to go a little bit higher. That's just a part of it.
"“In the end, you can't win Super Bowls with having great quarterback play.”"
But Babich, a 29-year coaching veteran, was able to land on his feet and re-unite with long-time friend and colleague Gus Bradley, who was named the new head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars after a four-year run as the Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator.
The two men’s professional relationship dates back to the late 1990s, when Bradley spent several seasons as Babich’s defensive coordinator at North Dakota State. Babich left the North Dakota State program in 2003 and joined Lovie Smith in St. Louis before making the move to Chicago in 2004 to be the Bears' linebackers coach. He also had a brief stint as Bears defensive coordinator in 2007-08, but Babich’s best work was done in the linebackers meeting room, where he worked daily with Pro Bowlers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, plus talented strong side linebackers Hunter Hillenmeyer, Pisa Tinoisama and Nick Roach.
Bradley said on Saturday he wants Babich to bring that valuable experience he gained in Chicago to his new role in Jacksonville.
“In Chicago over the years they played great defense,” Bradley said. “The amount of takeaways they get year in and year out and the amount of discipline ... they do what they do, and they do it well. That’s what we did up in Seattle. We try to do a few things and do them well. We have the same philosophy. I think his energy and that mindset, we can mesh it together and put something special together.”
"Initially doubt goes through everybody's mind because as a defense we don't think there's anything wrong," Briggs said on "SVP & Russillo" on ESPN Radio. "There's nothing wrong with the defense so to make changes to something that there's nothing wrong with, the first thing that goes through your mind is you can only hurt it.
"But we're vets, and we understand this is a change and you have to stay positive about it and work through it. We brought in Mel Tucker (as defensive coordinator) ... I haven't spoken to any of these coaches yet but staying positive that things are going to work out."
The Bears fired Lovie Smith on Dec. 31 after a 10-6 season that ended without a trip to the playoffs for the fifth time in the past six seasons. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli decided not to return and was hired by the Dallas Cowboys as defensive line coach.
New Bears coach Marc Trestman hired Tucker, who ran a similar scheme with the Jacksonville Jaguars, to lead the defense.
Briggs played nine seasons under Smith, who did not get one of the eight head-coaching openings this offseason, and believes his former coach will get another chance to lead an NFL team.
"Lovie is a smart hire for any team, what he builds and what he brings to the table," Briggs said. "He'll bring a winner to whatever team hires him."
"'I'm surprised he didn't get the opportunity (to coach this season)," Drake said on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN 1000. " I think he's an excellent coach. I think he deserved an opportunity.
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"The part that hurts the most is the change that happens ... we don't know what the future holds," Briggs said Thursday on "Carmen, Jurko & Harry" on ESPN 1000. "We don't know what the new coach is going to come in here and how he is going to run things and how he is going to change things. We've known for the last nine seasons how our approach to football is going to be.
"Defensively, we know exactly what is expected, what we expect of ourselves and what we need to do to be successful. Now there's a new coach, a new philosophy and his philosophy is the one we have to play football by."
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.
David Richard/USA TODAY SportsAn offensive background didn't help the Browns with coach Pat Shurmur, who was fired at the end of the season.
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.
The Bears fired Smith on Monday after the club failed to reach the postseason for the fifth time in the last six years, due in large part to a stagnant and inconsistent offense. The Bears won 10 games in 2012, giving Smith a lifetime record of 84-66 (including postseason) at the time of his ouster. Over nine seasons in Chicago, Smith won three division titles and reached the Super Bowl after the 2006 regular season.
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