Bears release GM Jerry Angelo

Updated: January 3, 2012, 11:04 PM ET
By Michael C. Wright | ESPNChicago.com

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears relieved general manager Jerry Angelo of his duties Tuesday, with team president Ted Phillips characterizing the situation as "a difficult day."

On an afternoon of sweeping changes, coming as a result of the team failing to reach the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons, Phillips confirmed that Bears coach Lovie Smith -- who will remain on board -- made the decision to part ways with offensive coordinator Mike Martz over "philosophical differences," and that quarterbacks coach Shane Day won't be retained.

Phillips also announced that director of player personnel Tim Ruskell will head up the team's personnel department on an interim basis, and will be included in the search -- which began Tuesday -- to find Angelo's successor.

"It was almost 11 years ago that I hired Jerry Angelo as our general manager. I was proud of that decision then, and I think Jerry achieved a lot as our general manager in the last 10-plus seasons," Phillips said. "On a personal level, I knew him very well. He's a wonderful man, high character. I've enjoyed every day working with him. I'm gonna miss him. But at the same time, we need more. The decision was made that we need to keep up the pace with our division rivals."

Phillips said the organization finalized the decision to fire Angelo on Monday, and informed him on Tuesday morning. Phillips declined to get into specific reasoning behind the move, saying "I'm not going to sit here today and start delineating every issue that didn't go right in Jerry's regime." But Phillips indicated the team's drafting in early rounds with Angelo at the helm played a role, and admitted the club's botched draft-day trade last April with the Baltimore Ravens "wasn't one of our greatest moments."

"Again, there's a lot of factors I really don't want to get into out of respect for Jerry because he's brought a lot to this team," Phillips said. "Ultimately, we look at our division and say: 'We need to close that talent gap.' And that's what we need to do, and I think the way to do that right now is a fresh start and a new look at our team."

Phillips said the key attributes in the team's selection of a team will be talent evaluation skills, chemistry with Smith, an understanding of the coaching staff, strong character and work ethic, and "a clear strategy to get us to win a championship."

The team won't rule out any candidates, and plans to begin making contact with potential executives immediately. But Phillips declined to put a timetable on the process and hinted it could drag out indefinitely. The only restriction for any GM taking over the team, Phillips said, was that Smith would have to remain the head coach in 2012.

Phillips pointed out that Indianapolis' firing of Colts vice chairman Bill Polian and his son, general manager Chris Polian, had no bearing on the organization's decision to part ways with Angelo, and that the club already had "some candidates in mind," but declined to reveal them.

Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Urlacher, appearing on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN 1000 Tuesday, said change could be good.

"It could be," Urlacher said. "We knew something was going to happen in the organization. It had to be done with what went on this year, so I guess he was the fall-guy."

Still, Urlacher said he was surprised.

"Things have been the same around there for a long time now," he said. "It's going to be kind of weird not having him in the building. I'm not sure what they'll do.

"I'm sad to see him go, I'll say that much."

Angelo just finished his 11th year as the Bears GM, a season in which the team started 7-3 before injuries to three offensive starters, including quarterback Jay Cutler and running back Matt Forte, decimated the roster and led to a tailspin that resulted in a five-game losing streak.

In all, the Bears finished the season with seven starters on injured reserve, including five on offense, as Angelo came under fire for the front office's inability to populate the roster with capable backups.

"I will always be thankful to Jerry for hiring me to be the head coach of the Chicago Bears," Smith said in a statement. "We had an excellent working relationship and he helped us win a lot of football games. I have tremendous respect for him and am sorry to see him go. But I also will embrace the opportunity that comes with change. As I said yesterday, we have an excellent core in place. I look forward to working with a new general manager to bring a championship to Chicago."

The arrest of receiver Sam Hurd on federal drug charges in the midst of the losing streak worsened the situation by embarrassing the organization, according to multiple sources, while also calling into question the team's evaluation process and background checks.

Phillips said the Hurd situation didn't play into Angelo's firing. George McCaskey, the team's chairman of the board of directors, distanced himself from the firing, saying the decision was solely Phillips' with support from the organization.

McCaskey called Angelo "the epitome of class since he walked in the door 11 years ago and that carried right through today."

Upon hearing the news of his ouster, Angelo was surprised, according to Phillips. But "he took it as the professional that he is. He understood, and he took it as well as anyone could."

Angelo also drew criticism for his handling of Forte's contract situation by offering a deal toward the end of the preseason -- worth between $13 million and $14 million guaranteed -- that the running back found unsuitable.

McCaskey explained that ownership is involved with the hiring of the president, general manager and the head coach. But the president -- Phillips -- makes decisions about the fate of the GM.

"And the questioning in my mind is: Given their entire body of work, should they be brought back?" McCaskey explained. "In the case of Ted (Phillips), ownership's decision was, 'Yes, we have complete faith in him.' Ted conferred with me about the general manager and head coach. I gave him my input, and I support the decision to bring Lovie back. Each of those individuals arrived at separate times, (and) there seems to be a tendency to lump them together. Each employee in the organization is evaluated individually."

With Angelo in charge of personnel since 2001, the Bears won three division titles and advanced to Super Bowl XLI, where they lost to the Colts, in addition to hosting the NFC title game a year ago, in which the team lost 21-14 to the Packers, with Cutler missing the majority of the second half because of a knee injury.

Over the last four seasons, Angelo extended the contracts of Cutler, Lance Briggs, Robbie Gould, Devin Hester, Urlacher and Earl Bennett. Players drafted by Angelo received 16 Pro Bowl selections in the past six years, including first timers Forte and Corey Graham in 2011.

McCaskey stressed that money won't be a consideration in the team's efforts to find Angelo's successor. Phillips said that Smith is "definitely going to obviously talk to the candidates when they come in." But ultimately, Phillips will make the final call.

"We're confident that Ted will find the right person as general manager, and I'll be happy to assist Ted in any way he wants in the search for a general manager," McCaskey said. "Our goal has been, and always will be, to win world championships. And every decision at every level of the organization is with that goal in mind. Bears fans deserve a championship team, and we are doing everything we can to achieve that goal."

Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.

Michael C. Wright

ESPN Chicago Bears reporter