Source: Lovie Smith in demand

Updated: January 1, 2013, 9:44 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

The Chicago Bears fired coach Lovie Smith on Monday, the team announced.

General manager Phil Emery will hold a news conference to discuss the coaching change on Tuesday morning.

The Bears already are targeting several candidates to replace Smith.

Chicago has asked for and received permission to interview Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy for its head coaching vacancy, a source told ESPN. McCoy will interview this weekend.

Atlanta Falcons special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong also will be interviewed by the Bears, a source told ESPNChicago.com. Armstrong was on the Bears staff from 1997-2000 while Emery was a scout for the Bears from 1998-2004. They also overlapped with the Falcons.

And the Bears have asked for and received permission to interview Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan this week, the team confirmed.

Smith, meanwhile, already has been contacted by four teams interested in having him interview for a head coaching position, a source told ESPN. No interviews are being set up at the moment because most teams are talking to assistants who are available and coaches who are involved with the bye week of the playoffs. Those teams are expected to contact Smith later to set up formal interviews, the source said.

The Bears missed the playoffs for the fifth time in the last six seasons despite starting this season 7-1.

The Bears finished 10-6 but were denied a playoff spot when the Vikings beat the Packers on Sunday.

As reports of Smith's ouster started to surface on Twitter, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was doing "The Jay Cutler Show" on ESPN 1000 and had to leave early.

"I think it's going to be a sad day at Halas Hall," Cutler said. "I have a lot of respect for the guy. He's made friends with a lot of the players. He's a players' coach. I think right now I'm a little surprised, a little sad. Wish I could have done more offensively to help him out."

Bears receiver Devin Hester was so emotional after hearing the news that he talked about retiring.

"I don't even know if I want to play again," Hester said. "That's been something on my mind for two years."

Brian Urlacher has been one of Smith's strongest defenders and said Monday he was "shocked" by the news.

"You win 10 games ... we didn't finish up the way we wanted to. We didn't get in the p layoffs," he said on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN 1000. "We still won 10 games and had a chance to get in yesterday if Green Bay beats Minnesota. .... They didn't. Now you're out.

"It's just tough for me to really figure out right now. But Lovie is a great coach and I'm sure he'll get hired pretty quick. No one could do with this team what he's done the last nine years. We went to the Super Bowl, we didn't win, we went."

Urlacher is facing free agency and reiterated that he wants to stay with the Bears, even though he had maintained he didn't want to play for another coach.

Smith addressed the players at Halas Hall.

"(He said) just that it was a privilege to coach us and be part of this organization," center Roberto Garza said. "There are a lot of guys that respect coach Lovie Smith. It was a tough room to be in.

"There are a lot of opportunities out there for him. Obviously he wants to be here but that's not the scenario. Coach Lovie Smith is a great coach and a great man and he'll get an opportunity somewhere."

The 54-year-old Smith, who led the Bears to the Super Bowl after the 2006 season, was 81-63 over eight regular seasons and was 3-3 in the playoffs.

Smith was under contract through 2013, and Emery did not engage the coach in contract talks on an extension during the season.

Bears assistants, which all remain under contract, were told to stay at Halas Hall in their respective offices until further notice. By noon CT, nothing had changed.

According to one NFL source, there's a feeling among the assistants that eventually they'll all be let go. The source said that with Smith out, some of the assistants don't want to return in 2013 to work for a new coach.

Smith was particularly criticized for Chicago's struggles on offense. Despite having a Pro Bowl receiver in Brandon Marshall and solid players in Cutler and running back Matt Forte, the Bears ranked 28th in total offense. Smith was a defensive coach, but Cutler wouldn't say if he would prefer an offensive-minded coach to replace Smith.

"I've had both," Cutler said. "There's pluses and minuses to argue each case. I'm not going to give a preference on what I want, what I don't want because I don't really know at this point. I trust Phil and management and George (McCaskey) and those guys to make the best call. They're going to get the best possible head coach and assistant coaches and coordinators as they can. So you've just got to trust in that."

Smith also struggled to beat Green Bay. The Bears have lost eight of their last nine against the Packers and six straight.

The other big issue was the Bears' poor finishes under Smith. Chicago lost seven straight December games since 2010 before snapping its skid with a Week 16 victory over the Cardinals. During Smith's nine seasons, the Bears were 17-19 in December.

ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, ESPN Senior NFL Writer John Clayton and ESPN Chicago's Jeff Dickerson and Michael C. Wright contributed to this report, which included information from The Associated Press.

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