GM: Playoff woes doomed Smith

Updated: January 1, 2013, 9:35 PM ET
By Michael C. Wright | ESPNChicago.com

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery credited recently fired coach Lovie Smith for "defensive excellence."

But Emery also divulged that the Bears' decision to make a coaching change ultimately came down to inconsistency on offense and the team's inability to perennially advance to the postseason.

"During the course of Smith's career, we've had one offense that ranked in the teens (in 2006, when the Bears advanced to the Super Bowl). We haven't had the balance between our defensive excellence," Emery said during a press conference Tuesday. "We have searched for answers. The end result is we did not have enough consistency. That, paired with not getting into the playoffs on a consistent basis, I made the change moving forward."

Emery insisted he made the decision to fire Smith, who led the team to the postseason three times in nine years, and came to that end with the blessings of team president Ted Phillips and Bears chairman George McCaskey.

McCaskey admitted the decision to fire Smith was "very difficult" because "our family has high regard for Lovie."

Smith came to Halas Hall on Monday to speak with Emery, Phillips and McCaskey, who said "I was struggling to keep my emotions in check."

The task now is for the Bears to find a replacement for Smith. Emery said the team will conduct interviews over the next two weeks.

According to league sources, Emery already has traveled to Atlanta to interview Falconsspecial teams coordinator Keith Armstrong.

The Cowboys have granted the Bears permission to interview special teams coach Joe DeCamillis, a Dallas source told ESPN. DeCamillis shares a history with Emery, as they worked together with the Falcons.

The Bears also will interview Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy over the weekend and will also sit down with Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan, sources told ESPN.

Team president Ted Phillips was asked if budget will be an issue with the hire.

"We've talked about what do we want to do in terms of bringing in a head coach and the bottom line is we want the right fit," Phillips said. "We want the synergy with Phil. We want the synergies with the players with the whole organization, a sense of excellence and once Phil brings in those final candidates -- believe he'll bring in great candidates who will be a great fit, then we're going to do whatever it takes to hire the right guy."

Emery said there's "a sense of urgency" to conclude the search as quickly as possible, and ideally he'd like to "stand shoulder to shoulder" with the new head coach at the Jan. 19 East-West Shrine Game or the Senior Bowl, set for Jan. 26.

The rest of Smith's assistant coaches, meanwhile, remain under contract and, according to an NFL source, were told by Emery they won't know their ultimate fate until the new head coach is in place.

Emery extended the contracts of Smith's staff last season "to protect them because I was a new GM" but it also "protected the club."

"There are going to be candidates that will have people in mind (for positions as assistants) that they may not be able to reach," Emery said. "NFL rules are very definitive in that the only position an assistant coach that is currently under contract with a team can move from one team to another is head coach. So we could be denied in our effort. If we find a head coach we like and want to move forward to, he may have an assistant he wants to move forward on, but we might not be able to reach.

"Having our assistant coaches here and getting to know them for a year, and know who they are and where their level of excellence not only is, but what their level of expertise is, was very important in the course of the evaluation."

Some of the assistants don't want to return, according to a source, who also said many would jump at the opportunity to become a part of Smith's staff if he receives another job as head coach. Sources told ESPN that four teams looking for head coaches have reached out to Smith.

Emery outlined qualities the club seeks during its search for a new head coach, saying the "No. 1 criteria is excellence in their role," as well as "great organizational skills, administrative skills, along with leadership skills."

Emery also covets a "high-energy" candidate that can represent the Bears positively in dealings with the media.

Prospective salary won't be a hindrance in Chicago's pursuit of coaching candidates, according to Emery, McCaskey and Phillips.

"The NFL head coaching job is a 24/7 job," Emery said. "It's a high demand, extremely competitive environment. You have to be highly organized, thorough, (and) meticulous to make sure you're always putting your team in position for success. It goes to the minute details of the collective bargaining agreement."

Emery also pointed out he plans to interview a wide range of candidates, and "no one has been excluded," including remaining assistants under contract from the Smith regime. Special teams coach Dave Toub received an interview for a head coaching position in Miami last season. Offensive coordinator Mike Tice and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli have also served as head coaches in the past.

The Bears plan to take a look at coaches from all backgrounds, whether it is on offense, defense or special teams, and they'll peruse candidates from both the NFL and collegiate level. Ideally, if the Bears go the college route, they'd like for the candidate to have experience on the NFL level.

If Chicago goes after any college coaches, it will wait until after the bowl season to do so, and adhere to rules requiring it to first contact the athletic director or school president of any prospective candidate it would like to interview.

Given the fact it's occurred before, there's a chance the prospective new head coach of the Bears might prefer another quarterback over current starter Jay Cutler. Emery indicated he's "not saying that" keeping Cutler would be a requirement for the new head coach.

But earlier in the nearly hour-long press conference, Emery spoke of the need "to build around (Cutler).

"That's been the goal from the beginning," he said. "To build around Jay and to build our team towards championships."

Asked specifically whether keeping Cutler, who is set in 2013 to enter the final year of his contract, was a requirement of the new head coach, Emery steered his response to the need to find someone capable of developing the entire team.

"I'm saying that I'm looking for a head coach that can take all the unique talents we have and bring them together toward winning championships," Emery said. "It's not just about Jay. There are 10 other guys that start out there.

"We have to have coaches and staff that are capable of finding their skills sets, what they do best and building offense, defense and special teams toward something that is consistently moving toward championships. Our team."

ESPN NFL Insiders Ed Werder, Adam Schefter and John Clayton, ESPNDallas.com's Calvin Watkins and ESPNChicago.com's Jeff Dickerson contributed to this report.

Michael C. Wright

ESPN Chicago Bears reporter

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