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Updated Jan. 5, 2010 @ 10:38 p.m. ET
In a well-coordinated mid-afternoon press conference at Halas Hall Tuesday, the three highest-profile Bears — in order, team president and CEO Ted Phillips, GM Jerry Angelo and head coach Lovie Smith — spent roughly 20-25 minutes each discussing the team’s official decision to retain Smith and go in a different direction as far as its coordinators on both sides of the ball are concerned.
In addition to confirming the firing of offensive coordinator Ron Turner and five other offensive assistants (QB coach Pep Hamilton, offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, TE coach Rob Boras, offensive assistant/assistant O-line coach Luke Butkus and offensive assistant/assistant WR coach Charles London), the team officially announced that Smith would not continue also filling the defensive coordinator role that he felt compelled to take on this season. Smith wasted no time disputing a published report that assistant head coach/D-line coach Rod Marinelli would become the team’s new defensive coordinator and indicated that an extensive search for two new coordinators would begin, effective immediately.
“Believe me, there are a lot of candidates who are going to want to come here,” Smith replied when asked if he thought it would be difficult to find people interested in becoming coordinators in a potentially uncertain environment on a team that didn’t come close to meeting expectations this season. “There is an opportunity here, a good nucleus.
“I would think there are lots of offensive guys who would love to work with a quarterback like Jay Cutler and our young receivers. And I think there are lots of defensive guys that would want to coordinate a defense with players like Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs.
“Now that we have the openings, we will look at everyone — young minds, old minds. Everyone. Do I have certain people in mind? You always have. But we are going to take our time and are not under the gun to make a quick decision.”
Angelo added that the decision on the team’s new offensive coordinator and the need to provide Cutler with continuity is “probably the biggest decision since I’ve been here, other than hiring the head coach, and I’m confident we will get it right.”
Just about 10 minutes after the press conference was completed, the Bears released an official statement from Bears owner Virginia McCaskey and the McCaskey family.
“The decisions outlined today have full support of ownership,” the release said. “We believe in the people who are in place to lead our football team.”
The PFW spin
Early speculation has centered on former Rams head coach and “The Greatest Show on Turf” architect Mike Martz and USC assistant head coach of the offense/quarterbacks Jeremy Bates, who has a history with Cutler, as the top candidates to take over for Turner, who never seemed to be on the same page with Cutler.
As for the defensive coordinator position, the front-runner on the rumor mill appears to be Perry Fewell, a former Bears assistant coach who also has been granted an interview for the vacant head-coaching position in Buffalo after serving as the Bills’ interim head coach, having replaced the fired Dick Jauron. According to an Associated Press report, Fewell will also interview for the Giants' vacant defensive coordinator position on Thursday, in the wake of Bill Sheridan's firing. Fewell's first NFL coaching job was as the Jaguars' DB coach from 1998-2002 under Tom Coughlin, who's now the Giants' head coach.
Starting with the offensive coordinator position, the feeling in this corner is that Bates is a much better alternative than Martz, although Martz and Smith are tight from their days together with the Rams. In Martz’s recent coordinator stints in Detroit and San Francisco, the minuses far outweighed the pluses in systems that were heavily tilted toward the passing game. While the Bears’ offensive personnel at present seems better-suited for more of a pass-oriented philosophy with the strong-armed Cutler at the helm and an evolving group of talented young receivers who will continue to be coached by Darryl Drake, Smith said he still considers a strong running attack an essential ingredient.
“We still want to run the football,” Smith said. “We do realize some of our best weapons are at the wide receiver position, and we want to expand on that. But you have to have balance, period. No matter who comes here, we will have to run the football. That’s not going to change.”
Same goes for Smith’s commitment to a cover-2 defensive scheme that many critics feel has seen its better days.
“It’s the same scheme that allowed us to make it to the Super Bowl,” Smith said. “It can be successful. We just haven’t played it as well as we need to, but it's something I believe in. … Every team in the league plays some form of the cover-2. It all boils down to gap control.”
Phillips started the ball rolling in the Wednesday press conference, setting the table for Angelo and then Smith.
“We are committed to a winning season in 2010, and the fastest way to improve, we believe, is to keep the continuity we have with Jerry as the GM and Lovie as the head coach,” said Phillips, who indicated that Virginia McCaskey and her son, Michael, represented the team’s family ownership in a closed-door meeting that took place Monday.
“Good teams learn from their mistakes and learn quickly. One thing we’ve never had with Coach Smith is back-to-back losing years. We expect to win in 2010. This will not be a long-term process.”
That said, it could take some time to sift through the many key factors that need to be addressed on both sides of the ball. The one specific factor that was addressed at the press conference regarded the controversial usage of Devin Hester, whose exceptional kick-return skills have been set aside as the team sticks to its belief that he can be a No. 1 receiver.
“It’s hard to be a prolific returner for an entire career,” Angelo said of Hester. “It’s just a difficult job to do. I feel our plan for Devin is a good plan. How much better he will be as a returner next season, we’ll just have to wait and see.”
Smith, who admitted he had bitten off more than he could chew by taking over the defensive coordinator role this season, said he was not given a “win or else” ultimatum by Phillips.
“Ted doesn’t have to tell me that,” Smith said. “It’s the same routine every year. … I go to work every day like it’s my last day.”
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