Lovie Smith lost the fans, the front office and, on Monday morning, his job as head coach of the Chicago Bears.
But he never lost the allegiance of his players.
It took two straight losing seasons and a combined record of 11-21 before the Bears fired Dick Jauron as head coach after the 2003 season.
It took three straight losing seasons and back-to-back 4-12 campaigns before Dave Wannstedt got whacked after the 1998 season.
But Smith was fired after his final Bears team went 10-6 and just missed the playoffs.
It’s a new era at Halas Hall.
Second-year chairman of the board George McCaskey and first-year general manager Phil Emery have served notice that they will be men of action in attempting to improve the fortunes of a team that has missed the playoffs in five of the last six seasons since losing to the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLI after the 2006 season.
Curiously, neither Emery nor McCaskey chose to make any kind of public statement after firing Smith, who leaves after nine seasons and an 81-63 regular season record. Smith’s teams were 3-3 in the postseason with just one victory since the Super Bowl season. Emery is scheduled to address the media at 10 a.m. Tuesday at Halas Hall.
But Smith’s players, many of whom have never known another head coach as a professional, had plenty to say minutes after he addressed them as a group for the final time late Monday morning. It was a meeting that left many players emotional, even as Smith maintained his usual stoicism.
“It’s a tough situation to be in to see a great man and a great coach have to stand in front of the room and do that,” a watery-eyed Roberto Garza said. “But this is the NFL; it happens. Unfortunately, we forced that situation.”
Smith’s final message to his team was simple.
“(He) just said that it was a privilege to coach us and be part of this organization,” Garza said. “There are a lot of guys that respect coach Lovie Smith, and it was a tough room to be in.”
Garza joined the Bears in 2005, a year after Smith was hired, and he started 117 games at guard and center. Other players expressed similar sentiments.
“He’s been great,” quarterback Jay Cutler said. “Class act, players’ coach, had a lot of respect for him. The last meeting with him earned even more respect from me. I didn’t think that was possible. He handled it the right way; a lot of character in that man, and it showed up. Classy, classy guy.”
Devin Hester has played all seven years of his NFL career for Smith and the Bears, and the news hit him hard.
“The media, the false fans, you all got what you all wanted,” a bitter and emotional Hester said. “The majority of you all wanted him out. As players, we wanted him in. I guess the false fans outruled us. I thought he was a great coach, probably one of the best coaches I have ever been around. He brought me in.”
Earlier in the day Cutler had been informed of Smith’s firing while appearing on his weekly segment of the “Waddle & Silvy Show” on WMVP 670-AM.
“It’s 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. Right now, I’m a little surprised; a little sad. I wish I could have done more offensively to help him out.”
Cutler said he felt some personal responsibility for Smith’s plight.
“I take a lot of pride in the way I play, and offensively we didn’t show up in the last four years for him,” Cutler said. “A lot of that blame’s going to be on me. As soon as I heard he was fired, there was instant regret in what we could have done and what we should have done.”
While Smith’s defenses were generally among the best in the NFL and created more take-aways than any team in the league during his tenure, the offense was a completely different story.
The offense finished 28th this season under first-time coordinator Mike Tice, 24th last season and 30th in 2010 under Mike Martz, and 23rd in 2009, 26th in 2008, 27th in 2007 and 15th in 2006 under Ron Turner.
Since Smith took over in 2004, the Bears’ defense has 310 take-aways. The Bears are first with 129 fumble recoveries and second with 181 interceptions. Since 2004, the defense is also first in third-down percentage, allowing opponents to convert just 34 percent of their opportunities, and first in red zone scoring efficiencies, allowing points on 79.3 percent of those opportunities. The Bears were fourth in scoring defense, permitting just 19.2 points per game.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.