Lovie Smith's failure to get the Bears to the playoffs on a consistent basis was ultimately what led Phil Emery to fire him as the Bears' head coach.
After discussions with chairman George McCaskey and president and CEO Ted Phillips, it was strictly Emery's call.
"At the end," Emery said, "both Ted and George said the same thing to me: 'Phil, it's your decision to make.' "
One postseason appearance in the last six years wasn't enough to keep Smith for a 10th season, despite his 81-63 record with the Bears.
"As a professional sports team and as a historic charter member of the greatest sports league in this world, the NFL, our No. 1 goal always has to be to win championships," Emery said. "And to win championships, we must be in contention on a consistent basis. And to be in contention, we have to be in the playoffs on a consistent basis.
"Five out of the last six years, we have not been there; we have fallen short."
Still, it was not an easy move for McCaskey to preside over.
"It was very difficult," he said. "Our family has high regard for Lovie. He's been high character all the way through. He's represented the Bears very well, and he's a good coach, an outstanding man. One of the things we're most grateful to Lovie for is he didn't just teach our players football, he taught them how to become men.
"He came in (Monday). He and I talked. It was an emotional situation. I know I was struggling to keep my emotions in check."
After winning Sunday, the Bears just needed the Green Bay Packers to defeat the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago would have been preparing for a playoff game. Barring an unexpected deep postseason run, Smith's fate apparently was already sealed.
"The evaluation process was made," Emery said. "I will say that that decision wasn't finalized until the morning (on Monday), and it really wasn't final until I sat down with coach Smith. That's when the decision finally was made. Because to me, until you actually tell the person and you look them in the eye and say, 'We're going to move in a different direction,' that decision has not been made."
In Emery's mind, the reason Smith's teams too often came up short was a lack of offensive production.
"We have had defensive excellence," the first-year general manager said. "However, during the course of coach Smith's career, we've had one offense that was ranked in the teens (15th in 2006). We haven't had the balance. We've had special teams excellence. We have not had consistency on the offensive side of the ball."
The underlying cause could be seen as Smith's inability to find a successful offensive coordinator. He hired four -- Terry Shea (2004), Ron Turner (2005-09), Mike Martz (2010-11) and Mike Tice (2012) -- and none of them ever got the Bears to an acceptable level. The Bears were 28th in total yards and average gain per offensive play this season, and 29th in passing yards.
"We have gone through a number of coordinators," Emery said. "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 … to be in the hunt to win championships. I made the change moving forward."
When Emery was hired 11 months ago, it came with the caveat that he keep Smith for the 2012 season, and after that it would be his call.
"The understanding (was) that Lovie was our head coach for this year, and that I would have that decision moving forward on the head coach," Emery said. "I made the decision to move forward in a different direction."
Emery was asked if having to wait a full season to bring in his hand-picked head coach set back the process of building a perennial playoff team.
"Absolutely not," he said. "No. 1, coach Smith is an excellent person. I've learned a lot from him. I've learned a great deal about our coaches; I like a lot of our coaches. I think we have a fine group.
"Some of them may end up back here, so that was very valuable in terms of learning more about our players, not only externally, what I see on tape and in games, but internally -- how they operate, what their pluses and minuses are, what their hot buttons are. I would say this year was very valuable."
If the Bears hire a current NFL coordinator as their next head coach, it's unlikely he would be able to bring along an entire staff. That could create opportunities for Bears assistants who are still under contract to stay with the organization.
"They may be in the mix," Emery said, "and I'd like for some of them to stay if that's the way it ends up."