LAKE FOREST, Ill. – The Chicago Bears reached the Super Bowl under coach Lovie Smith and consistently boasted a formidable defense.
However, they missed the playoffs too many times, never solved their problems on offense and even after a 10-win season they are moving on without him.
The Bears fired Smith on Monday after the team missed the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons. General manager Phil Emery delivered the news to Smith on the day after the Bears beat Detroit to finish 10-6 but still didn’t make the playoffs.
Hired in 2004, Smith led the 2006 team to the Super Bowl, but he also saw his team collapse in the second half of the past two seasons. He was let go with a year left on his contract, ending a nine-year run that produced an 81-63 record, three division titles and two appearances in the NFC championship game.
The Bears scheduled a news conference with Emery for today to discuss the move. Smith was not available for comment, but he talked to the team after he was fired.
He earned even more respect from me, if it was possible, quarterback Jay Cutler said. He handled it the right way. A lot of character in that man, and it showed up.
Even though Chicago closed with a win, the Bears needed a loss by Minnesota to get into the playoffs. The Vikings, though, beat Green Bay to clinch a postseason spot, leaving Chicago as the second team since the postseason expanded to 12 teams to miss out after a 7-1 start. The other was Washington in 1996.
Smith ranks third on the Bears’ wins list behind George Halas and Mike Ditka.
The highlight of his tenure was the run to the title game that ended with a loss to the Indianapolis Colts. It was the first time two black coaches met for the championship, with Smith going against his mentor Tony Dungy.
The 2010 team lost to Green Bay in the NFC title game, but the Bears made the playoffs just three times and won three postseason games under Smith.
There was speculation he would be let go following the 2011 team’s collapse, but he got one more year while general manager Jerry Angelo was fired. Now, he’s out.
Return star Devin Hester was so upset he said he was considering retirement, adding, I’ve got my workers’ comp papers in my pocket.
Is he hurt?
Not physically, but mentally, Hester said.
He wasn’t ruling out playing next year, either.
Although Smith was dismissed, there was no official word on the status of assistant coaches.
Asked if he thought the Bears would keep quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates, his mentor in Denver, Cutler said, I would say no, but that’s a guess.
Known for solid defenses, Smith oversaw a unit that was consistently effective and at times ranked among the league’s best with stars such as Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and later Julius Peppers. Smith emphasized taking the ball away, and no team did it more than the Bears with 310 during his tenure.
But on the other side, it was a different story.
Smith went through four offensive coordinators – Terry Shea, Ron Turner, Mike Martz and Mike Tice. He never could find the right formula, even as the Bears acquired stars such as Cutler and receiver Brandon Marshall over the years.
That the Bears would be in this spot seemed unthinkable after starting 7-1.
With the defense taking the ball away and scoring at an eye-opening rate to compensate for a struggling offense.
But they dropped back-to-back games to Houston and San Francisco and five of six in all before closing out with wins at Arizona and Detroit.