Nine and Out — Bears Fire Coach Lovie Smith
CHICAGO — The Chicago Bears unceremoniously fired head coach Lovie Smith Monday after the NFL team failed to make the playoffs for the second straight season.
A formal news conference is scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday. Comcast SportsNet Chicago planned to carry it live on television and its website, and local sports-talk radio stations planned to cover it live as well.
Smith posted a respectable 81-63 record over his nine seasons after being hired in 2004 from his post as the Saint Louis Rams' defensive coordinator. The Bears were also a respectable 10-6 this season after winning their finale Sunday in Detroit.
But the team missed the playoffs for the second straight season, and became the first NFL team since the 1996 Washington Redskins to go home after the regular season after opening 7-1. This year marked the fifth time in the last six seasons the Bears did not make the playoffs.
Smith had a year remaining on his contract at a reported $6 million salary, but did not have the continuing support of the Bears' first-year General Manager Phil Emery, who will now name his own head coach.
Smith reportedly addressed the players at Halas Hall after getting the word from Emery Monday morning. Jay Cutler, appearing on his ESPN radio show, said he was "a little surprised, a little sad."
"Wish I could have done more offensively to help him out," Cutler said.
Cornerback Charles "Peanut" Tillman tweeted: "Lovie Smith is a man of God, integrity, and loyalty and that's how he coached. I had the honor to work with him for 9 years. Sad day!!!"
Devin Hester pondered retirement, saying, "I don't even know if I want to play again."
Even though Smith is third all-time among the team's 13 head coaches in wins, and had only three losing seasons in nine years, his low-key, humble, matter-of-fact manner was never really embraced by a fan base more accustomed to the bluster of Mike Ditka and the Monsters of the Midway Super Bowl XX champions.
"Sad to say, but it was time for a change," wrote Ronald Carbone on the CSNC Bears Pulse page. "Front office should be held accountable too."
"Thank god that Lovie is gone," added Michael Smiers. "If Cutler can follow him please, than I can see da bears win a Superbowl!"
Even presidential political adviser David Axelrod weighed in, tweeting: "Lovie Smith's New Year's Eve firing was inevitable. But his integrity and his decency, if not his offense, will be missed."
Known for his ball-hawking defenses, Smith displayed no similar knack for handling an offense. He went through several offensive coordinators — Terry Shea, Ron Turner, his former head-coach boss Mike Martz and most recently Mike Tice — but only once in his nine years did the team even rank in the top half of the NFL in total yards, at 15th in the Super Bowl season of 2006.
The Bears made Super Bowl XLI in the 2006 season, but lost to the Indianapolis Colts 29-17, blowing an early 14-6 lead.
On his hiring in January 2004, Smith said that — even ahead of making the Super Bowl — his first priority was to beat the arch rival Green Bay Packers. And the Bears were 7-3 against the Pack in his first five seasons. But they won only one of nine games against Green Bay since, including a loss in the 2010 NFC title game. The Bears had a chance to eliminate the Pack from contention in the regular season finale that year, but lost that game, too, as Smith rested players for the playoffs.
Seven NFL coaches were fired on what's become known as "Black Monday," the day after the end of the NFL regular season.