The Bears 26-24 win against Detroit was not enough to save Lovie Smith’s job as head coach.
General Manager Phil Emery informed Smith on Monday morning that he will not return as the team's head coach for the 2013 season.
Under the present NFL playoff system, of the 53 teams who began their seasons at 7-1, only the 1996 Washington Redskins and now the Bears failed to make the playoffs.
Last year, injuries to quarterback Jay Cutler and running back Matt Forte affected that season’s outcome. The team gave General Manager Jerry Angelo his walking papers: He was in charge of the roster, and there were significant gaps in the depth of that team.
When Angelo’s replacement, Phil Emery, was hired, he had to retain Smith for the 2012 season. But now after his first year at the helm, Emery can let Smith go.
Smith had one year left on his contract. His overall record with the Bears was 81-63 with three division titles, two NFC Championship games and a Super Bowl appearance during his nine-year tenure.
The 2006 Super Bowl appearance was Smith's biggest achievement, but the Bears lost to Indianapolis 29-17 in Miami.
NFL coaching jobs are measured by wins, losses and playoff berths. Although this year’s 10-6 record is respectable, more was expected. The inability to beat Green Bay in two meetings, not winning the division and not playing beyond the regular season cost Smith his job.
Will Emery make sweeping changes?
Some may argue that defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and special teams coach Dave Toub deserve to be retained. Will a new head coach want to deal with any hold-overs (like Emery did in keeping Smith)?
While Smith's philosophy on defense kept the team ranked high in the NFL, the offense never did well.
The final game was a microcosm of the season, even with the win.
Prior to the game it seemed that an easy victory was at hand over a Detroit team that only had four wins this year. But the Bears didn't make it easy on themselves against the Lions. The defense gave the offense the ball four times in great field position. Unfortunately, they only scored 16 points after settling for three Olindo Mare field goals and a Matt Forte one-yard touchdown. The Bears were playing a team that knew their season was over on Sunday, but the Lions fought and showed enough life to close up a 17-point deficit.
Both teams had similar game plans to shut down the other team's big play makers. Bears receiver Brandon Marshall was held to five receptions for 42 yards, but he did have an impact with a huge block that allowed Earl Bennett to scamper down the sidelines for a 60-yard touchdown. Matt Forte had 103 rushing yards despite a sore ankle, and Jay Cutler was 18 of 31 for 257 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions.
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford had to rely on other weapons since Bears All-Pro Charles Tillman did a good job covering record-setting receiver Calvin Johnson. Last week "Mega-tron" Johnson set the mark for receiving yards in a season but he was kept from crossing the 2,000-yard barrier.
A three-phase coach
It is the responsibility of the head coach to oversee all three phases of the team - defense, offense and special teams. While two out of the three did well, Smith was ultimately responsible for the problems on offense. His was ranked near the bottom of the league (28th). The offensive line was a work in progress every week. The front office gets some of the blame, but ultimately the coach and the staff must get it to work and at least develop some of the personnel.
Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall developed into a terrific combination, but they had that same chemistry when they were in Denver. Matt Forte gained his thousand yards on the ground, but he wasn’t near his Pro-Bowl status of last year, and the tight ends were invisible as part of the receiving scheme.
While fans have been calling for Smith's firing, the players on the Bears are very close to him. There was a chasm between the team and the media and to some extent the fans.
There will be a lot of speculation as to who will replace Lovie Smith. There are coaches in the college ranks that will be candidates, Chip Kelly from Oregon and Bill O’Brien from Penn State. The team may look at some of the coordinator’s in the NFL or John Gruden may leave the broadcast booth to take this plum job. The Bears are a cornerstone franchise in the NFL. It is a team that has many aging stars on defense, some quality individuals on offense and special teams, and arguably the best fan base in the league.