Twenty-four hours after he fired Lovie Smith, Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery praised the former coach and then launched into an explanation of what he’s seeking in a replacement.
Emery has begun a fast-paced process that is expected to include a long list of candidates. Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan and Atlanta Falcons special teams coach Keith Armstrong have interviews this week.
The search is expected to include coaches from all areas of the game – offense, defense, special teams, NFL and college. Emery has interviews scheduled for next week also, possibly including candidates involved in wild-card round games this weekend.
The general manager will conduct all of the initial interviews and then two or three finalists will be presented to a broader group including chairman of the board George McCaskey and team president Ted Phillips.
It was Phillips who mandated a year ago that Emery work with Smith for at least this past season, which ended in a 10-6 record and no playoff berth for the fifth time in six years. Emery said the year did not set him back in his goals for the franchise.
“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.”
None of Smith’s assistants have been released from their contracts, and Emery explained that they all received an extra year on their deals last year to protect them and give the club leverage. Emery indicated he might like a couple of them to remain and it’s easy to speculate special teams coordinator Dave Toub is part of that group.
But Emery’s focus is on finding the next leader of the team, one that can have the Bears competing immediately. He spoke multiple times about continuing to build around quarterback Jay Cutler.
“It’s very important that that person either himself or staff wise has the right person to help Jay develop, but it’s also very important that they help everyone develop,” Emery said.
Emery doesn’t have a preference for a 4-3 or a 3-4 defense, but said the team’s personnel is geared for a 4-3, and that the new coach would have to do a great job of convincing him the team could make the transition to a 3-4 with the players currently in the mix.
“I think it’s really important to find the person that has the knowledge and feel to make things fit with the talent that they have,” Emery said. “That’s the mark of excellence that I’m looking for. Somebody that has adapted to the role or has the flexibility and the skill set to make the players that we have fit toward making a run for the championship.”
Emery said he has not been given a budget to use for the coaching search, a process that also involves the Bears paying the departed coaches. That figure alone could reach $10 million, including Smith’s deal.
Emery said Smith’s track record for missing the playoffs and the extended offensive ineptitude of the franchise led him to the decision he made.
“We haven’t had the balance between our defensive excellence [and offense],” Emery said. “We’ve had special teams excellence. We have not had consistency on the offensive side of the ball. We have gone through a number of coordinators. We have searched for answers.”
Emery also wants a positive personality that will inspire those around him to achieve the goals that are set.
“I want somebody to have some warmth that pulls everybody together in that we have synergy not only with our players but everybody in the building to work towards our common goal,” he said. “We all want to work together in a position environment towards winning championships.”