A second consecutive late-season collapse, along with the presence of a new boss who didn't hire him, was enough to end Lovie Smith's nine-year tenure with the Chicago Bears.
The decision came quickly after the Bears missed the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported at about 10:40 a.m. ET that general manager Phil Emery was requesting interviews with head-coaching candidates from other NFL teams. As of 11 a.m. ET, the Bears had made no announcement about his status, but NFL.com was among the outlets reporting Smith had been fired.
My initial thought is that Smith got a fair run in Chicago. In an age of frenzied expectations and short hooks, he was the NFL's second-longest-tenured coach. The Bears gave him six seasons to win a championship after he brought the Bears to Super Bowl XLI in 2006, but instead his teams missed the playoffs in all but one of those years. The Bears finished last season 1-5 after a 7-3 start, and in 2012 they became the second team in 23 seasons to miss the playoffs after starting 7-1.
While his defenses usually were among the NFL's best, Smith plowed through three offensive coordinators in the past four seasons and failed to give quarterback Jay Cutler a consistent environment in which to thrive. Smith's defense is in need of a personnel influx, considering its four best players -- linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, defensive end Julius Peppers and cornerback Charles Tillman -- are all on the wrong side of 30 years old. It's fair for the Bears to hire a new coach to preside over that overhaul.
Urlacher, Briggs and receiver Brandon Marshall have all expressed deep support for Smith in recent days, and that's no surprise. He is a hands-off disciplinarian who gathered self-motivated players and gave them space. That makes for a pleasant working environment, but as the Bears' recent history has shown, it didn't translate consistently on the field. Smith got a fair time period to take a championship step with the Bears, but in the end he could never replicate the magic of 2006. It was time to shake up the too-cozy environment a long-tenured coach tends to create.
More in a bit.