Bears: Phil Emery elevates expectations

It's too bad the networks can't flex-schedule press conferences. Because Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery gave one of the most expansive and content-rich pressers in recent memory at a time -- New Years' morning -- when many Bears fans and perhaps some reporters were, uh, less than ideally equipped to provide rapt attention.

Emery provided a candid explanation for why he fired coach Lovie Smith after a 10-6 season, explained in unprecedented detail why he didn't address the Bears' offensive line last offseason, and was appropriately non-committal about the future of longtime franchise face Brian Urlacher.

Our friends at ESPNChicago.com have it all wrapped up on their Bears blog. I'm not sure I totally accepted Emery's explanation for the state of his offensive line -- essentially that he judged the acquisition of playmakers last winter to be more important considering the quality of line options available -- but that is a discussion over spilled milk. What's done is done there, and Emery will have more chances to address the line this winter.

What I thought was most important for the franchise was Emery's clear message of heightened expectations. In essence, Emery said that simply winning a lot of games -- as Smith did over the past nine years -- isn't good enough.

"Our No. 1 goal always has to be to win championships," Emery said. "And to win championships, we must be in contention on a consistent basis. And to be in contention, we have to be in the playoffs on a consistent basis."

Smith had an 81-63 regular-season record, but missed the playoffs in five of the past six years. Emery specifically quoted that drought Tuesday. He bluntly said the Smith's offenses were too inconsistent over time, and implied Smith had enough time to fix them. "We searched for answers," Emery said.

There is a risk in firing a coach who has won consistently, if not at a championship level. The next guy might not be able to win at all. That's the primary argument we've heard from those who think Smith should have been retained. Tuesday, however, Emery made clear he isn't willing to settle for good coaching or even very good coaching. He wants the best.

A year after taking control of football operations, Emery has ended an era during which the Bears were lulled into accepting good years instead of great ones. Lovie Smith is a very good head coach. By firing him, and by definition implying that the next coach will be better, Emery has set a high bar for himself and the franchise. But if you're a Bears fan, would you want it any other way?

Related: ESPN's working list of candidates that Emery has reached out to interview now includes four men: Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, Atlanta Falcons special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong, Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan and Dallas Cowboys special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis.