Rollercoaster ride had run its course for Bears' Smith; more Snaps
Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we take in the furiously fast firing fest that was Black Monday in the NFL...
• The Bears lowered the boom on longtime general manager Jerry Angelo last offseason, after Chicago started 7-3, but then missed the playoffs with quarterback Jay Cutler injured and unable to play in the season's final six games.
The Bears on Monday fired longtime head coach Lovie Smith, after Chicago started this year 7-1, then missed the playoffs with Cutler mostly healthy over the course of the season's second half.
Seems fair. If that was the standard for Angelo, it should have been the same for Smith, whose Bears slumped to a 3-5 mark in its final eight games even without losing Cutler to a long-term injury. Chicago simply couldn't continue to accept the maddening status quo that has existed for most of the Smith era, with the Bears missing the playoffs in five of the six seasons since their 2006 Super Bowl run. Their records in those six years were: 7-9, 9-7, 7-9, 11-5, 8-8 and 10-6, with one playoff victory in that span.
Ownership in Chicago was right to end the mostly mediocre Smith era, and probably should have done so last year, making a clean break of it with new general manager Phil Emery and a new head coach. The Bears weren't getting over the hump with nothing more than periodic coordinator changes, and Chicago's penchant for inconsistency -- when the Bears were good they were very good, and when they were bad they were very bad -- had long since grown wearisome.
Last season it looked like it was Detroit that had leap-frogged Chicago and was ready to compete with perennially NFC North-leading Green Bay. But this year, the Lions slipped back and Minnesota took their place, vaulting from a 3-13 season in 2011 to a 10-6 playoff run this time around. The Bears? They were still Lovie's Bears in 2012. Some great. Some ugly. But always a question mark in terms of which team would show up from week to week.
Sure, if the Packers had beaten the Vikings on Sunday, Smith and his Bears would have been heading to the playoffs, and presumably no coaching change would have been in order. But would another quick playoff trip (and No. 6 Chicago would have faced No. 3 San Francisco on the road next week) have really changed the stale dynamic in Chicago? Probably not. And that's why missing the playoffs and getting the coaching search started now might end up being the best break a Bears fan could have gotten in 2012.
• It's as early as it can be, but the pairing of the Bears and current Denver coordinator Mike McCoy makes instant sense to me. Chicago has already asked the Broncos for permission to interview McCoy, a league source confirmed, and with Denver enjoying a first-round bye in the playoffs, now's the time to talk.
The Bears know they've got to find a head coach who can get the best out of their temperamental quarterback Jay Cutler, and McCoy is a former college and pro quarterback whose recent track record of working with passers has been superb (see Tim Tebow in 2011 and Peyton Manning in 2012). You just hope Cutler and Bears receiver Brandon Marshall don't hold being associated with Denver against McCoy.
Another off-the-radar coaching candidate in Chicago could be Seattle assistant head coach/offensive line coach Tom Cable, the ex-Raiders head coach who worked with Emery, the Bears GM, in Atlanta.
• Between Brian Urlacher's steady stream of complaints about how the players and coaches are treated harshly by the Chicago fans and media, and Devin Hester's quasi-retirement threat in the wake of Lovie Smith's firing, I think I have a better idea of what ails the mediocre Bears. They've got a locker room that needs to grow up a bit and take some accountability.
It's not always somebody else's fault. The NFL is a bottom-line business in 32 different markets, and in Chicago, the success rate has not been high enough the past two years. So people have lost some jobs because of it. That's on everyone who calls themselves Bears and gets a paycheck from the team. Not just the fans and the media.
• Andy Reid was indeed the greatest coach in Philadelphia Eagles history, and chances are the team's next head coach won't be able to measure up to his track record of averaging 10 wins a year with numerous playoff berths along the way. But it's equally true that his best work had long since been done in Philadelphia, and it was time for a change. The Reid fatigue was real.
From his arrival in Philly in 1999 until the team's Super Bowl season of 2004, Reid's teams won 11 games or more five years in a row, with five playoff trips, four NFC title game appearances and one Super Bowl berth. But in the next eight years (2005-2012), the record was considerably less impressive: just one season with at least 11 wins, one NFC title game berth and four seasons of missing the playoffs. The Eagles were 3-4 in the postseason over the span of those eight years.
So Reid deserves to be saluted for a great body of work. And he also deserved his dismissal, because the Eagles need a fresh voice, a new direction and a plan of attack that will get them back to the elite level they reached with Reid from 2000-2004.
• I'd be surprised if Andy Reid's camp didn't try to build some momentum for him as Ken Whisenhunt's replacement in Arizona, because it's well known that Reid would like to return to the western side of the country, where the Los Angeles area native has roots. With the Chargers reportedly not interested in Reid, in part due to his sizable contract demands, the Cardinals will likely become his next most desired landing spot.
But I don't expect Arizona to make a big push for Reid either. For starters, they've got very attractive in-house candidates for its two openings in Ray Horton and vice president of player personnel Steve Keim. Reid's contract demands might not be the Cardinals' cup of tea, either. When you add in the fact that the Bidwill family has twice hired proven playoff-qualifying veteran head coaches -- Buddy Ryan and Dennis Green -- without good results, a Reid hiring might be too similar a path.
Which is why I continue to say I wouldn't be shocked if Reid doesn't return to the NFL coaching ranks right away in 2013. He has repeatedly said he doesn't want to take a year off, but the choice might not wind up being his. If he's not on the radar screen in San Diego or Arizona, and he's not being hired by Joe Banner in Cleveland, are Kansas City, Buffalo or Chicago really good fits for him? I don't really see it, unless the Bills try to take the plunge in pursuit of a big-name coach.
Reid's best options might be if either the Carolina or Jacksonville coaching jobs open up, once new GMs are hired there and make decisions on Ron Rivera and Mike Mularkey, respectively. At least they're warm-weather locales, and in Carolina Reid would have the all-important quarterback situation fairly well figured out for him.
• Between Reid's firing in Philadelphia, Norv Turner getting the boot in San Diego and Lovie Smith leaving Chicago, that's almost 38 seasons of NFL head coaching experience that just left the league.
New England's Bill Belichick now becomes the NFL's most-tenured member of the headset ranks, with 13 seasons and counting in Foxboro. But who's second behind Master Yoda in that department? The answer might surprise you, unless you guessed Cincinnati's Marvin Lewis, whose 10 years with the Bengals edges out the nine seasons of service turned in by Tom Coughlin with the Giants.
• Very well-distributed pain being felt on this Black Monday. All eight of the league's divisions could have departures on either the coaching or front office level before it's all said and done.
In the AFC East, Buffalo head coach Chan Gailey got shown the door after three seasons of 16-32 results, and the Jets told GM Mike Tannenbaum to turn in his key card and parking spot.
In the AFC North, the Browns dismissed both head coach Pat Shurmur and GM Tom Heckert as expected from the day new owner Jimmy Haslam walked in the door last summer.
In the AFC South, Jaguars general manager Gene Smith was let go, as was Titans vice president/COO Mike Reinfeldt, who was the team's top personnel decision-maker.
In the AFC West, things are even busier, with San Diego canning both Turner and general manager A.J. Smith, after Kansas City already terminated head coach Romeo Crennel while it continues to ponder GM Scott Pioli's fate.
In the NFC East, Philadelphia ended the Andy Reid era at 14 years.
In the NFC North, Chicago parted ways with Smith after nine seasons.
In the NFC West, Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt and general manager Rod Graves lost their jobs after a season that saw the Cardinals start four different quarterbacks.
And in the NFC South, the Panthers started this whole thing by firing general manager Marty Hurney back in late October. Carolina head coach Ron Rivera is thought likely to hang on to his job after the Panthers finished with four wins in a row, but a new GM in Charlotte might get to make that call.
• I'm told by sources close to the league office that the NFL is at least sensitive to the dismissals of so many high-level African-American decision-makers on Monday, and will look, as it always does under the Rooney Rule, to cultivate the best minority coaching and front office candidates for teams to interview.
With Romeo Crennel and Lovie Smith fired on the coaching front, and Arizona general manager Rod Graves let go as well, minority candidates such as Titans vice president of player personnel Lake Dawson and Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton might be in demand. Houston quarterbacks coach Karl Dorrell could also surface as a candidate in some coaching searches.
• The addition of Ron Wolf as a consultant to the Chargers in their general manager search is a move toward credibility and a thorough talent hunt in San Diego. But let's see where the respected ex-Packers GM effects the interview process, because most league handicappers still see the Chargers likely handing over personnel power in some form or fashion to the in-house tandem of Jimmy Raye and John Spanos, the son of Chargers chairman of the board Dean Spanos. Not to say an inside job is always the wrong move, but appearances do matter in these type situations.
I was only kidding when I tweeted it, but the Chargers could do a lot worse than to try and coax Wolf himself out of retirement. Or barring that, go after Wolf's son, Eliot Wolf, who's a young but highly regarded director of pro personnel with the Packers.
Then again, maybe Wolf's search will lead to...Wolf. In the same way Dick Cheney headed up George W. Bush's vice-president search in 2000, only to discover that the best candidate was the guy conducting the process in the first place. Chargers fans would probably love that scenario.
• Don't know how Tom Gamble feels about the possibility of running off and joining the circus that is the Jets, but my hunch is the 49ers director of player personnel will be the next Jaguars general manager. Both the Jets and Jacksonville reportedly have sought permission to interview Gamble for their GM openings, and will do so later this week, with the 49ers enjoying a bye week in the first round of the playoffs.
Gamble is considered one of the top two young GM candidates available, along with Atlanta director of player personnel David Caldwell. Gamble worked with Bill Polian in Indianapolis, and the Jaguars are believed to have called Polian for help finding candidates for their search, after first inquiring about his availability. Polian is said to have given Jacksonville his highest recommendation regarding Gamble, and sources say Jacksonville owner Shahid Khan is determined to land either him or Caldwell.