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The First Of Many Bears Mistakes: Firing Lovie Smith

The Bears firing Lovie after a 10-win season set a "playoff or bust" standard, but management hasn't stuck to that principle with Smith's successors.
Lovie Smith Bears Head Coach

Photo: ChicagoBears/Twitter

Way back in 2012, the Bears came up short of the final spot in the playoffs after finishing 10-6. Chicago's fate came down to the Packers beating the Vikings. Things didn't go the Bears' way, and failing to make the playoffs was grounds for letting Lovie Smith go.

Smith had missed the playoffs five of the previous six years. Two years prior, the Bears finished first in the division and went all the way to the NFC Championship.

Read The Room

Veteran players were shocked by the departure.

"I think it's going to be a sad day at Halas Hall," Jay Cutler said the day Smith was fired. "I have a lot of respect for the guy. He's made friends with a lot of the players. He's a players' coach. I think right now I'm a little surprised, a little sad. Wish I could have done more offensively to help him out."

Another key player fans held in high regard was defensive star Brian Urlacher.

"You win 10 games ... we didn't finish up the way we wanted to. We didn't get in the playoffs," Urlacher said on ESPN 1000's The Waddle & Silvy Show. "We still won 10 games and had a chance to get in yesterday if Green Bay beats Minnesota. ...They didn't. Now you're out.

"It's just tough for me to really figure out right now. But Lovie is a great coach and I'm sure he'll get hired pretty quick. No one could do with this team what he's done the last nine years. We went to the Super Bowl, we didn't win, we went."

While missing the playoffs is one thing, Lovie still had players vouching for him as a leader. This is unlike the current situation, as the Bears' locker room has turned on the coach. That process has been going on for over a year. Matt Nagy should have read the signals and resigned, but his ego is too big.

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The Undesirables

Once Lovie Smith departed Chicago, several teams had him on their head coach candidate lists. He eventually got an opportunity with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bears, on the other hand, hired Marc Trestman. That was undoubtedly the wrong choice.

Smith was the last Bears coach to find an NFL head coaching gig post-firing. All other Bears' ex-head coaches have only landed jobs as coordinators or position coaches elsewhere. That should be a giant red flag. If you have a head coach that other teams want in the same role, the decision to cut ties becomes questionable in hindsight. If the coach is undesirable elsewhere, cutting ties is usually the right move.

As a flagship NFL franchise, people should be wanting to come to Chicago to win. Disrespecting a 10-win coach as the Bears did should have sent some negative signals to any quality coaches wanting to come to the Bears. Jay Cutler summed up the situation well.

"I trust Phil and management and George (McCaskey) and those guys to make the best call. They're going to get the best possible head coach and assistant coaches and coordinators as they can. So you've just got to trust in that," Cutler said.

That trust in ownership was undeserved, and the McCaskey's have done nothing to prove they're worthy of it.

Are There No Standards Anymore?

Ownership's decision in 2012 set the standard: the Bears are a playoff franchise and anything short is a fireable offense.

Ted Phillips George McCaskey Bears

Photo: Chicago Tribune

However, management hasn’t stuck to that standard. Instead, they've enabled the extended stays of Marc Trestman, John Fox, and Matt Nagy even though it was clear years prior those coaches were not going to lead the Bears to a Super Bowl. Such decisions have wasted so many veterans' careers. Looking back now, the only veteran/retired players that still appreciate the team came from the Lovie Smith era.

If the Bears ever stumble upon a good coach again, they need to remember 10-win seasons are hard to come by. The Bears constantly tweak facets of the front office, coaching staff, or quarterback position, but nothing is in unison. It is time to clean house from the top down, and EVERYTHING needs to be in question when assessing how this franchise can become a consistent winner again.