LAKE FOREST – Look down to see the Kansas City Chiefs.
Now, look up to see the Green Bay Packers.
Let’s hope that the Bears know which path leads to the penthouse.
Happy New Year, Bears fans. While I’m at it, Happy New Coach and Happy New Coordinators and Happy New Era for one of the NFL’s charter franchises.
After nine seasons, Lovie Smith has been tossed aside like last night’s party hat. Smith routinely provided a good foot-bawl team, to use his east Texas parlance, but he always seemed to find a way to fall short against the league’s top competition.
Still, my first reaction to Smith’s firing Monday morning was surprise.
It shouldn’t have been.
Bears general manager Phil Emery is serious about developing a sustainable winner, and Smith was leading the team sideways after missing the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons.
Above Emery on the flow chart is chairman George McCaskey, whose everyman personality masks his burning desire to win multiple championships.
“That’s the goal every year: To win the Super Bowl,” McCaskey told me in his office as he prepared for his first season as chairman in 2011. “Not to make the playoffs. Not to get to the Super Bowl. To win the Super Bowl.”
In the two nonchampionship seasons that have followed, longtime general manager Jerry Angelo and Smith both have been shown the door.
This is serious business.
Emery knows what’s at stake as he embarks on his first coaching search as a general manager. He will have at least a couple of seasons to prove himself, but another prolonged dry spell will elicit a handshake and a one-way ticket out of Halas Hall.
Hire the right coach who can mold the Bears into a perennial title contender, and Emery will look like a genius. Hire the wrong coach, and he will look like a fool.
In-between is not an option. That’s what Smith represented.
Signs posted in the Bears’ locker room warn players and coaches about the consequences of gambling on football, but general managers do it every offseason.
The Packers gambled (and won) when they fired coach Mike Sherman and replaced him with untested assistant Mike McCarthy in 2006. The Chiefs gambled (and lost) when they fired coach Herm Edwards and replaced him with untested assistant Todd Haley three seasons later.
Now, the Packers are aiming for their second Super Bowl title in the past three seasons. The Chiefs are scouting for their No. 1 draft pick as the NFL’s lousiest team.
It’s tough to know what Emery will do because he never has been in this position.
High-profile coaching options such as Jon Gruden and Bill Cowher and Andy Reid sound nice in theory, but each comes with baggage and could seek more front-office influence than the Bears can provide. College coaches such as Oregon’s Chip Kelly or Penn State’s Bill O’Brien could draw interest for at least a few vacancies in the NFL, but success at the college level doesn’t always translate.
If I were Emery, I would pursue the league’s top offensive-minded assistants.
Have a chat with Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy about his success in the mile-high city. Ask San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman about how he devised a scheme to pick apart the Bears’ defense in Week 11. Call up the Packers’ Tom Clements or the Falcons’ Dirk Koetter or the Seahawks’ Darrell Bevell to hear what they would have in mind for Jay Cutler and company.
Now more than ever, the NFL is geared toward offense and quarterbacks and scoring points. An opportunistic defense is great (see: Smith, 2004-12), but Super Bowl MVPs in six of the past nine seasons have been named Eli Manning (twice) or Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees or Peyton Manning or Tom Brady.
Maybe Cutler can add his name to that list. Maybe he can’t.
It’s time to find out.
It’s time for Emery to deliver some happier New Years to Bears fans.
• Tom Musick covers Chicago professional sports for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.