A day after teary-eyed Chicago Bears players faced cameras (or in the case of Devin Hester, his locker) and decried the firing of Lovie Smith as head coach, the team’s General Manager, Phil Emery, took the podium at Halas Hall and without a hint of regret thanked the former coach for his work and then detailed why he decided to making a coaching change. Emery pointed out the obvious – an ineffective offense and one playoff appearance in the last six seasons.
Emery was professional, optimistic and very impressive. His news conference ran almost a full hour. He was willing to stay longer and answer reporters’ questions, but it almost seemed like the media members were winded from all of the information Emery provided about where the Bears are and where he intends to take them to.
The only question he dodged was a query about the Broncos offense, which was a veiled attempt to get Emery to talk about the first person he will interview, offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. He also refused to answer a question about the future of middle linebacker, Brian Urlacher. Emery said he would not comment on player contracts as he viewed that as a private discussion to be held with the player and his agent.
Everything else, though, was on the table and Emery even offered up some goodies that Chicago’s lethargic media didn’t work to get.
Emery talked about his disappointment in not seeing Matt Forte catch more passes. Forte is among the very best pass catching running backs and a prime reason Emery laid out big bucks to re-sign him. He offered a meticulous explanation on why the team went into the season with an offensive line that had been, deservedly, maligned. Emery said he and his staff wanted to upgrade at the offensive tackle position, either through free agency or the draft. After careful study of available players and prioritizing wide receivers (Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey) over the available lineman he determined it was best to keep the two 24 year old prospects (J’Marcus Webb and Gabe Carimi) and supplement them with Jonathan Scott (who gave up zero sacks this year). While he never defended the play of the line, he did point out that there were six teams who have gave up more sacks than the Bears that are in the playoffs. I wish the media would have challenged him on this point. As I’ve written before, the Bears had to max protect Jay Cutler so often on pass plays that it severely limited his throwing options – another reason the offense ranked 29th in 2012.
Emery also talked about the disappointment of tight end Kellen Davis. We all know Davis came with a high recommendation from Lovie Smith. But, Emery said, what he saw of Davis in 2011 was a big target who caught the ball in the end zone, something he did not do in 2012. It is obvious that Emery will look to upgrade the position. Will Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert or Stanford’s Zach Ertz be a Bear in 2013?
As for Chicago’s problem child, Jay Cutler, Emery said, “I see Jay as a franchise quarterback.” The GM knows that Cutler didn’t have all of the necessary tools to succeed, “We have to build around him.” Emery made it clear that the new hire must get more out of Cutler, “It’s very important that that person either himself or staff-wise has the right person to help Jay develop.” But, there was an implication that Cutler, who is in the last year of his contract, will have to prove himself quickly to the new coach.
The majority of Emery’s news conference was dedicated to painting a picture of what he’s looking for in a new head coach for the Bears. ”[The] No. 1 criteria is excellence in their role,” Emery began. He then listed three key qualities:
– Terrific skills at organization
Emery stated that the pro game has become similar to the college game with all its restrictions on practice time. Optimizing the time available to achieving excellence (a word he used often) was critical
– High energy
An NFL coach’s job is a 24/7 job, Emery said without regard to slave labor laws. He desires a coach who can withstand the grind and deal with the inevitable ups and downs of the season.
– Represent the team well
This almost seemed like a knock on Lovie Smith. It’s no secret that Lovie’s guarded approach to the media didn’t win him any friends (or fans) and clearly the wall he put up is something Emery doesn’t desire to see with his new head coach.
Strategically, Emery said he was open to any type of defense or offense, but pointed out that he expected the new coach to adapt to the talent the team possess or have the teaching skills to make the talent work within the system. For instance, currently the team does not have the type of huge linemen to run a 3-4 defense.
Emery assured the media, as did Chairman George McCaskey, that there are no salary restrictions being imposed during the search. He stressed that the interview process was open to anyone, although there have been no reports of big name coaches being interviewed so its unlikely Bill Cowher will be seen spitting at refs in Soldier Field.
Emery said he would present the two or three finalists to McCaskey and team President/CEO Ted Phillips. The two would have an opportunity to talk with the finalists, but that the final decision is his, not his bosses.
The Bears have never had a General Manager so expertly handle a news conference like Emery did the day after relieving Lovie Smith. Fans who saw his performance have to be encouraged about his vision, expectations and attention to detail. If he did anything today, he made the job of Chicago Bears Head Coach a much more coveted one.
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CORRECTION: Emery is scheduled to talk to McCoy this weekend. It is believed that Emery’s first interview occurred Tuesday night with Falcons (and former Bears) Special Teams coach Keith Armstrong.