As the Bears made their way off the field in the season finale a fan held a sign over the exit tunnel to the Soldier Field locker room.
"Bring back Shoop,” it said.
While the Bears have no plans of doing that, Terry Shea will not be brought back for a second season. Lovie Smith terminated the offensive coordinator two days after the season came to an end.
“I think we needed different leadership and we needed to go in a different direction,” Smith said of the move. “The bottom line is you have a gut feeling and you go with that decision and that’s what I’m doing.”
Despite having just one year to lead the offense, the numbers speak volumes for the decision.
The team finished last in total offense, points, first downs per game, passing yards and third down efficiency.
In allowing a club record 66 sacks for a total of 449 yards in losses, the Bears left themselves in far too many negative situations. Third-and-long became common this season. A club-record 124 penalties this year contributed to this as well.
The complete failure of the offense cannot be put squarely on Shea’s shoulders.
Center Olin Kreutz was the only member of the offensive line that started all 16 games. In total, the unit had seven different starting lineups.
The injury to Rex Grossman limited what Shea could do, but he never adapted his play-calling to compensate for the lack of production from the quarterback position. He actually threw more once Grossman went down.
Shea is also the same guy that endorsed Jonathan Quinn as the backup.
The Bears had to go through Quinn and Craig Krenzel to find Chad Hutchinson. Believing Quinn was ready to step in if Grossman struggled or went down with an injury proved to be a fatal mistake. He quickly showed why he hadn’t thrown a pass since 2001.
Krenzel was never expected to play this season and any production out of him was a bonus.
Hutchinson proved to be the best of the bunch; unfortunately the coaching staff didn’t realize it until the final month of the season.
Still, the problems seem to run deeper than the obvious lack of production. To some degree it became a difference in philosophy.
Shea stated as a goal from Day One that he wanted to pass 60 percent of the time on first down. That worked to some degree with Grossman behind center, but it led to the offensive rankings sinking to the bottom of the league when he wasn’t on the field.
Smith wants to become more of a run oriented team. The fact that the Bears don’t have a playmaker among their receivers and Thomas Jones is the biggest offensive threat played a role in the rededication to the ground game.
“Really I’ve said all along we wanted to run the football first,” Smith said. “As you go back that’s what I’ve always believed in. We probably got away from it a little bit this year, but yes that’s what I (believe in). That’s what I think you need to be able to do here.”
Under Shea, the offense averaged 3.8 yards per carry, which ranked 26th in the league.
With the idea of running the ball first, the list of candidates to replace Shea won’t necessarily be a compilation of names from the Rams and Chiefs, who run a similar offense to what Shea installed.
“As much as anything I’m just looking for the (best candidate),” Smith said. “I think we have to be productive as much as anything. There’s a bottom line, you have to get a profit and I just don’t think we made enough progress really this year. And I know there’s injuries involved and different things like, but I still think you have to make more progress then we made and I had to feel comfortable as we make our run this coming season that we could go in the right direction.”
The problem with changing schemes is that it would be the third different one in three years. Rex Grossman is going to be working with his fifth offensive coordinator in five seasons, which could lead to a slow start again next season.
Smith didn’t rule out current QB coach Wade Wilson as a possible successor. That could help bridge the gap from Shea, but the last six Chicago offensive coordinators have never called a play in the NFL until taking the job.
“I still don't think that it's a must to have NFL play-calling experience,” Smith said. “Every coordinator has his first job. So I just think you get the best available and that's meeting what you're trying to do at the time.
“That's what we'll do this time. I didn't get it right the first time. We'll get it right this time.”