Players Back Smith, Assistant Coaches
LB Hunter Hillenmeyer (Getty: Doug Pensinger)
LB Hunter Hillenmeyer (Getty: Doug Pensinger)
Special to BearReport.com
Posted Jan 5, 2010


While many fans of the Chicago Bears are hoping coach Lovie Smith and his staff are asked to clear out their offices Tuesday at Halas Hall, the players in the locker room came to their defense.

It was status quo when Bears coach Lovie Smith met with players Monday morning before they scattered in different directions for the offseason.

Smith, general manager Jerry Angelo and team president Ted Phillips spent Monday discussing the future of the organization and what changes need to be made. But when Smith spoke to his players Monday morning, he gave no indication of the job insecurity that surrounds, if not him, then at least several members of his offensive staff.

"It was just like any other meeting," linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer said. "Lovie talked to us like we expect everything to be the same next year, like what our goals need to be for 2010 and what we need to do in the offseason to get there."

It appears Smith will get there, but offensive coordinator Ron Turner, offensive line coach Harry Hiestand and quarterbacks coach Pep Hamilton are not expected to make it to the offseason as Bears employees.

Hillenmeyer couldn't shed much light on that side of the ball.

"I have no idea," he said. "I know as much about our offense as you guys do. From [linebackers coach Bob] Babich to Lovie, they've done a great job. And not just this year, but over the course of six years. What they've done for me and for a lot of guys in this locker room in terms of our development, I would hate to see a change."

Changes in the coaching staff aren't scheduled to be announced until Tuesday at 2:00 p.m., when the Bears have scheduled a news conference at Halas Hall.

One of the changes could be the addition of a defensive coordinator. Babich had that title this season but Smith handled the play-calling, which he called "a chore."

Former Bears defensive backs coach Perry Fewell, who finished the regular season as the Buffalo Bills' interim head coach but was fired Monday with the rest of the staff, has been mentioned as a candidate. Fewell is still expected to interview for the Bills' permanent top job, but he is not considered a favorite.

Fewell spent only the 2005 season with the Bears before leaving to become the Bills' defensive coordinator under coach Dick Jauron, who was the Bears' coach from 1999-2003.

While the consensus around Halas Hall seems to be that Smith and the defensive coaches will survive a third straight non-playoff season, statistics say there wasn't much difference between offensive and defensive production.


CB Charles Tillman
Getty Images: Jonathan Daniel

The Bears' offense was 19th in points, while the defense was 21st in points allowed. The offense was 23rd in yards, while the defense 17th in yards allowed. The offense was 18th in third-down conversions, while the defense was 27th in third-down conversions allowed. The Bears struggled to run the ball and to stop the run.

Talks among the Bears' hierarchy will determine whether the blame for a 7-9 season falls on coaches or on players who made coaches look bad by not playing up to expectations.

"It's easy to say, 'Yeah,' " cornerback Charles Tillman said, when asked if players let Smith down. "But I don't think we stopped responding to the coaches. I just think we didn't play well. In some games, we just didn't come through."

NOTES AND QUOTES
Turner couldn't have asked for much more productivity from his group than he got in the past two weeks, but it may not be enough to save his job and the jobs of some of his assistants.

"I'm pleased with the way we played [Sunday]," Turner said, adding that he expected to be brought back. "The last couple weeks now our guys responded and when [the Lions] scored to tie it up, our guys showed what they're made of and showed their character."

After a season-high 418 yards of total offense and 37 points, Turner explained the sometimes-painstaking process of melding a productive unit using several young, inexperienced players. Three of the Bears' top four wide receivers (rookie Johnny Knox, Devin Aromashodu and Earl Bennett) had started a total of one NFL game, going into the season with new quarterback Jay Cutler. There were three new starters on the offensive line, one who had never started an NFL game (Chris Williams) and another who had started one (Frank Omiyale).

"Everyone wants instant gratification," Turner said. "Everyone wants instant success, including us. You get a guy the caliber of Jay in here, and everybody says, 'OK, now it's all going to click.' Well, it takes time.

"[On the offensive line], two had never played or played very, very little, and all of a sudden they're starting. If you look at where they are now and where they were at the beginning of the season, they're different players. We had three receivers that had never played [much] until this year."

Bennett didn't catch a single pass as a rookie last season. Aromashodu had seven catches in parts of four NFL seasons.

"If you look at the film early in the year and look at it now, they're playing at a different level," Turner said. "Their confidence level is so much higher, and Jay's confidence level in them is so much higher. But it doesn't happen overnight. They continue to make great progress." ...

Matt Forte revealed before Sunday's game that an early-season knee injury affected his play for part of the season.

"I think it had something to do with it," Turner said. "I don't think he was as healthy as he was a year ago. I think there was a drop-off, definitely. I don't think he had the acceleration and the burst that we normally see from him. But I think as the season went on that improved, as the confidence in the line grew."

Forte's 101 yards on 16 carries against the Lions left him with 929 yards on 258 carries and a 3.6-yard average. Last year as a rookie, he rushed for 1,238 yards on 316 carries and a 3.9-yard average. ...

Tight end Desmond Clark, who ended his 11th NFL season with TD catches in each of his final two games, doesn't blame the coaching staff for any of the team's offensive struggles this season.

"I know all the speculation has been on the offensive staff, saying that we're going to have to get new coaches," Clark said. "We have a great offensive coaching staff. We have coaches that get us ready to play every week. Personally, my coach, Rob Boras, I've never gone into a football game without being prepared. If I played bad it was because of me, because every week he got us prepared for every possible look that a team could bring at us."


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