Phillips: "This isn't a long-term project"

Ted Phillips (AP: M. Spencer Green)

The Chicago Bears are on record saying they need to evolve, although that evolution will not include a new general manager or a new head coach. Will two fresh coordinators make enough of a difference?

General manager Jerry Angelo and coach Lovie Smith will be back for 2010, but the Bears will have new offensive and defensive coordinators among a revamped staff.

Ron Turner was fired as offensive coordinator with a year left on his contract. Linebackers coach Bob Babich held the title of defensive coordinator this past season, although Smith was defensive play caller, duties he will relinquish.

"After discussions with Jerry, Lovie and ownership, the conclusion was that Jerry and Lovie still know what it takes to win," team president and CEO Ted Phillips said Tuesday afternoon. "They both brought us a championship contending team [in 2006]. They did it together. They're aware of the mistakes that were made, and they're both welcoming change.

"In my opinion, when you have change, you're bringing in new ideas, you're bringing in new energy, you're bringing in new passion. And that will help our players become the best players they can be."

For the past three years, the players that Angelo procured and Smith coached compiled a 23-25 record and missed the playoffs each season. Dissatisfied fans have clamored for radical change, which Phillips acknowledged.

"We know it's a bottom-line business, and we're not asking for patience," he said. "What we are committed to is putting a winning team together in 2010. That's our goal. I believe that the fastest way to improve is to keep the continuity that we've had with both Jerry Angelo as our general manager and Lovie Smith as our head coach."

But, citing three straight seasons without a playoff appearance, Phillips said, "Status quo was not an option, and changes were necessary."

Six offensive coaches were dismissed by Smith: offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, quarterbacks coach Pep Hamilton, tight ends coach Rob Boras, assistant offensive line coach Luke Butkus and assistant wide receivers coach Charles London, in addition to Turner. Wide receivers coach Darryl Drake and running backs coach Tim Spencer survived the purge.

"That just means there will be good coaches available for other teams," said Bears tight end Desmond Clark. "Our offensive coaches [got] us ready to play every week."

Turner's offense was 23rd in total yards, 19th in points and 18th in third-down conversions. The Bears scored 73 points in the final two games this season, but it wasn't enough.

"For the last three years," Phillips said, "it's been clear that no one did a good enough job in this organization; nobody did."

But Angelo, Smith and the rest of his staff will keep their jobs, despite the just-completed 7-9 season, the third losing campaign in Smith's six seasons.

"Organizationally, we're all behind the decisions to keep Lovie and Jerry," Phillips said. "We think that's our best chance to win now."

Phillips said he has held several discussions over the past few weeks with Angelo and Bears owner Virginia McCaskey and her son, chairman of the board Michael McCaskey, regarding Smith's status.

Although Smith's defense was arguably more disappointing than a young offense that incorporated seven new starters, that side of the ball was spared, with the exception of Smith losing his play-calling duties.

"He's relinquishing that role," Phillips said. "So to bring in two new coordinators is quite a massive change. We'll get the right people in here that can embrace the systems that Lovie wants to put together on both sides of the ball."

Phillips said Smith was not ordered to give up the play-calling duties after the Bears' defense finished 27th in third-down efficiency, 21st in points allowed and 23rd in rushing yards allowed.


Virginia McCaskey
AP Images: M. Spencer Green

"There was no dictating," Phillips said. "When I sat down with Lovie and Jerry, they both had already thought about the kind of changes they thought were necessary to get us back to our winning ways. That wasn't an issue at all."

Smith took responsibility for Tuesday's firings, but denied that the offensive shortcomings were solely responsible for a disappointing season.

"We're not blaming one side of the ball for our 7-9 record," Smith said. "I'm moving out of my role that I handled this past year as the defensive coordinator. I felt like last year, me being in that position was the best thing to do. I feel differently after going through this season, so I will be bringing in a defensive coordinator."

NOTES AND QUOTES
It is assumed that the Bears need to make the playoffs next season for Smith to stick around for 2011, the final year of his contract, even if no one said it in exactly those words at Tuesday's house cleaning.

"We all know what we need to do," Phillips said. "We're not happy with the season we had, we're not happy with the last three years, and the expectation is we'll turn it around in 2010. At the end of 2010, obviously we'll go through another evaluation process and see where we land."

Smith will land somewhere else if the Bears don't land in the playoffs next season. He knows it.

"Ted doesn't have to tell me that," Smith said. "No one has to tell me that." ...

Angelo doesn't believe it will be difficult for Smith to woo quality assistants, especially offensive and defensive coordinators, even though he will be seen by some as a lame-duck head coach who could be fired after next year.

"I don't think that in the least," Angelo said. "I know there will be that perception. I'm not naive to think that there won't be. But I do not foresee us having problems in getting coaches. I don't really see us going out to recruit coaches. I think we are going to have a bevy of coaches wanting to be here." ...

Virginia McCaskey attended Tuesday's news conference but did not speak to the media, although she issued a statement from herself and the McCaskey family.

"The decisions outlined today have full support of ownership," it read. "We believe in the people who are in place to lead our football team. This season was difficult for everyone at the Bears and for our fans. Despite the disappointment, our fans' support has been tremendous. We are thankful to Bears fans for their passion and are committed to bringing them a winner. The entire Chicago Bears organization understands the importance of being a consistent contender."

QUOTE TO NOTE
"There's a fine line sometimes between winning and losing, but we expect to win now, in 2010. This isn't a long-term project in my eyes." – Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips


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