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Haugh: Bears GM Emery appears well-prepared to pick right successor to Smith

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013 9:45 a.m. CST
Caption
(Photo by Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/MCT)
Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (6) directs the offense in the second quarter against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan, Sunday December 30, 2012. The Chicago Bears beat the Detroit Lions, 26-24.

(MCT) — CHICAGO — Phil Emery will hire the right head coach for the Bears.

Nobody can say so yet, of course. Nobody can draw a fair conclusion about Lovie Smith’s successor until next season at the earliest.

But Emery gave the Bears every reason to believe that positive result was likely after a virtuoso performance on the podium Tuesday at Halas Hall. In a thoughtful 54-minute session with reporters, Emery used refreshing honesty and rare transparency to instill the kind of confidence in a job search we are not used to seeing at 1920 Football Drive in Lake Forest.

When the Bears went looking for a general manager last January to replace Jerry Angelo, they drew snickers around the league. When they sought an offensive coordinator in 2010, their plodding approach left them with the only guy who would take the job in Mike Martz. Thanks to Emery, this process promises to be different and more decisive.

Good luck recalling a Bears executive or coach publicly confronting a big moment with any more candor than Emery displayed explaining his bold decision.

Goodbye, ambiguity. Hello, assertiveness. At long last, the Bears projected the image of an NFL franchise that knows what it wants and, of more importance, how to get it. The presence of Emery’s Super Bowl plan was apparent; the purpose in his voice obvious.

The only odd moment — actually, moments would be more accurate — came when a slightly defensive Emery explained in laborious detail his thought process about fixing the offensive line last offseason. But other than that tangent taking fans on a fascinating tour inside the mind of a football geek, Emery stayed on point well enough to wonder why the Bears rarely make him accessible.

“The end result was we didn’t have enough consistency,” Emery said. “We need to consistently be in the playoffs competing for championships.”

Emery left no doubt that firing Smith was his call, made with the input and blessing of Chairman George McCaskey and President Ted Phillips.

“Phil, it’s your decision to make,” they told Emery.

Not until Monday morning when Emery looked Smith in the eye did he officially make it, but based on his level of preparedness he has been anticipating this move for months. Sounding like a realist who isn’t tone-deaf to criticism, Emery cited missing the playoffs five times in six years and an anemic offense as evidence the Bears no longer were positioned to contend for Super Bowls under Smith.

Emery called Jay Cutler a franchise quarterback (behind a legitimate offensive line, he is) and complimented tight end Kellen Davis (we can agree to disagree) — but at least noted a need to attack the middle of the field better.

He singled out the offense’s inability to involve Matt Forte in the passing game as a problem and accurately appraised Brian Urlacher’s up-and-down season without getting caught up in unnecessary sentiment. The Bears would miss Urlacher’s “leadership and knowledge in the system,” Emery said.

Speaking of systems, Emery dispelled the common perception that he favors a 3-4 defense by insisting the next coach will “have to convince me we have the skill set and body types,” to switch from the traditional 4-3.

The defense will depend on the next coach, a high-energy guy Emery expects to pull everyone in the organization together and — pinch me — show professional respect for the media. Of more significance, Emery wants the next coach to adapt schemes to the marquee talent on the roster and exhibit exceptional organizational and administrative skills.

By identifying only “excellence in their role,” as the No. 1 criteria for candidates from unspecified backgrounds, Emery suggested he will know his next head coach when he sees him. It might be an offensive guy or a defensive guy. It might be a college guy. But Emery sounded certain his exhaustive method will produce the right guy by mid-January.

Admittedly, when Emery compared the NFL to college football with all the new collective bargaining agreement rules after describing attributes of his ideal coach, the image that popped into my head first was Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly.

Neither Kelly nor Alabama’s Nick Saban might have any interest in leaving campus, where they rule fiefdoms. Nor may Oregon’s Chip Kelly, considered an NFL target. Nobody knows yet whether Emery has interest in any or all three but it would behoove him to ask.

Mike Holmgren reportedly said he would listen to offers, and that merits a phone call. Until Jon Gruden says no, Emery should entertain the idea of making him consider saying yes. Meanwhile, four NFL assistants whose names you are unlikely to recognize have interviews lined up with Emery.

“The final decision will be mine,” Emery said emphatically.

Finally, nobody in Chicago rolled their eyes.

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