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New start for Bears after Monday firings

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. — The failures of general manager Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman in 2014 not only led to their firings Monday by the Chicago Bears, but rocked the franchise to its very core.

Chairman of the board George McCaskey said not only did he and team CEO and president Ted Phillips decide to dump the Emery-Trestman combo because of a lack of victories, but the team’s futility had even upset the matriarch of the franchise, George Halas’ daughter Virginia McCaskey.

“She agrees with the decisions that we’ve made,” George McCaskey said. “She’s pissed off. I can’t think of a 91-year-old woman that that description would apply to but in this case I can’t think of a more accurate description.

“She’s been on this earth for eight of the nine Bears championships and she wants more. She feels that it’s been too long since the last one and that dissatisfaction is shared by her children and her grandchildren and her great grandchildren. She’s fed up with mediocrity. She feels that she and Bears fans everywhere deserve better.”

With the firings, George McCaskey and Phillips have hired former Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi as a consultant and have begun looking into replacements for both Emery and Trestman. What that means to quarterback Jay Cutler is uncertain, but his biggest supporter was Emery, who had signed him to the contract extension that guaranteed him $54 million. So his prospects for a return to the Bears appear shaky at best.

“I’m a fan of Jay’s personally and professionally, but all of the decisions are going to be up to the new general manager and new head coach,” McCaskey said.

A freefall that started just before the midpoint of the season eventually led to the firings as Phillips and Emery said they eventually became convinced the duo of Trestman and Emery couldn’t win a Super Bowl. Both Trestman and Emery had two years left on their deals, so it proved a costly decision for the McCaskey family.

“The balance swung overwhelmingly in favor of doing the right thing,” McCaskey said. “The money wasn’t a factor.”

Now the Bears find themselves facing a complete rebuilding project after Emery’s inability to draft enough talent and Trestman’s inability to mold a winning team. The team went from 10-6 under Lovie Smith, to 8-8 and 5-11 under Trestman.

“We were 1-5 in the division and we were 2-6 at home,” Phillips said. “So we need to turn that around.”

Accorsi will do legwork and give recommendations, but Phillips and McCaskey have the decision-making power, which is a different process than when the Bears used a search firm to come up with former general manager Jerry Angelo and then Emery three years ago.

The McCaskeys do not plan to get involved in more than hiring the new general manager. There will be no meddling in daily operation.

“We feel that the correct course of action is to hire the best people that we can and stay out of the way and let them do their jobs,” George McCaskey said.

When Bears brass made the announcements Monday afternoon, they’d already been in contact with representatives for six coaching candidates. The preference is to get a general manager hired and let him hire the coach.

Opponents scored first in 11 of the last 12 Bears games and Chicago went on to lose its last five and finish with its worst record (5-11) since 2004. A 2-6 record at home, the most points allowed in the league, Cutler’s league-high 24 turnovers and the offense’s 28 false-start penalties (second in the league) all helped make for a miserable finish.

“We all regressed,” Trestman said, following the season-ending loss. “I regressed, our offense regressed for a number of reasons. I don’t think any of us got better. That certainly showed the last couple weeks.”

Players complained about an offense that was too predictable.

“Sometimes we will line up in a formation that we ran a specific play out of a few more times than we should have,” running back Matt Forte said. “Defenses are smart. They watch film, read their keys and they know stuff like that.”

The whole concept of the Bears as a defensive team switching over and becoming an offensive team failed.

“We kind of got away from what we are as the Chicago Bears,” cornerback Tim Jennings said. “We kind of got away from the style of defense that we play. It was more of a transition from defense to offense.”

Beyond X’s and O’s, though, the Aaron Kromer betrayal of Cutler in the media was just one of several incidents in which players felt the coaching staff needlessly threw them under the bus. Kromer was also fired Monday.

“We were front-page news too many times,” cornerback Charles Tillman said. “In the past we haven’t been there, that wasn’t how we operated. This year there was a lot of trust broken. I don’t care who you are or where you are, you will always have conflict and it’s how you resolve that conflict.

“I think when you do have conflict, you also need to let that conflict stay in house, and then resolve and work through it. I think this year we didn’t do that.”

Emery’s downfall came because of the Cutler contract extension and hiring Trestman when he could have hired Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, after interviewing him in 2013.

Also, Emery had problems on draft day.

His initial first-round selection of Shea McClellin in 2012 has proven a disaster, as the former Boise State star failed at playing defensive end and looked very pedestrian and inexperienced when moved to the strong side this year.

McClellin and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery are the only members of the 2012 draft class who stayed with the team through his three years.

The jury remains out on the 2013 class, although it initially was met with more success.

Now the issue becomes whether the Bears are willing to act quickly and decisively to sign the best candidate — something they’ve been accused of failing at in the past.

REPORT CARD VS. VIKINGS

PASSING OFFENSE: D-minus — A “robust” 75.2 passer rating for Jay Cutler was surpassed only by his body language, which hovered between ambivalence and petulance. His passes rarely found receivers in places where they could catch, tuck and run, and it’s been that way the entire year. Tight end Martellus Bennett, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and wide receiver Marquess Wilson cut their dropped passes down from the previous game, but pass blocking struggled all day to contend with a Minnesota pass rush that used four men extensively. Left tackle Jermon Bushrod and left guard sub Ryan Groy experienced communication problems much of the day.

RUSHING OFFENSE: D-minus — Matt Forte started out running through tackles, but by game’s end the Bears had again largely ignored the running attack after a few drives when it proved ineffective. Run blocking on the right side and the interior was more consistent than on Bushrod’s and Groy’s side.

PASS DEFENSE: C — The 90.2 passer rating Teddy Bridgewater had was actually a big improvement over most of the season’s efforts by a secondary that had plenty of solid plays, including the interception made by Kyle Fuller. However, a blown coverage that resulted in the game’s only touchdown — by a slow wide receiver — was typical of the type of problems the Bears defense had all year. Tim Jennings had to take the blame on the 44-yard TD pass. The Bears’ front four consistently pressured Bridgewater even without their best pass rusher, Willie Young.

RUSH DEFENSE: B — Matt Asiata eventually achieved a 4.8-yard average against the Bears, but that number lied. It was padded by a 19-yard run early in the game. Asiata and the Vikings’ running game seemed to wear down the Bears’ defensive front by game’s end, but even then a goal-line stand provided a chance to win. Linebacker Jonathan Bostic produced his first real impact play as the mike starter, with the tackle on fourth down to get the offense back the ball. Linebacker Christian Jones had a second straight solid game, showing he could have a future with the team. And Shea McClellin even showed up with a big play once.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C-plus — Jay Feely’s missed 43-yard field goal proved critical, although he had a decent day with a 48-yarder and two others in cold conditions. Marc Mariani’s 67-yard kick return provided a big momentum swing and set up the offense in position to take over the game, and it was opportunity squandered as they settled for a field goal.

COACHING: D — Mel Tucker went out proving he, at the very least, had the Vikings’ number with 13 points allowed in each game. The Bears struck a good balance between containing Bridgewater in the pocket, stopping the run and playing a variety of coverages. The blown coverage on Minnesota’s TD, though, typified the lack of communication that did in the defense much of the year. Trestman failed to utilize the ground game enough in a close game and relied once again on far too many predictable screen passes. The Vikings’ defense started playing for screen passes by game’s end, which few NFL defenses do. In general, a team with nothing to lose and every opportunity to throw the playbook at the Vikings did nothing of the sort. Silly, undisciplined penalties that could be traced back to coaching ruined the first Bears drive and final drive. They told the story of this season.


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