LAKE FOREST – Bears chairman George McCaskey has had hundreds, if not thousands, of conversations with longtime coach Lovie Smith.
This week’s chat proved to be the toughest.
“I think it was an emotional situation,” McCaskey said Tuesday at Halas Hall. “I know I was struggling to keep my emotions in check.”
The pair spoke Monday after Smith learned that he was fired after nine seasons with the team. Bears general manager Phil Emery made the decision with the consent of McCaskey and team president Ted Phillips.
Smith earned the respect of the McCaskey family during his tenure, which included three division titles and an appearance in Super Bowl XLI. But after missing the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons, McCaskey agreed that a change was needed.
“It was very difficult,” McCaskey said. “Our family has high regard for Lovie. I think [Jay Cutler] said it best: He’s been high-character all the way through. He’s represented the Bears very well.
“He’s a good coach, an outstanding man. I think one of the things we’re most grateful to Lovie for is he didn’t just teach our players football, he taught them how to become men.”
That said, McCaskey understood why Smith’s dismissal angered many players.
“It’s perfectly understandable,” McCaskey said. “He’s a great guy and a great coach, and I thought it was encouraging to see how the players were sticking up for him.”
No big deal: Devin Hester proved to be the most vocal with his anger, criticizing reporters and “false fans” and contemplating retirement after the Bears fired Smith.
Emery took the high road regarding Hester’s comments.
“Devin came in as a draft pick with Lovie,” Emery said. “I certainly understand the emotion. There will be a time where his emotions clear. And Devin has come to my office. We’ve talked before. My door is always open, and if he wants to do that, we can have the conversation. If he doesn’t, I’m open to that, too.
“Obviously, Devin’s under contract, so if he sent his retirement papers in, I would know. But I don’t anticipate that. I think he’s a great competitor, I think that was an emotional situation that evoked an emotional response, and I certainly understand that.”
Tight lipped: Emery cannot publicly discuss coaches on other teams that he is pursuing – say, for example, Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy.
So, Emery smiled when asked what he liked about the Denver Broncos’ offense in general.
“Nice question,” Emery said with a laugh. “Jump right into it. It’s a good leading question. I like all the NFL teams. They all have very unique ways to make the most out of the personnel that they have.”
And the Broncos?
“Peyton Manning looks great,” Emery said with a grin, holding his ground. “Good to have him back in the NFL after being away for a year.”