The NFL is a business and, if you didn't understand that already, the firing of former Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith should have made that crystal clear. Smith was coming off a 10-6 season. His 81 victories are third most in franchise history and fourth most in the NFC over the past nine seasons. He annually fielded competitive teams, winning three NFC North titles during his tenure, and was an outstanding representative of the organization.
Yet Smith had his faults, his biggest being his inability to hire competent offensive coordinators. Despite fielding top-tier defenses in nearly every season since 2004, Chicago won just three playoffs games under Smith. During his nine seasons with the Bears, the offense ranked higher than 24th overall just once. That was in 2006, when the club ranked 16th on offense, and they made it to the Super Bowl.
When you look back on his tenure with the team, you wonder how many Super Bowls the Bears could have won if they could have just produced average offenses each season.
Smith also struggled as a game manager, consistently making head-scratching in-game decisions, particularly with the red challenge flag. Ultimately, making the playoffs just once in the past six seasons, despite starting 7-3 the past two years, just wasn't good enough and now Lovie is gone.
Don't feel bad for him though. Smith made a good chunk of change his last two years here and will make a few more million with his buyout. And, for a coach as well-respected around the league as Smith, it doesn't appear he's going to be out of work very long. Four NFL teams have already shown interest in making him their next head coach. He'll be just fine.
For Bears GM Phil Emery, the search started yesterday for a new head coach. Even before the team officially announced Smith's firing, Emery had been sending requests to other teams to interview head coaching candidates. Four names have emerged as front-runners for the job. Let's break down the resumes of all four.
Mike McCoy, offensive coordinator, Denver Broncos
McCoy is a hot name right now due to his recent work in Denver with quarterbacks as diverse as Kyle Orton, Time Tebow and Peyton Manning. McCoy has been able to build offensive schemes around his quarterbacks, instead of forcing them into a stringent system. He could be the type of coach that could reign in Jay Cutler and help him maximize his potential.
McCoy's first nine years coaching in the NFL were spent with the Carolina Panthers, first as an offensive assistant, then quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator. He moved on to the Denver Broncos, where he's been the offensive coordinator the past three seasons.
At just 40 years old, McCoy is part of a new wave of young offensive coaches – along with guys like Josh McDaniels in New England and Kyle Shanahan in Washington – that are developing new, creative ways to score points. Under McCoy, the Broncos were first in the league in rushing last season and finished fourth in total offense this year.
Mike Sullivan, offensive coordinator, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Sullivan coached for the New York Giants for eight seasons – six as the receivers coach and two as quarterbacks coach for Eli Manning in 2010 and 2011. Previous to that he was with the Jacksonville Jaguars as defensive quality control coach (2002) and offensive assistant (2003). He coached collegiately for nine years before that.
This season, Sullivan took over as offensive coordinator for the Buccaneers. He inherited an offense that ranked 21st overall in 2011. Under Sullivan in 2012, Tampa Bay finished 10th overall and 10th in passing. Buccaneers QB Josh Freeman threw 16 TDs and 22 INTs in 2011. With Sullivan as OC, Freeman threw 27 TDs and 17 INTs. Sullivan's work with Freeman makes him attractive if you believe he can do the same with Cutler.
Sullivan played defensive back at Army. He is also a graduate of the U.S. Army Airborne, Ranger and Air Assault schools. He holds a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Keith Armstrong, special teams coordinator, Atlanta Falcons
Armstrong's first gig as a special teams coach was under Dave Wannstedt in Chicago from 1997-2000 – at the same time Emery was a scout for the organization. Armstrong held the same post for the Miami Dolphins from 2001-2007 and the Falcons from 2008-2012.
Special teams coordinators, who organize large groups of players on a daily basis, often make good candidates for head coaches. John Harbaugh was a special teams coordinator for 10 years previous to his current position as head coach of the Baltimore Ravens.
Armstrong would help the Bears fulfill the requirements for interviewing minority candidates, as laid out in the Rooney Rule.
Joe DeCamillis, special teams coach, Dallas Cowboys
DeCamillis has been a name of interest for some time in regard to vacant head coaching positions at both the pro and college levels. Most recently, the Jacksonville Jaguars expressed interest in him last year when searching for a new coach – a position that ultimately went to Mike Mularkey.
DeCamillis has been a special teams coach throughout his career in the NFL, which began in 1988: Denver Broncos 1988-1992; New York Giants 1993-1996; Atlanta Falcons 1997-2006; Jacksonville Jaguars 2007-2008; and the Cowboys 2009-2012.
DeCamillis has nearly 25 years of experience organizing large groups of players. Yet if the Bears want a special teams coordinator to become the next head coach, one has to wonder why they aren't scheduling an interview with Dave Toub, the team's current ST coach.
Chicago has asked for permission from the Cowboys to speak with DeCamillis but, at the time of this writing, no interview has been scheduled.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.