Everyone in Chicago wanted Lovie Smith fired. That's the first thing you need to understand. While national polls proved the country saw Smith as a victim after finishing 10-6, there was hardly any opposition locally to GM Phil Emery's decision to make a coaching change. Which is mostly to say: if Emery hadn't fired Lovie Smith, Bears fans from Wauconda to Kankakee would have been ready to give Halas Hall the torches and pitchforks treatment. Smith was a fine coach, sure, often maligned in this city for the wrong reasons after a long and largely successful tenure. But Emery is a smart man and there was justification in what he decided. It was spelled out plainly for all to see over the last few days.
Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson were stopped only by the game clock this weekend, and they weren't alone. Kaepernick torched the Packers for 45 points and 444 total yards on Saturday, and those gaudy numbers still might not do proper justice to the total and complete offensive destruction San Francisco displayed. Wilson was incredible in leading the Seahawks to an ill-fated comeback vs. the Falcons, finishing with 385 yards through the air and 60 more on the ground. Everyone was lighting up the scoreboard this weekend: the NFL's elite eight averaged over 34 points each in the divisional round. It wasn't an aberration. This is the way the NFL is going, and those who fail to adapt risk being left in the mud.
As Spencer Hall detailed here on Monday, the NFL is changing. It's adopting principles from the college game; it's putting the onus on big play offenses that can put up points in a hurry. The Falcons do it with a vertical passing attack powered by two monster wide receivers on the outside. The 49ers and Seahawks do it by running tailored versions of schemes once labeled as a 'gimmick' -- the pistol and the read option. The Patriots would give the 2004 Phoenix Suns a run for their money in terms of pace, rarely breaking to huddle so the opposing defense can never catch its breath.
To win in today's NFL, you need to score. That's why Smith is no longer the coach of the Chicago Bears after nine seasons leading a subpar offense.
On Monday, word came that Phil Emery's exhaustive coaching search had its final three candidates: CFL coach Marc Trestman, Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. Each has a proven track record of working wonders on the offensive side of the ball. Each will usher the franchise into a very different era from the one Smith led.
It took a while to get here. Emery drew rave reviews when he spoke to local reporters about how detailed his search would be -- almost to the point of comedy. He would end up interviewing 13 men, eight from offensive backgrounds, for the position. You get the sense that he would have interviewed 13 more if time would have allowed it.
So: who are these three guys and which one will be the next coach of the Bears? Let's take a closer look:
Former Dallas Cowboys coach and current FOX analyst Jimmy Johnson reported this weekend that Trestman had gotten the Bears job. While the report was premature, it was certainly appears to be rooted in something. As Emery's conducts in his final interviews, mostly everyone agrees Trestman is the clear favorite.
Yes, this would be a decidedly unorthodox hire. Trestman spent the last five years as the head coach of the Montreal Alouettes, compiling a 53-26 record, building a great offense and helping turn quarterback Anthony Calvillo into professional football's all-time leading passer.
The 56-year old Trestman has an NFL pedigree, too. He was in the NFL as a coordinator or quarterback coach from 1981-2004 and led some dynamic offenses. He worked with Bill Walsh and Steve Young. He played a hand in turning Rich Gannon into a Super Bowl quarterback. He even helped the likes of Jake Plummer and Scott Mitchell put up gaudy numbers.
Something else Trestman has working for him? He sounds very similar to Emery. Said Alouettes' GM Jim Popp:
He’s very articulate and he’s very organized – he’s one of the most organized people I’ve been around. He is well spoken. He is very good at speaking to the team. These are things that came out in the interviews when I was trying to figure out what the next best thing for our club was. He’s got that organizational skill set and I don’t doubt one bit that with his experience in the NFL he would be able to put together a great coaching staff together. He’s proven himself as a head coach at a professional level. You can call it what you want but on-hand training as a head coach and proof goes a long way, goes a real long way. You can’t replace that."
Trestman is known as a QB guru, and his bio notes that he's worked with both Jay Cutler and Jason Campbell at the NFL combine. At this point, it appears that if the next Bears coach is anyone other than Marc Trestman, it would be a major upset.
Emery flew to Atlanta to give Bevell his first interview before the Seahawks would take on the Falcons in that historically wild contest on Sunday. Though Seattle would come up short, the game likely only boosted Bevell's profile.
It's easy to see what Emery likes in Bevell. He talked openly about wanted a coach to adapt to the players the Bears have in place at his much ballyhooed press conference, and Bevell has certainly done that. To put it another way: do you really think all of those read option plays were in the playbook for Matt Flynn?
The Seahawks decided to go with Wilson over Flynn in a surprise decision at the end of the preseason, forcing Bevell and the offense to adjust to Wilson's very specific skill set. That they did this on the fly with a rookie quarterback is impressive enough -- that by the time the playoffs rolled around Wilson was one of the league's biggest threats is quite another. Seattle's offense looked unstoppable at the end of the season, and you don't need to remind Bears fans. The Seahawks essentially dealt Chicago's playoff chances a death blow in Week 13 when Wilson torched the Bears for 177 yards on his final two possessions to pull off an unthinkable come-from-behind victory.
I asked Danny Kelly, manager of Field Gulls, what he thought of Bevell:
....after it became clear that Russell Wilson could handle any amount of the playbook that you put on him, the 'Hawks greatly expanded their offense, working in read-option principles to go along with their zone-blocking scheme up front, and the results were tangible, particularly late in December when the 'Hawks got three straight ridiculous blowouts over the Cardinals, Bills, and Niners. The offense became multiple and versatile, and changed from game to game, making it hard to gameplan for the Seahawks.Bevell is methodical in his play-calling, and while on the surface he almost seems obstinate in his desire to set up deep play-action shots by running Lynch left off-tackle again and again, you begin to appreciate this a lot when Seattle can use this as a set-up for late in the game when they want a big play down the field.
Of the three final candidates, Bevell is likely the biggest long-shot.
If this coaching search was decided only by who is the most qualified, the 60-year old Arians would win hands down. He's been considered a top offensive coordinator in the NFL for years, he's helped elevate the profile of some of the game's best quarterbacks and, oh yeah, he is probably going to be named Coach of the Year. Arians should get a head coaching job this offseason. He's earned it.
You know the story: the Colts were 1-2 when head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia, forcing him off the sidelines until Week 17. The Colts were in playoff position by the time Pagano returned because of the inspired work Arians did as the interim head coach.
The Colts finished sixth in total offense, putting up over 419 yards per game. Andrew Luck threw for over 1,300 more than Jay Cutler in his rookie season. The Colts, 2-14 a year before, finished 11-5.
Arians has worked with Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger as well, helping the Steelers reach the Super Bowl twice with a less than stellar offensive line. You think that appeals to Emery? It's worth noting that Arians also missed the Colts only playoff game, a loss to the Ravens, because he was suddenly hospitalized.