When the 10-6 Bears failed to make the 2012 playoffs, it was the last but not really the main reason for Lovie Smith being fired as Bears coach. Indeed, Smith’s exit could have come with anything less than a couple of playoff wins.
The real reason lay in the disaster that had become the Chicago offense over seasons 2009-2012 that had seen a succession of unsuccessful coordinators in Ron Turner, Mike Martz and Mike Tice. The offense was broken and nothing suggested that it was going to get fixed under Smith, an architect of perennially elite defenses.
The decision was made to fix the on-field Bears from the top down. General manager Phil Emery commenced a search that involved more than a dozen known interviews, crisscrossing the country looking primarily for the individuals he deemed best for directing a team to championships in an NFL tilted steadily toward offense.
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By mid-January, Emery, as planned, had narrowed his search to three: Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell; Indianapolis offensive coordinator Bruce Arians; and Montreal Alouettes head coach and long-time NFL assistant Marc Trestman. Those candidates came to Halas Hall to meet with Chairman George McCaskey, President Ted Phillips, and Emery.
The field narrowed to Arians and Trestman before Trestman was selected to become the 14th head coach of the Bears, a decision in no small part based on Trestman’s demonstrated ability to work with quarterbacks, along with a pattern of consistent excellence and winning, which Trestman had, including two Grey Cup championships in five years.
The Bears had never hired a head coach who had been a professional head coach previously in his career. Two of the three (Arians, Trestman) had not only been head coaches, but had been successful in those jobs. The Bears also were not caught up in landing the hot, young candidate: Arians was 60, Trestman turning 57.
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Trestman initially sought to retain defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. But Marinelli left Halas Hall and went to become defensive line coach for the Dallas Cowboys, and Trestman hired former Jacksonville coordinator Mel Tucker, who largely retained the Smith/Marinelli defensive system as well as secondary coach Jon Hoke and line coach Mike Phair.
On offense, the focus was around the quarterback position: developing it and protecting it. “The model is that I’ll be in with the quarterback coach and the coordinator, in the quarterback meetings, on the field,” Trestman said at his hiring. “We’re going to go hip to hip with the quarterback, and so there will be an involvement.”
Trestman brought in Aaron Kromer as coordinator/line coach. Kromer had been New Orleans’ offensive line coach during the Saints’ Super Bowl season of 2009. Matt Cavanaugh was brought in as quarterbacks coach. Cavanaugh, who’d served as Bears offensive coordinator with Dave Wannstedt, won Super Bowl rings as a backup quarterback with the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers in addition to serving as Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator in their Super Bowl XXXV win.
Emery ultimately asked himself why Trestman over the others: “Through all these discussions, what qualities made that connection,'” Emery recalled. “No. 1: the skills as a professional. I want to be working towards championships with that individual.”
And so it began on Jan. 16, 2013.