Bears management would not have jettisoned head coach Lovie Smith without a plan in place for his successor. The first indication of Smith being done in fact came in the form of other teams receiving permission forms from the Bears, requesting clearance to interview members of their staffs for the top field job in Chicago.
FOXs Jay Glazer first reported that Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy was among those on the Bears short list. Other names, including some from successful college programs, will be surfacing.
But the issue is not automatically as simple as deciding on a candidate and making a lucrative financial offer. The Bears can interview coaches with current playoff teams but it is a busy market, with six other coaches already fired and their organizations looking for replacements.
A lot of things we dont know, said quarterback Jay Cutler. A lot of things are up in the air right now. I dont think were going to have a clear idea of whats going to happen in the future and what direction were going to go until we get some coaches.
Smiths problems finding a coordinator to direct the offense failed four times, three of them over problems involving Cutler: Ron Turner, Mike Martz, Mike Tice. None was able to build a sustainable program around Cutler, or in Tices case, Cutler and Brandon Marshall.
Cutler and Marshall are still here, Cutler with just one year remaining on his current contract. It will be something of a significant surprise if GM Phil Emery goes forward with a long-term extension (or even a short one, for that matter) for Cutler, whom he regarded as a franchise quarterback back when the Bears were winning.
Unlike Chuck Pagano in Indianapolis (Andrew Luck), Andy Reid in Philadelphia (Donovan McNabb) or even Dick Jauron in Chicago (Cade McNown), the new Bears head coach will not come in with a high draft choice and option of getting the quarterback of his choosing.
Given that Smiths successor is expected to be from a background on offense, this may be very significant.
The Bears do not draft until No. 20 this year and already have Cutler, 30 next season, in place.
Change isnt always a bad thing, Cutler said. Sometimes, it can be good. The prospect at the time was unfavorable, but ... no one really wants to change or think about changing. Now that its upon us, weve got to be positive about it. It is what it is.
Weve just got to keep moving forward, and whoever it is, weve got to make the most of it.
Problems ahead on defense?
The next Bears head coach will come into a situation where many of the elite core players on the defense are on the veteran side of age 30. Julius Peppers and Charles Tillman were both voted to the Pro Bowl.
More significantly, the Smith-Rod Marinelli defense was typically termed the Cover-2 but in fact was a simplified system that worked well with a particular type of player.
It has been a 4-3 scheme that places a premium on speed over just size. Where the 4-3 scheme of Dick Jauron-Greg Blache was a two-gap system using massive down linemen (in 2001 the starting ends were 290 pounds and the tackles 340 and 360) who controlled blockers and kept them off linebackers.
Smiths system has flourished with speed rushers: Super Bowl ends Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye were 260 pounds and three-technique Tommie Harris was 285.
The current Bears roster is not staffed with the quantity and type of linebackers or sized defensive linemen to switch to one of the versions of a 3-4 now in use.
Who knows? said defensive end Corey Wootton, who had a solid season in 2012. I might have to gain 20 pounds.
Brian Urlacher is not expected back after a year that began with him sitting out training camp with knee problems and sitting out the last four games with a hamstring problem.
His replacement, Nick Roach, is not a gimme at this point.
My contract is up as well, Roach said. Its just a part of the NFL, and its going on all around the league today. Thats the part of the league that people dont like if youre associated with it.
Henry Melton was voted to his first Pro Bowl but is an unrestricted free agent and expected to command a bank-shaking contract. Whether it is from the Bears is what the next couple of months will determine.