It was nine years ago Tuesday that the Bears hired Lovie Smith to coach their team. They are unlikely to hit that date this time but perhaps not by much.
The divisional playoff round was not a great weekend for four candidates in the Bears search for Smiths successor. But the Bears and several NFL teams may not have been entirely unhappy with Denver, Green Bay, Houston and Seattle losing in divisional-round playoff games because it unlocked several doors.
The Bears have the offensive coordinators for all four teams and those individuals are now free for second interviews with Phil Emery if the Bears GM has them on his finalist list. Emery said that his search would include college coaches but none have been among the 13 reported candidates.
The only still-unavailable known candidate interviewed by Emery is Atlanta special-teams coach Keith Armstrong, who is not widely considered one of the leading prospects. Montreal Alouettes coach Marc Trestman and Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan are believed to be among the top candidates so far but Emerys final list was still unfinished as of Sunday night.
Emery said on Jan. 1 that his ideal would be to have his new coach standing with him watching this months college all-star games and he may yet get his wish. Some of his competitors hope he does.
Indeed, at least one other NFL team is privately irritated at the pace of the Bears search because it wants to know if it needs to replace its offensive coordinator. That decision could be coming within a week based on Emery narrowing his finalist choices to 2-3 as planned, those candidates meeting with Chairman George McCaskey and President Ted Phillips, and a deal being reached.
A note of urgency does in fact enter the process now because several of the Bears candidates are high on other teams lists.
Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, interviewed by Emery last week, is set to interview now with San Diego, is on the Philadelphia Eagles list, and has met with and impressed the Arizona Cardinals.
Houston offensive coordinator Rick Dennison and Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell have met with Emery and have been linked to other teams as well. Bruce Arians was on Emerys Sunday interview list and also is a candidate with the Chargers.
Looking for assistants
The need for prompt action concerns more than just the top spot. The organization still has Smith's assistant coaches under contract, giving the incoming coach a ready selection of coaches familiar with Bears personnel but no coach retains the full former staff and each hiring around the league sets in motion the search for assistants.