Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery speaks about the firing of Lovie Smith. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 3, 2013 2:40AM
Although his contract expires next season, Jay Cutler’s standing as the franchise quarterback of the Bears appears safe.
Both general manager Phil Emery and team chairman George McCaskey provided strong endorsements of Cutler on Tuesday at Halas Hall in Lake Forest.
In fact, McCaskey had perhaps the ultimate compliment of Cutler.
“I think he’s an outstanding leader. He reminds me a lot of George Halas, as a player,” McCaskey said. “Outstanding competitor, toughness, and will do anything to win.”
Halas, of course, is Papa Bear, a Hall of Famer, a Chicago native, a football pioneer as a player, coach and owner.
But McCaskey didn’t stop there.
“Jay Cutler is the most talented quarterback the Bears have here in the last 60 years,” McCaskey said. “He’s a very good quarterback. He wants to be great, and he needs to be great, and we need to do what we can to achieve that.”
So don’t expect Cutler to be shipped away like he was by the Denver Broncos.
Emery said the new head coach would have input and didn’t say Cutler was off limits. But both he and McCaskey sounded definitive in backing Cutler.
“I see Jay as a franchise quarterback,” Emery said. “We have to build around him.”
Emery talked with the media for an hour on Tuesday, and explained why he decided to fire Smith.
“During the course of Smith’s career, we’ve had one offense that ranked in the teens (in 2006, when the Bears advanced to the Super Bowl). We haven’t had the balance between our defensive excellence,” Emery said. “We have searched for answers. The end result is we did not have enough consistency. That, paired with not getting into the playoffs on a consistent basis, I made the change moving forward.”
McCaskey said that the decision to fire Smith was not an easy one because “our family has high regard for Lovie.”
McCaskey was with Smith in Lake Forest on Monday and said “I was struggling to keep my emotions in check”
Now comes the task of hiring a new coach.
Emery has said he has an ambitious timetable as he wants a coach in place before the college football all-star games.
Emery said the team will conduct interviews over the next two weeks.
The Bears will interview Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy over the weekend and will also sit down with Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan.
Emery said there’s “a sense of urgency” to conclude the search as quickly as possible and ideally he’d like to “stand shoulder to shoulder” with the new head coach at the Jan. 19 East-West Shrine Game or the Senior Bowl, set for Jan. 26.
The rest of Smith’s assistant coaches, meanwhile, remain under contract and, according to an NFL source, were told by Emery they won’t know their ultimate fate until the new head coach is in place.